'Once in a lifetime' Bernini exhibition in Galleria Borghese

Persephone and Pluto, photo by Konrad van Halewyn

ROME - The Borghese Gallery, in celebration of the 20th anniversary of its reopening, is staging an exhibition that explores its historic ties with the Baroque sculptor, Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Some critics say that there is no artist that defined 17th century Rome as much as Bernini, that a pan European sculptor with such influence over the entire artist tradition of a continent can only be understood when compared with Shakespeare’s influence on literature.

 In many ways this exhibition is like Bernini’s homecoming, his first commission was from Cardinal Scipione Borghese, the inhabitant of the Villa Borghese that later became the Gallery. The cardinal asked Bernini to make every room “stimulate the imagination” which led the sculptor to create four group sculptures which include his two most famous works, both present at the exhibition: “Pluto and Persephone” and “Apollo and Daphne.” Scipione was Bernini’s patron, financed at first by his uncle Camillo who went on to become pope and make him a Cardinal, and collected a massive art collection in his lifetime. The villa itself was in fact built to house and display all of the pieces.

 “I don’t think that there will ever be such a complete exhibit of Bernini,” said Anna Coliva, the joint curator and director of the Borghese Gallery and she and, fellow curator, Andrea Bacchi have made sure they make the most of this unique opportunity. Each section of the exhibition has been left to specialists in certain elements of the great artist’s career which have been separated into: apprenticeship with Peter; the youth and the birth of a gender; Bourgeois groups; the restoration of the ancient; busts; the great urge; Bernini and Luigi XIV; the sculpture craft; and the sketches.

 The thoughtful placing of Bernini’s pieces within the ornately decorated Villa emphasised the best of each. Whether it is the nestling of the sleeping, newly merged, Hermaphrodite on a stone bed in a alcove, or Pluto’s strong grip on Persephone’s marble skin in the high dark ceilings, the figures fit the space they are in. Like a game, one can walk around and try to find the reason that a sculpture was put in a certain room, possibly in reference to the Cardinal’s own placement; audio tours are the other option if you want to learn though details. A small piece depicting the child Jupiter playing with his siblings, almost inconspicuous in the parade of some of the most famous sculptures of that entire century, was in a room painted in scenes of the story of the adolescent gods hiding from their vicious father, Saturn, in animal masks before going to Nile valley and becoming the Egyptian pantheon.

 Even outside of these work’s colourful context in the Borghese era of Rome, Bernini’s artistic skill is quite incredible. As the founder of the Baroque movement, Bernini’s aim was to continue the renaissance tradition of making sculptures that can be viewed from any angle. Bernini took this as an opportunity to display dynamic movement that can capture the narrative in a single frozen moment. Apollo chasing Daphne as she prays to become a tree to escape the enamoured god, her toe nails growing into roots and the tips of her upstretched fingers into translucent marble leaves, is the perfect demonstration.

 Bernini’s mark is to be seen all over Rome: the four river sculptures in Piazza Navona or in the splendour of Saint Peter’s. One still could not hope for a better or a better used space in which to view Bernini than Villa Borghese. The exhibition runs Nov. 1, 2017, until Feb. 4, 2018.



Apollo and Daphne, photo by Konrad van Halewyn
David, photo by Konrad van Halewyn