Bernini’s Rome and His Influence on the Eternal City!

Aerial View of Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican Shows Bernini's Grand Design.
You can hardly visit Rome today without nodding to Italy’s greatest artist of the Baroque period – Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Renowned for his exceptional talents as painter, architect and most notably, sculptor, Bernini’s influence can be felt throughout Rome’s most notable landmarks not to mention countless museums. From canvas and stone to chapels and piazzas, his talent knew no bounds. Fortunately for me, I was able to see some of Bernini's most significant contributions during my Angels and Demons tour, and added a few of my own. During your next visit, be sure to take a long look around and I’d wager that Bernini’s creative genius played a big part. For now, come along on this journey through Rome – through the Vatican, Piazza Navona, Santa Maria della Vittoria and Villa Borghese to name a few, to experience up close and personal, Bernini’s greatest masterpieces plus one particularly controversial sculpture that shows he was a rebel “with” a cause. To provide close-up details, I had to borrow a few images, properly attributed of course.  

Bernini's 'Ecstasy of Saint Tereas' Inside Santa Maria della Vittoria. 
Close up of Saint Teresa. (This photo only: Nina Aldin Thune)
Our first stop takes us to the church of Santa Maria della Vittoria in eastern Rome to find the "Ecstasy of St. Teresa," a remarkable sculpture completed in 1652 and rendered in exquisite and startlingly realistic detail. The centerpiece of the Cornaro Chapel, Saint Teresa is dramatically depicted expressing her sheer ecstasy for her love of God while an angel points his arrow at her heart. While most art historians believe that Bernini’s intention was to express such divine joy, critics claim her expression is that of a sexual nature. I’ll let you be the judge. However, not only did her astonishing expression take my breath away, but another stunning effect caught my eye – the gilded rays of heavenly light streaming in the background. Bernini achieved this dazzling effect by reflecting natural light from a lantern he designed and installed at the top of the back of this chapel - a most glorious radiance!

Nearby at Villa Borghese, we found the renowned "Apollo and Daphne."  In this classic masterpiece, Bernini captures the moment in time just as Daphne begins to transform into the Laurel tree – the outcome of her plea to her father to rid her once and for all of Apollo’s eternal pursuit. Notice how dramatically Bernini renders Daphne's skin blending into bark, her hair into leaves, her feet into roots binding her to the earth and her arms into the Laurel’s canopy. The effect is quite stunning so be sure you get up close and personal to this extraordinary scupture!

Borghese Gallery - Rome - Inside, Bernini's 'Apollo and Daphne' Await
Bernini's 'Apollo and Daphne' located at the Borghese Gallery. (This photo only: LuxoMedia)
Shifting our direction southwest, we are now in the Piazza Navona, one of my favorite piazzas in Rome to people watch where we find Bernini’s "Fountain of the Four Rivers." Completed in 1651, Bernini shows us Triton surrounded by the rivers of “Paradise” – or the four great rivers of the four continents at the time: Africa’s Nile, Asia’s Ganges, Europe’s Danube and America’s Rio de la Plata. Perched high atop the obelisk, the first of many in our series, is the dove of the Holy Spirit.

Bernini's 'Fountain of the Four Rivers' located in Piazza Navona.
Another view of Bernini's 'Fountain of the Four Rivers' located in Piazza Navona.
Moving westward, our next heading is the Vatican where we find perhaps Bernini’s greatest contribution to Italy – Saint Peter’s Square or Piazza San Pietro, completed in 1667. When you first enter this sweeping expanse, enormous colonnades (360 tour) of majestic columns reach out and encircle the square as if to embrace all those who enter the piazza – “the maternal arms of Mother Church,” as Bernini described them. In the center, we find our second obelisk, this one dates back to the Fifth Dynasty of Egypt or approximately 2,500 B.C. Since then, it moved to Alexandria, to the center of Nero’s “circus,” and finally erected in Saint Peter’s Square in 1586. During my research, I discovered that this obelisk is the only Egyptian obelisk in Rome that has not toppled since ancient times! Every visit to Rome must include a stop to Saint Peter’s Square and prepare to be overwhelmed with humility.

