Getty Gets Lost Bernini

LOS ANGELES -- The J. Paul Getty Museum has just acquired an important early sculpture by the Baroque master Bernini: a marble bust of Pope Paul V that many art historians did not believe still existed.

Art collectors of ArtKabinett social media network are viewing the long lost sculpture this weekend.

Originally commissioned by Cardinal Scipione Borghese, the nephew of Pope Paul V, in 1621, the sculpture was the 23-year-old artist’s first documented portrait of a pope -- a subject that would define his career.

Around that time, Sebastiano Sebastiani made a bronze version of the sculpture, which belongs to the Statens Museum for Kunst in Copenhagen. But the original marble sculpture remained in the hands of the Borghese family until it was sold at auction in Rome in 1893, by which time it was misidentified as a work by Bernini’s rival, Alessandro Algardi.

The bust changed countries and owners a few times before being recognized as the Borghese Bernini and sold to the Getty in a private sale by Sotheby’s, completed this month.

The Getty Museum director Timothy Potts calls the rediscovery “an extremely rare and remarkable event,” adding that the bust would “become one of a handful of the most important sculptures in the Getty’s collection, no question.” For that reason, Potts decided to place the sculpture on view at the Getty Center last Thursday.

Invented Baroque

Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598 –1680) is credited with creating the Baroque style of sculpture.

Under the patronage of the Cardinal Borghese, young Bernini rapidly rose to prominence as a sculptor. Among the early works for the cardinal were decorative pieces for the garden of the Villa Borghese such as The Goat Amalthea with the Infant Jupiter and a Faun, and several allegorical busts, including the Damned Soul and Blessed Soul.

By the time he was twenty-two, he was considered talented enough to have been given a commission for a papal portrait, the Bust of Pope Paul V.

Bernini's reputation was clearly established by four masterpieces, executed between 1619 and 1625, all now displayed in the Galleria Borghese in Rome.

These four works -- Aeneas, Anchises, and Ascanius (1619), The Rape of Proserpina (1621–22), Apollo and Daphne (1622–25), and David (1623–24) -- inaugurated a new era in the history of European sculpture.

Adapting the classical grandeur of Renaissance sculpture and the dynamic energy of the Mannerist period, Bernini forged a new conception for religious and historical sculpture.

Emotional Tension

Unlike those done by his predecessors, these sculptures focus on specific points of narrative tension in the stories they are trying to tell -- Aeneas and family fleeing Troy; the instant that Pluto grasps Persephone; the moment Apollo sees his beloved Daphne begin her transformation into a tree. These are transitory moments in each story.

Bernini's David (highlighted in today's Featured Art Video) is the most obvious example of this. Unlike Michelangelo's David -- which shows the subject holding a rock in one hand and a sling in the other, contemplating the battle -- Bernini illustrates David during his combat with the giant, as he twists his body to catapult towards Goliath.

To emphasize these moments, and to ensure these specific moments were appreciated by the viewer, Bernini designed the sculptures with a specific viewpoint in mind.

Their original placements within the Villa Borghese were against walls, so that the viewers' first view was the dramatic moment of the narrative.

The result of such an approach is to invest the sculptures with enormous psychological energy. The viewer finds it easier to gauge the state of mind of the characters and therefore understands the larger story at work: Daphne's wide open mouth in fear and astonishment; David biting his lip in determined concentration; Prosperina desperately struggling to free herself.

In addition to portraying psychological realism, they show a greater concern for representing physical details.

The tousled hair of Pluto, the pliant flesh of Prosperina, or the forest of leaves beginning to envelop Daphne all demonstrate Bernini's exactitude and delight for representing complex real world textures in marble form.

Bernini's artistic pre-eminence, particularly during the reigns of popes Urban VIII (1623–44) and Alexander VII (1655–65), meant he was able to secure the most important commission in the Rome of his day, St. Peter's Basilica. His design of the Piazza San Pietro in front of the Basilica is one of his most innovative and successful architectural designs.

Today's Featured Art Video explores the vibrant emotion of Bernini's sculpture of 'David'.