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  • in Baroque Rome, when the Austrian-born artist-designer Johann Paul Schor was not collaborating with Bernini, he might be called on to design sculptural architecture to be executed in sugar at a banquet?

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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Gian Lorenzo Bernini

A self portrait: Bernini is said to have used his own features in his David
Born December 7, 1598(1598-12-07)
Died November 28, 1680 (aged 81)
Occupation sculptor, painter and architect

Gian Lorenzo Bernini (also spelled Gianlorenzo or Giovanni Lorenzo) (Naples, 7 December 1598 – Rome, 28 November 1680) was an Italian artist who worked principally in Rome. He was the leading sculptor of his age and also a prominent architect. In addition he painted, wrote plays, and designed metalwork and stage sets.

A student of Classical sculpture, Bernini possessed the unique ability to capture, in marble, the essence of a narrative moment with a dramatic naturalistic realism which was almost shocking. This ensured that he effectively became the successor of Michelangelo, far outshining other sculptors of his generation, including his rival, Alessandro Algardi. His talent extended beyond the confines of his sculpture to consideration of the setting in which it would be situated; his ability to be able to synthesise sculpture, painting and architecture into a coherent conceptual and visual whole has been termed by the art historian, Irving Lavin, the ‘unity of the visual arts’.[1] A deeply religious man, working in Counter Reformation Rome, Bernini used light as an important metaphorical device in the perception of his religious settings; often it was hidden light source that could intensify the focus of religious worship,[2] or enhance the dramatic moment of a sculptural narrative.

Bernini was also a leading figure in the emergence of Roman Baroque architecture along with his contemporaries, the architect, Francesco Borromini and the painter and architect, Pietro da Cortona. Early in their careers they had all worked at the same time at the Palazzo Barberini, initially under Carlo Maderno and on his death, under Bernini. Later on, however, they were in competition for commissions and fierce rivalries developed, particularly between Bernini and Borromini.[3] Despite the arguably greater architectural inventiveness of Borromini and Cortona, Bernini’s artistic pre-eminence, particularly during the reigns of popes Urban VIII (1623-44) and Alexander VII (1655-1665), meant he was able to secure the most important commission in Rome of the 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.

During his long career, Bernini received many important commissions, many associated with the papacy. At an early age, he came to the attention of the papal nephew, Cardinal Scipione Borghese, and in 1621, at the age of only twenty three, he was knighted by Pope Gregory XV. Following his accession to the papacy, Urban VIII is reported to have said, "Your luck is great to see Cardinal Maffeo Barberini Pope, Cavaliere; but ours is much greater to have Cavalier Bernini alive in our pontificate". [4] Although he did not fare so well during the reign of Innocent X, under Alexander VII, he once again regained pre-eminent artistic domination and continued to be held in high regard by Clement IX.

Bernini and other artists fell from favour in later neoclassical criticism of the Baroque. It is only from the late nineteenth century that art historical scholarship, in seeking an understanding of artistic output in the cultural context in which it was produced, has come to recognise Bernini’s achievements and restore his artistic reputation.


Early life

Bernini was born in Naples to a Mannerist sculptor, Pietro Bernini, originally from Florence, and Angelica Galante, a Neapolitan.[5][6] At the age of seven he accompanied his father to Rome, where his father was involved in several high profile projects.[7] There, as a boy, his skill was soon noticed by the painter Annibale Carracci and by Pope Paul V, and Bernini gained the patronage exclusively under Cardinal Scipione Borghese, the pope's nephew. His first works were inspired by antique Hellenistic sculpture.

Rise to master sculptor

"The Rape of Proserpina" (1621-1622).