St. Peter's Square or Piazza de San Pietro at the Vatican in Rome
Ah, inside Saint Peter’s Basilica, we find Bernini’s Baldacchino at the high altar – a larger-than-life bronze sculpture of Solomonic columns topped by a canopy and installed directly under the Michelangelo’s cupola and above what is believed to be the final resting place of Saint Peter. Commissioned by Pope Urban VIII with an unlimited budget, [imagine that?], Bernini debuted his grand design to the public in 1633. Look closely at the details of the Solomonic columns inspired by Saint Peter’s Basilica’s predecessor. Beginning at the base, we see the columns are divided into three sections: spiraling grooves giving way to olive and bay leaf branches brimming with small putti – tiny baby boys with wings – and flying bees, the symbol of the Barberini family, near the top. The canopy although cast in bronze conveys a soft fabric gently draping down and held aloft by four angels at each corner. Quite a sight to behold.

Saint Peter's Basilica Interior with Bernini's Baldacchino in background. 
Bernini's Baldacchino Inside Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome.
Our tour concludes with one more sculpture I would I like to share with you despite the controversy that surrounds it. The "Pulcino della Minerva," the elephant and obelisk (third in our series) known as Bernini’s Chick to Romans, was not sculpted by Bernini but by one of his students Ercole Ferrata who executed his design and completed it in 1667. Located in the Piazza della Minerva outside the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, look closely at the front of the elephant and you will see that he is actually smiling. Why is he smiling? Well walk around to his back end is it becomes quite clear. Because of a design modification forced upon Bernini by Father Domenico Paglia, a Dominican Friar who believed there needed to be sturdier base placed beneath the elephant to make it more believable he could bear the weight of the obelisk, Bernini had to redesign the sculpture by placing a cube beneath the elephant. In retaliation, he rendered in shocking detail, the elephant’s back end which faces the Office of the Friary – ultimately giving him the last word and laugh. Two prevailing theories on what this actually is but I will let you be the judge.

Bernini's "Pulcino della Minerva," the elephant and obelisk in the Piazza della Minerva.
I hope you enjoyed our tour through Bernini’s Rome and learned a thing or two. I know I did but I was fortunate to be introduced by my Angels and Demons tour guide . Be sure to check back here for more art and history encounters throughout Europe!

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  1. Beautiful article!
    I'm also a travel writer and I love Rome.

  2. Hi Maruna...nice to meet you. I see we have a lot in common and that we've both fallen under Rome's spell...a good feeling, don't you agree? Thank you for stopping by and sharing your comments and your compliments!!

  3. Once a village in the hills
    Then a kingdom in its knees,
    A republic, an empire
    Now, a city of desire….

    My trip to Rome was like a journey back in time...amazing!

  4. Miruna,
    Did you write that? I love it!! I am so thrilled that you shared poetry on my blog. Thank you!!

  5. :)Yes, I did.I'm so poetical sometimes.I just can't help myself:)
    Anyway, keep doing what you are doing now because your articles are very nice.I am trying to improve my English and maybe I will also succeed in my writing career.
    Have a nice day!

  6. You keep up the great work too...your English is very good!!! Most of all, thank you so much for stopping by...and please share more of your poetry whenever you like!!

  7. Here is another one:

  8. Very nice my friend! Thank you again.

  9. I like your blog, nicely written and gorgeous photos. Don't forget his fountain in Piazza Barberini and his sculpture, Beata Ludovica Albertoni, in the Chiesa di San Francesco a Ripa in Trastevere. This sculpture is not very well-known: even Rick Steves didn't know it existed after 20 years of visiting Rome until a caller pointed it out to him.

    1. Hi there Barbara and thank you for adding those helpful tips to my article. I will need to seek these out on my next visit to Rome and I will be sure to include them in a feature! Thx so much for stopping by to share your thoughts...comments like this add to the resource value of my site...which is my ultimate goal!

  10. Replies
    1. HI again Calogero and thank you for sharing your thoughts! I had a lot of fun seeing Rome through the talents of Bernini!


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