Every visitor to Rome knows the name Michelangelo. Many of his masterpieces are destinations in their own right, and those like the Pietà are often hard to glimpse through the throngs of tourists. But far fewer people go to Rome to admire the works of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, even though he, too, made an immense contribution to the fabric and artistic patrimony of the city. Somehow, his style seems to accord less well with contemporary taste. Bernini lacks Michelangelo’s superstar status, despite his having designed the square in front of St. Peter’s with its massive double colonnade, as well as the monumental baldachin that stands over the altar of the cathedral, its serpentine columns created from bronze that once covered the roof of the Pantheon. Bernini also designed many of Rome’s most famous fountains, including the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers) in the Piazza Navona, topped by an Egyptian obelisk.
These are the places to which I, an avid Bernini admirer, invariably return.
Born 34 years after Michelangelo’s death, Bernini created baroque sculptures that are suffused with drama. His David in the Borghese Gallery is taut with action, capturing its subject at the moment before he launches the stone from his sling. This gallery also contains Bernini’s most virtuosic piece, Apollo and Daphne. Again, it captures a climactic moment, when Daphne, whom Apollo had been chasing, cries out to the gods for help. In order to save her from Apollo’s unwanted advances, they transform Daphne into a tree. Her mouth is open, mid-shout, and twigs and leaves sprout from her upstretched hands. This single sculpture makes a visit to the Borghese Gallery worthwhile, but don’t miss Bernini’s Rape of Proserpina, which has a similar theme: a muscular Pluto grasps a struggling Proserpina in his arms, holding her above a baying three-headed Cerberus. I also love Aeneas, Anchises, and Ascanius, in which an exhausted but determined Aeneas carries his father away from a devastated Troy. Self-portraits painted by Bernini can be found one floor up. Timed-entry tickets booked in advance are required.