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 such as "The Goat Amalthea with the Infant Zeus and a Faun", and several allegorical busts such as the "Damned Soul" and "Blessed Soul". By the age of twenty-two years, he completed the bust of Pope Paul V. Scipione's collection in situ at the Borghese gallery chronicles his secular sculptures, with a series of masterpieces:

  • "Aeneas, Anchises, and Ascanius" (1619) depicts three ages of man from various viewpoints, borrowing from a figure in a Raphael fresco. In The Aeneid, Aeneas flees the burning city of Troy, carrying his father and his son at his heels. His father holds the household gods and his son holds the eternal flame. Aeneas is the founder of Latium, later Italy, and the father of the Romans. The sculpture is in a very Mannerist upwards spiral.
  • "The Rape of Proserpina", (1621-22) recalls Giambologna's Mannerist "Rape of the Sabine Women", and displays a masterful attention to detail, including the abductor "dimpling" the woman's marble skin.
  • "Apollo and Daphne" (1622-25) has been widely admired since Bernini's time; along with the subsequent sculpture of David it represents the introduction of a new sculptural aesthetic. It depicts the most dramatic and dynamic moment in one of Ovid's stories in his Metamorphoses. In the story, Apollo, the god of light, scolded Eros, the god of love, for playing with adult weapons. In retribution, Eros wounded Apollo with a golden arrow that induced him to fall madly in love at the sight of Daphne, a water nymph sworn to perpetual virginity, who, in addition, had been struck by Eros with a lead arrow which immunized her from Apollo's advances. The sculpture depicts the moment when Apollo finally captures Daphne, yet she has implored her father, the river god, to destroy her beauty and repel Apollo's advances by transforming her into a laurel tree. This statue succeeds at various levels: it depicts the event and also represents an elaborate conceit of sculpture. This sculpture tracks the metamorphoses as a representation in stone of a person changing into lifeless vegetation; in other words, while a sculptor's art is to change inanimate stone into animated narrative, this sculpture narrates the opposite, the moment a woman becomes a tree.
  • "David" (1623-24) like the "Apollo and Daphne", was a revolutionary sculpture for its time. Both depict movement in a way not previously attempted in stone. The biblical youth is taut and poised to rocket his projectile. Famous "David"s sculpted by Bernini's Florentine predecessors had portrayed the static moment before and after the event; Michelangelo portrayed David prior to his battle with Goliath, to intimate the psychological fortitude necessary for attempting such a gargantuan task; the contemplative intensity of Michelangelo's "David" or the haughty effeteness of Donatello's and Verrocchio's "David"s are all, nonetheless, portraying moments of stasis. The twisted torso, furrowed forehead, and granite grimace of Bernini's "David" epitomize Baroque fixation with dynamic movement and emotion over High Renaissance stasis and classical severity. Michelangelo expressed David's psychological fortitude, preparing for battle; Bernini captures the moment when he becomes a hero.

Mature sculptural output

Part of the colonnade of Piazza San Pietro with St. Peter's and the Vatican Palace beyond.

Bernini's sculptural output was immense and varied. Among his other well-known sculptures: the "Ecstasy of St. Theresa", in the Cornaro Chapel (see Bernini's Cornaro chapel: the complete work of art found in the Baroque section), Santa Maria della Vittoria, and the now-hidden "Constantine", at the base of the Scala Regia (which he designed). He was given the commission for the tomb of the Barberini Pope in St Peters. He helped design the Ponte Sant'Angelo, sculpting two of the angels, soon replaced by copies by his own hand, while the others were made by his pupils based on his designs.

At the end of April 1665, at the height of his fame and powers, he travelled to Paris, where he remained until November; he met Paul Fréart de Chantelou who kept a Journal of Bernini's visit. [8] Bernini's international popularity was such that on his walks in Paris the streets were lined with admiring crowds. This trip, encouraged by Father Oliva, general of the Jesuits, was a response to the repeated requests for his works by King Louis XIV. Here Bernini presented some designs for the east front of the Louvre. which were ultimately rejected. He soon lost favor at the French court as he praised the art and architecture of Italy over that of France; he said that a painting by Guido Reni was worth more than all of Paris. The sole work remaining from his time in Paris is a bust of Louis XIV, which set the standard for royal portraiture for a century.


