Bernini's Rome

Emily Hale
[student, Rome Sketchbook course, Spring 2013]
Baldequin of Santa Maria Maggiore & Elefantino of Piazza Minerva

Throughout the course of the semester in Rome Sketchbook class, I took a particular interest in the Baroque architectural and sculptural works of Gianlorenzo Bernini. In my sketchbook, I focused mainly on Bernini's creations, specifically three main works by him; the Fountain of the Four Rivers, Saint Peter's Square, and the Elephant of Piazza Minerva.
Bernini was a 17th century Italian painter, sculptor and architect. He was born in Naples, Italy, but moved to Rome at an early age, where his father, a painter and sculptor as well, picked up work in the shipyards of Paul V Borghese and obtained the protection of Cardinal Scipione Caffarelli-Borghese. Bernini grew up in Rome during a very pivotal time in art. Seventeenth century Rome was a city which had a great deal of artistic fervor, as many revolutions were taking place during the Baroque period. Bernini himself played a huge part in this revolution through his architectural, sculptural and painting work, which were plentiful throughout his life.

The tomb of Bernini

The Fountain of the Four Rivers, which is located in Piazza Navona, was my favourite work of Bernini's. The fountain was commissioned by Pope Innocent X, and was completed between 1648 and 1651. The fountain depicts the four rivers in the continents then recognized by geographers of the Renaissance period; the Nile, the Ganges, the Danube, and the River Plate. The Ganges figure carries a large oar which represents the navigability of the river. The Nile's head is covered by a large piece of cloth, indicating that the source of the river was unknown at the time. The Danube touches the Papal coat of arms, being the closest and largest river to Rome. The River Plate sits on a pile of coins, representing the riches America might offer to Europe. The Egyptian obelisk in the center of the fountain symbolizes Papal power, and is topped by the dove, symbol of the Pamphili family to which the Pope belonged.
One of Bernini's biggest architectural works is Saint Peter's Square, located directly in front of Saint Peter's Basilica. Saint Peter's Square was commissioned by Pope Alexander VII and was designed to allow the most people possible to see the Pope give his blessing. The square was built beginning in 1656 and was finished in 1667. It symbolizes the embrace of the world by the Catholic Church. The Piazza is defined by its colonnades, four columns deep, which frame the entrance to the basilica. The shape of Saint Peter's Square gives a heightened perspective to the visitor, and the whole is seen as a masterpiece of Baroque theatre.

Il Ponte Sant'Angelo

A third piece by Bernini is an elephant sculpture located in Piazza Minerva, called the Elephant Obeliscoforo. This elephant structure was commissioned by Pope Alexander VII and erected in 1667. The Elephant Obeliscoforo was Bernini's last work commissioned under this Pope. The statue depicts an elephant carrying an obelisk on its back, which represents the rays of the Sun, as a gift to the Pope. This structure as a whole is an allegory of a robust faith able to carry an elevated knowledge. The sculpture is said to have been inspired by 'Poliphilo's Dream of the Strife of Love', a 15th century novel in which the main character meets an elephant made of stone carrying an obelisk on its back; the illustration in the novel is quite similar to Bernini's design.

Saint Peter's Basilica