Baroque and Bernini

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  • Topic: Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Baroque, Rome
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Bernini and the Challenge of Two figure Sculptures: the hierarchy of emotion in its relation to the theme of elevation

Bernini, Flight from Troy, 1618-19, Borghese commission, Rome Bernini, Pluto and Persephone, 1621-22, Borghese commission, Rome

Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini’s elegant and powerful sculptures allowed the opening of the new stylistic page in the 17th century Italian art history. Bernini’s figures always captivate great emotions with the portrayal of his extraordinary skills. Earlier attempts have been made in the execution of the sculpture with two or more figures by artists such as Giambologna and Antico; all of three artists provided their own way of solving the challenges regarding the multiple figures with elevation. Moreover, in the works where two or more figures are represented such as Flight from Troy and Pluto and Persephone, the hierarchy of representation of emotion is shown through figure’s facial expressions and body gestures.

Many artists always seeked the way to show their skills to the public; being publicly recognized as a skilled artist by the masses was the greatest way to success for it meant receiving various large commissions for the public. Therefore, when artists create works of art, they tried to constantly challenge themselves. It did not change even when they become well known artists. For sculptures, depiction of multiple figures and, even better, elevation was the best way to show their skills. Thus, many famous artists attempted to resolve these challenges. Giambologna, who inspired Bernini in the composition of many works, created Rape of a Sabine Woman; the sculpture composed with three figures with a Sabine woman lifted up by a Roman man. The subject of the sculpture comes from the ancient Roman history of the abduction of Sabine women by Romans because of their need for a wife. Giambologna addressed the challenge of elevation through the composition of the figure into one column; the Sabine man is on the ground, facing up the Roman man who carries the Sabine woman. Each figure is on each other, providing the support for the heavy material of marble. The placement of each figure provides the stability that many artists attempt to achieve in multiple figure sculptures. Although, the subject defers from the theme of abduction in many other elevated sculptures, Pier Jacopo di Antonio Alari-Bonacolsi–also known as Antico –‘s Hercules and Antaeus shows another example of one figure lifting the other figure in the air. The famous mythological wrestling match is a great way to show the artist’s skill. Even though this sculpture’s size is small and the artist had to less worry about with the problem of composition than with the life size sculptures, Antico shows an example of the challenge of depicting the theme in small bronze statues. In this particular piece, Antaeus is on the shoulder of Hercules, also providing the stability that artist looked for. Both artists, Giambologna and Antico, are from earlier times than Bernini; their successful attempts provided Bernini with the ability that allowed him to become auspicious artist of the 17th century Italy.

Inspired greatly from past artists, Bernini many of the mythological figures in complicated compositions. “Bernini’s achievement was to amalgamate pre-existing sculptural ideas and classical references into a new, much more dramatic composition.” One of his earliest important commissions, Flight from Troy shows Bernini’s attempt to imitate the composition of Giambologna’s Rape of the Sabine Women. However, done less successfully than his other works, the particular piece shows the subject from the Greco-Roman mythological story of Aeneas, the legendary founder of Rome. It was successful in showing the “three male figures…at very different stages of life and convey…the image of the ‘Three Ages of Man’, another theme derived from antiquity.” With his father Achises and his son Ascanius, Aeneas is escaping the burning down...
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