Bernini's architectural works include sacred and secular buildings and sometimes their urban settings and interiors.[9] He made adjustments to existing buildings and designed new constructions. Amongst his most well known works is the Piazza San Pietro (1656-67), the piazza and colonnades in front of St Peter's and the interior decoration of the Basilica. Amongst his secular works are a number of Roman palaces: following the death of Carlo Maderno, he took over the supervision of the building works at the Palazzo Barberini from 1630 on which he worked with Borromini); the Palazzo Ludovisi (now Palazzo Montecitorio)(started 1650); and the Palazzo Chigi (now Palazzo Chigi-Odescalchi) (started 1664).

His first architectural projects were the façade and refurbishment of the church of Santa Bibiana (1624-6) and the St. Peter's baldachin (1624-1633), the bronze columned canopy over the high altar of St. Peter's Basilica. In 1629, and before the Baldacchino was complete, Urban VIII put him in charge of all the ongoing architectural works at St Peter's. However, due to political reasons and miscalculations in his design of the bell-towers for St. Peter's, Bernini fell out of favor during the Pamphili papacy of Innocent X. [10] Never wholly without patronage, Bernini then regained a major role in the decoration of St. Peter's with the Pope Alexander VII Chigi, leading to his design of the piazza and colonnade in front of St. Peter's. Further significant works by Bernini at the Vatican include the Scala Regia, (1663-6) the monumental grand stairway entrance to the Vatican Palace and the Cathedra Petri, the Chair of Saint Peter, in the apse of St. Peter's.

Bernini did not build many churches from scratch, rather his efforts were concentrated on pre-existing structures, and in particular St. Peter's. He fulfilled three commissions for new churches; his stature allowed him the freedom to design the structure and decorate the interiors in a consistent manner. Best known is the small oval baroque church of Sant'Andrea al Quirinale, a work which Bernini's son, Domenico, reports his father was very pleased with. [11] Bernini also designed churches in Castelgandolfo (San Tommaso da Villanova, 1658-61) and Ariccia (Santa Maria Assunta, 1662-4).

When Bernini was invited to Paris in 1665 to make works for Louis XIV, he presented designs for the east facade of the Louvre Palace but his adventurous concave-convex façades were ultimately turned down in favour of the more stern and classic proposals of the French architect Claude Perrault, signalling the waning influence of Italian artistic hegemony in France. Perrault's final design did, however, include Bernini's feature of a flat roof behind a Palladian balustrade.

In 1639, Bernini bought property on the corner of the via Mercede and the via del Collegio di Propoganda Fide. On this site he built himself a palace, the Palazzo Bernini, at what are now Nos 11 and 12 via della Mercede. He lived at No. 11 but this was extensively changed in the nineteenth century. It has been noted how very galling it must have been for Bernini to witness through the windows of his dwelling, the construction of the tower and dome of Sant'Andrea delle Fratte by his rival, Borromini, and also the demolition of the chapel that he, Bernini, had designed at the Collegio di Propoganda Fide to see it replaced by Borromini's chapel. [12]

Fountains in Rome

True to the decorative dynamism of Baroque, among Bernini's most gifted creations were his Roman fountains that were both public works and papal monuments. His fountains include the Fountain of the Triton or Fontana del Tritone and the Barberini Fountain of the Bees, the Fontana delle Api. [13] The Fountain of the Four Rivers or Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi in the Piazza Navona is a masterpiece of spectacle and political allegory. An oft-repeated, but false, anecdote tells that one of the Bernini's river gods defers his gaze in disapproval of the facade of Sant'Agnese in Agone (designed by the talented, but less politically successful, rival Francesco Borromini). However, the fountain was built several years before the façade of the church was completed.

Fontana del Moro in Piazza Navona.

Bernini was also the author of the statue of the Moor in La Fontana del Moro in Piazza Navona (1653).

Marble portraiture

Van Dyck's portrait of Charles, portraying different angles from which Bernini could produce a sculpture

Bernini also revolutionized marble busts, lending glamorous dynamism and animation to the stony stillness of portraiture. Starting with the immediate pose, leaning out of the frame, of bust of Monsignor Pedro de Foix Montoya at Santa Maria di Monserrato, Rome. The once-gregarious Cardinal Scipione Borghese, in his bust is frozen in conversation.

His most famous portrait is that of Costanza Bonarelli (c. 1637). It does not portray divinity or royalty, but a woman in a moment of disheveled privacy. Bernini had an affair with Costanza, who was the wife of one of Bernini's assistants. When Bernini suspected Costanza to be involved with his brother, he badly beat him and ordered a servant to slash her face with a razor. Pope Urban VIII intervened on his behalf and he was fined.[14]

Bernini also gained royal commissions from outside Italy, for subjects such as Louis XIV, Cardinal Richelieu, Francesco I d'Este, Charles I of England and Henrietta Maria. The last two were produced in Italy from portraits made by Van Dyck (now in the royal collection), though Bernini preferred to produce portraits from life - the bust of Charles was lost in the Whitehall Palace fire of 1698 and that of Henrietta Maria was not undertaken due to the outbreak of the English Civil War[15][16].

An exhibition co-organized by the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, and the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, explored Bernini's portraits: Bernini and the Birth of Baroque Portrait Sculpture, August 5–October 26, 2008.

Other works

Bernini in 1665, painted by Baciccio.
The grave of Bernini in the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore.

The Elephant and Obelisk, affectionately as Bernini's Chick by the Roman people, is located in the Piazza della Minerva and in front of the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva. Pope Alexander VII decided that he wanted an ancient Egyptian obelisk to be erected in the piazza and in 1665 he commissioned Bernini to create a sculpture to support the obelisk. The sculpture of an elephant bearing the obilisk on its back was created by one of Bernini's students, Ercole Ferrata and finished in 1667. An inscription on the base aligns the Egyptian goddess Isis and the Roman goddess Minerva with the Virgin Mary who the church is dedicated to. [17] A popular antecdote concerns the elephant's smile. To find out why it is smiling, the viewer must head around to the rear end of the animal and to see that its muscles are tensed and its tail is shifted to the left as if it were defecating. The animal's rear is pointed directly at the office of Father Domenico Paglia, a Dominican friar, who was one of the main antagonists of Bernini and his artist friends, as a final salute and last word.

Bernini worked along with Ercole Ferrata to create a much admired fountain for the Lisbon palace of the Portuguese nobleman, the Count of Ericeira. For the same patron he also created a series of paintings with the battles of Louis XIV as subject. These works were lost as the palace, its great library and the rich art collection of the Counts of Ericeira were destroyed along most of central Lisbon as a result of the great earthquake of 1755.

The death of his patron Urban VIII in 1644 and the election of the Pamphilj pope, Innocent X, initially marked a downturn in Bernini's career and released a series of opportunities for Bernini's rivals. However, within several years, Innocent reinstated him at St Peter's to work on the extended nave and commissioned the Four Rivers fountain in the Piazza Navona. At the time of Innocent's death in 1655, Bernini was the arbitrator of public artistic taste in Rome. His artistic ascendency continued under Alexander VII.

He died in Rome in 1680, and was buried in the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. Among the many who worked under his supervision were Luigi Bernini, Stefano Speranza, Giuliano Finelli, Andrea Bolgi, Filippo Parodi, Giacomo Antonio Fancelli, Lazzaro Morelli, Francesco Baratta, and Francois Duquesnoy. Among his rivals in architecture were Francesco Borromini and Pietro da Cortona; in sculpture, Alessandro Algardi.

Two years after his death, Queen Christina of Sweden, then living in Rome, commissioned Filippo Baldinucci to write his biography. [18]

Selected works


File:Angel with Crown of Thorns (originnaly on the Ponte Sant'Angelo, now in S. Andrea delle Fratte) G.L. Bernini.JPG


Bernini's activity as a painter was a sideline which he did mainly in his youth. Despite this his work reveals a sure and brilliant hand, free from any trace of pedantry. He studied in Rome under his father, Pietro, and soon proved a precocious infant prodigy. His work was immediately sought after by major collectors.


  1. ^ Lavin, Irving. Bernini and the Unity of the Visual Arts, Oxford University Press, 1980
  2. ^ such as his 1628 design for the the Forty Hours Devotion, Hibbard, Howard, Bernini, 1965,p.136
  3. ^ See Mileti, Nick J. Beyond Michelangelo, the deadly rivalry between Bernini and Borromini, Xlibris Corporation, Philadelphia, Pa., 2005; Morrissey, Jake. Genius in the design: Bernini, Borromini and the rivalry that transformed Rome, Harper Perennial, New York and London, 2005
  4. ^ Hibbard, Howard, Bernini, 1965: 68
  5. ^
  6. ^ Gale, Thomson. Gian Lorenzo Bernini Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2004.
  7. ^ Gianlorenzo Bernini
  8. ^ See Gould, Cecil. Bernini in France, an episode in Seventeenth Century History, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 1981
  9. ^ See Marder, Tod A. Bernini and the Art of Architecture Abbeville Press, New York and London, 1998
  10. ^ See McPhee, Sarah. Bernini and the bell towers: architecture and politics at the Vatican, Yale University Press, 2002
  11. ^ Magnuson Torgil, Rome in the Age of Bernini, Volume II, Almqvist & Wiksell, Stockholm, 1986: 202
  12. ^ Blunt, Anthony. Guide to Baroque Rome, Granada, 1982, p. 166
  13. ^ This was dismantled in the nineteenth century and reassembled (incorrectly) in the twentieth in the Via Veneto. A second Fontana delle Api in the Vatican has sometimes been attributed to Bernini of which Blunt has written, "Borromini is documented as having carved the fountain in 1626, but it is not certain whether he made the design for it, and it has also been attributed -not very plausibly- to Bernini". Blunt, Anthony. Borromini, Belknap Harvard, 1979, 17
  14. ^ "Biographies - Gian Lorenzo Bernini", National Gallery of Canada,, retrieved 29 October 2009 
  15. ^ Triple Portrait of Charles I
  16. ^ Lionel Cust, Van Dyck (Read books, 2007) - ISBN 1406774529
  17. ^ Heckscher, W. Bernini's Elephant and Obelisk, Art Bulletin,XXIX, 1947, p. 155.
  18. ^ Baldinucci, Filippo. Life of Bernini. Translated from the Italian by Enggass, C. University Park, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006

19. Daniela Del Pesco, Bernini in Francia. Paul de Chantelou e il 'Journal de voyage du Cavalier Bernin en France' (Napoli: Electa Napoli 2007), 575 pp.

External links

Simple English

Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680) (known as Gianlorenzo Bernini) was one of the greatest artists of the Italian Baroque period. He was famous both for his sculpture and his architecture. From 1527, he worked for Pope Urban XIII and then for Pope Alexander VII at St. Peter's Basilica where he designed the famous piazza (place) in front of the basilica and many of the most splendid things that are inside.


Bernini's life and work

Bernini was born in Naples, Italy. He was the son of Pietro Bernini (1562-1629) who was a well known sculptor. When he was about 7 years old, his father took him to Rome.

As a boy and as a young man living in Rome, he saw the works of many famous artists. He saw the famous fresco paintings on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo, one of the most famous artists of the 1500s. The paintings told the Bible story of Creation. He saw the huge dome of St. Peter's Basilica which Michelangelo designed and the new extension to the building that was being built by Carlo Maderna.

One artist who Bernini knew well was Annibale Carracci who painted scenes on the ceilings of rooms for the pope. The scenes told stories, often Ancient Roman legends. Carracci took Bernini into St. Peter's Basilica. Bernini fell on his knees and decided at that moment that he wanted to make something beautiful and splendid to honour Saint Peter.

Another artist whose work Bernini saw was Caravaggio. Caravaggio's paintings were nothing like Carracci's. Carracci's pictures were bright, lively and colourful. Caravaggio's pictures were dark, sad and often frightening. But looking into Caravaggio's paintings was like looking at something that was really happening while you were watching. The people in Caravaggio's paintings looked as if they could breathe, speak and feel pain.

By the time he was 20, Bernini was a sculptor, carving statues out of marble. He had learnt a lot, not just how to carve marble, which he learnt from his father, but how to make figures that told stories like Carracci's and Michelangelo's and seemed to be alive, like Caravaggio's. An important man in the Roman Catholic Church, Cardinal Scipione Borghese, saw his work and became his patron, paying Bernini to make many beautiful sculptures for him and his family. Soon the cardinal's uncle got to hear about Bernini. He was Pope Urban XIII, the most powerful man in Italy. He asked Bernini to work for him at St. Peter's Basilica. Bernini spent 40 years of his life there, all the time except for a trip to France and shorter visits to other cities.

Bernini's sculpture

Most sculptures of that time were just of one figure. But Bernini had seen Michelangelo's famous sculpture of the "Pieta" which showed the Virgin Mary grieving over the body of her dead son, Jesus. Bernini made figures that were in groups and told stories. One of his famous groups comes from Roman Mythology. It shows the god, Apollo chasing a beautiful wood nymph (a sort of fairy) that he had fallen in love with. But her father had magic powers and suddenly turned his daughter into a tree. Bernini sculptured the very moment when her toes are turning into roots, her legs are becoming the trunk, and leaves are sprouting out of her hands and long hair. She has her mouth open and a look of horror on her face. No-one had ever tried to carve anything like that in marble before. The thing that is so amazing about Bernini's sculpture is that he has made the flesh, the wood, the leaves and the hair all look so real, even though they are all carved in white stone.

Bernini's most famous sculpture is St. Theresa in Ecstasy. It tells the story of a saint who had a vision of an angel. Her vision was so beautiful that she fainted. Bernini has sculptured the vision, with St. Theresa lying on a cloud with the laughing angel in front of her. Their robes are blowing around, and it is hard to believe that the whole scene, which is set against a wall, is not really floating. Bernini did not just design the statues. He also designed the walls of the chapel around it, which is like a stage-set, made of beautifully patterned marble. Against another wall, he carved a balcony and several white marble people looking at the scene. They are members of the family that paid for the chapel.

The city of Rome has lots of squares with fountains in them. Pope Alexander wanted to make the city more beautiful, so during his time, more fountains were made. One of the biggest squares in Rome was the Piazza Navona. On one side of the piazza was the church of St. Agnes, built by Borromini. Bernini thought it was an ugly building. He was asked to make the "Fountain of the Rivers" in the square, right outside the church. It has four figures who are symbols of four rivers. Bernini carved one of river-figures looking up at the church and throwing his hands in the air in shock at its ugliness. Borromini was very upset with Bernini's joke, which has been there now for more than 300 years.

Bernini at St. Peter's

Baldacchino and niches

Bernini's first work at St. Peter's was to design the "baldacchino" which is like a tent or "pavilion" above the High Altar. This amazing thing is 30 metres (98 ft) tall and is probably the largest piece of bronze in the world. It stands underneath Michelangelo's dome and has four huge bronze twisted columns decorated with olive leaves and bees, because bees were the symbol of Pope Urban. Pope Urban had a niece that he loved very much and he got Bernini to put her face and the face of her new-born baby boy on the columns as well.[1][2]

Holding up the dome of the Basilica were four enormous stone pillars (piers). Bernini had a great idea for the big piers. He had four hollow "niches" carved into them where four huge statues could stand. This sent some people into a panic because they thought the dome would fall down, but it did not.

The basilica owns some precious relics: a piece of the True Cross of Jesus, a veil that a woman wiped the face of Jesus with, while he was carrying the cross, the spear that was used to pierce Jesus side, and the bones of St. Andrew, the brother of St. Peter. No-one knows for sure whether these things are real or not, but for hundreds of years they have been precious. Bernini's plan was the make four marble statues of the four Holy people: St. Helena who found the cross, St. Longinus who was the soldier with the spear, St Veronica who wiped Jesus' face and St. Andrew. Even though the design is Bernini's, the statues, which are all 5 metres high, were made by four different sculptors. Only St. Longinus is the work of Bernini. [1]

The chair of St. Peter

Bernini's next job was to make a special throne out of bronze, to hold an ancient wood and ivory throne that had been at the basilica for more than 500 years. It is called the Cattedra Petri or "throne of St. Peter". The bronze throne, with the old wooden throne inside it, is held up high at the end of the basilica, by four important saints who are called "Doctors of the Church" because they were all great writers and teachers.[3] The statues are made of bronze. They are Saints Ambrose and Augustine for the Church of Rome and Saints Athanasius and John Chrysostum for the Orthodox Church. Above the chair is a window which is made not from glass but thin translucent stone called alabaster. The Dove of the Holy Spirit is in the middle of the window with rays of light spreading out into the basilica through a sculpture of golden clouds and angels. Bernini designed this to look like a window into Heaven. There was a great celebration when the chair was put in place on January 16, 1666.[1][2]

St. Peter's Piazza

To the west of the basilica is the Piazza di San Pietro (St. Peter's Place).[4] The piazza was designed by Bernini and built between 1656 and 1667. It was not an easy job because the designer had lots of things to think about. Firstly, many people complained that Maderna's facade on St. Peter's looked too wide, so Bernini wanted to make it look narrower, not wider. Secondly, in the old square left over from the Old St. Peter's, Pope Sixtus V had a monument set up. This monument was a precious Ancient Egyptian obelisk (which is like a tall column, but with four flat sides). From its base to the top of the cross (that the pope had put on top) it was 40 metres (131 ft) high, and had been brought to Roman in ancient times. The obelisk really should be at the centre of the new square, but it was not in quite the right place, and was very difficult to move without breaking. The third problem was that Maderna had built a fountain to one side of the obelisk, and Bernini needed to make another fountain to match it, otherwise the design would look unbalanced. [1]

Bernini solved the problem by making two areas, instead of one huge one. The first area is an almost-square area right in front of the facade. It is cleverly designed with sloping sides that make the building look taller and not so wide. The second part of the piazza is oval. It has the obelisk at the centre with two fountains on either side at the widest part. The two parts of the piazza are surrounded by a colonnade (covered walk-way) which is carried on tall columns. All around are large statues of saints which seem to look down on the thousands of visitors that come to the square every day. The colonnade is in two great arcs that seem to stretch out like loving arms, welcoming people to the Basilica.[2] In recent times some buildings were demolished, making another square, to match the one near the piazza. It is a good place for vans to park and can be seen in the photo.

The famous architectural historian, Sir Banister Fletcher, said that no other city in the world had given such a wonderful view to people visiting their main church. He said that no other architect except Bernini could have imagined such a noble design. He said it is the greatest entrance to the greatest Christian church in the whole world.[5]

The Chapel of the Sacrament

Bernini's last work for St. Peter's, 1676, was to decorate of the Chapel of the Sacrament. He designed a miniature temple just like the one that was built over the place where St. Peter died. He made it bronze covered with fine gold. On either side is an angel, one gazing in adoration and the other looking towards the viewer in welcome. Bernini died in 1680 aged 81, after working for St. Peter's for 40 years of his life.[1]




  • Hintzen-Bohlen, Brigitte and Sorges, Jurgen. Rome and the Vatican City, Konemann, ISBN 3829031092
  • Fletcher, Banister. A History of Architecture on the Comparative Method, first published 1896, current edition 2001, Elsevier Science & Technology ISBN 0750622679
  • Hartt, Frederick. A History of Italian Renaissance Art. Thames and Hudson (1970) ISBN 0500231362
  • Lees-Milne, James. Saint Peter's, Hamish Hamilton (1967). ISBN
  • Gardner, Helen. Art through the Ages, 5th edition, Harcourt, Brace and World, inc., ISBN 07679933
  • Pevsner, Nikolaus An Outline of European Architecture, Pelican, 1964, ISBN 9780140201093
  • Pinto, Pio V. The Pilgrim's Guide to Rome, Harper and Row, (1974), ISBN 0600133880

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