Exquisite Bernini exhibition opens at the National Gallery of Canada
Ottawa (Ontario) - November 26, 2008
Bernini and the Birth of Baroque Portrait Sculpture
An exhibition that epitomizes the drama
and the dynamism of the Baroque era
November 28, 2008 to March 8, 2009
A story of genius, patronage, power, and rivalry unfolds with the opening of the National Gallery of Canada’s (NGC) ground-breaking winter exhibition. On view from November 28, 2008 to March 8, 2009, Bernini and the Birth of Baroque Portrait Sculpture is the first-ever comprehensive exhibition of portrait busts by one of the greatest sculptors of all time, Gian Lorenzo Bernini. This is the first time that all these works are being displayed together in an exhibition and many have never before been seen outside of Italy.
Organized in collaboration with the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, the NGC is the sole Canadian venue for this exhibition. Bernini and the Birth of Baroque Portrait Sculpture features 50 works, including some of Bernini’s most celebrated sculptures created in marble, as well as works in bronze and porphyry, paintings and drawings. Also on view are portrait busts by other significant sculptors of 17th century Rome, such as Francesco Mochi, François Duquesnoy, Giuliano Finelli and Alessandro Algardi, all of whom were Bernini’s contemporaries and great artists in their own right. A visit to www.gallery.ca/bernini, the website dedicated to this exhibition, provides context and further information.
The NGC’s own bust of the Barberini pope Urban VIII is a focal point of the exhibition; it is richly complemented by significant loans from some of the most prestigious arts institutions and private collections in Europe and North America.
“Thanks to the National Gallery’s partnership with the J. Paul Getty Museum and the extraordinary generosity of international lenders, we are able to bring an exhibition of exceptional quality and historical significance to the Canadian public and international visitors to Ottawa,” said NGC Director, Pierre Théberge. “This is a privilege beyond measure.”
Bernini’s genius lay in his remarkable ability to create life-like images in the intractable medium of marble. A childhood prodigy, his brilliance was spotted by papal patrons very early in his career. He mastered the art of rendering surfaces and textures such as silk, cotton, lace and fur and made them unique to that piece. His innovative new techniques brought stone to life.
“Bernini’s sculptures typify the drama and dynamism of the Baroque era,” said NGC Deputy Director and Chief Curator, David Franklin. “His innovative techniques revolutionized the realm of portrait sculpture. He blurred the borders between painting and sculpture, as well sculpture and architecture, which made him one of the most multi-faceted and influential artists of his time.”
Hailed as the “new Michelangelo,” Bernini, like his predecessor, was a sculptor, painter and an architect. He was also fascinated by the theatre and wrote plays and poems. His name is synonymous with the Baroque period. The portraits in this exhibition show Bernini’s evolution as an artist and range from powerful patrons, such as popes, cardinals, rulers and generals, to artists, poets and servants. Three women are included: a mother, a noble wife and Bernini’s lover, Costanza Bonarelli, which is arguably one of the most famous works in the exhibition. Together these works reflect the power, motion and a sense of theatricality which exemplify this epoch. They also underscore the role of the Catholic Church and its extraordinary patronage of the arts, albeit largely for culturally political purposes; and how, through this patronage, Bernini was propelled to power and international acclaim.
Exhibition Themes and Organization
Set in the context of Baroque Rome, Bernini and the Birth of Baroque Portrait Sculpture is chronologically organized and its works are divided into five central themes:
Bernini’s Early Career
Born in Naples and son of Pietro Bernini, who was a painter prior to becoming an accomplished sculptor, Gian Lorenzo was a child prodigy who became famous for his skill in carving from an early age and who was soon receiving commissions from influential patrons. This section reveals the exceptional talent he displayed in his late teens and early twenties and is the period when he was the most actively engaged in portrait sculpture. These portraits laid the foundation of an extraordinary career and made Bernini one of the most sought-after sculptors in Europe.
Bernini’s Portrait Drawings
This section displays drawings that span the 1620s to the 1640s and show the evolution of Bernini’s style over this period. While his early works are precise, his later portraits favour tone and freedom. In contrast to Bernini’s sculptures which portray the elite, his drawings were likely of friends, acquaintances or family members. His depictions display engaged and responsive people, aware that they were being observed.
Speaking Likeness: Intimacy and Immediacy in Bernini’s Portraits
Important portrait busts shown in this gallery which were commissioned in the 1630s by Cardinal Scipione Borghese and Pope Urban VIII, reveal Bernini’s technical virtuosity in capturing not just the physical likeness but also the personality of his sitters. Taking a cue from contemporary painting, these works marked the start of a decisive change in his approach to portraiture which became known as the “speaking likeness.” These busts were more intimate and were portrayed as if in action. Capturing a moment in time, they convey the illusion of life and the subject’s psychological presence. They invite viewers into their own drama and evoke a response.
New Sensibilities: Bernini’s Contemporaries
This part of the exhibition explores works from the 1630’s – a period during which portrait sculpture was revolutionized and re-energized. Portrait busts became ambitious and artists constantly searched for new ways of presenting their works. Sculptures by Bernini’s contemporaries Francois Duquesnoy, Francesco Mochi, Giuliano Finelli and Alessandro Algardi are displayed in this gallery. At this time, Rome had become a burgeoning centre of the arts, attracting artists from across Italy and other parts of Europe. Together, they worked with Bernini to explore “naturalist” portraiture. While they were profoundly influenced by Bernini, they also became his bitter rivals.
Bernini’s Triumph: Art for Rome and the Courts of Europe
The final gallery in the exhibition shows Bernini at the pinnacle of his career. His sculptures were used to glorify the church and papacy. He dominated art in Rome and his portrait busts had become the ultimate in prestige. As his fame spread across Europe to North America, his works were sought after by British and French nobility alike. However, to safeguard the prestige of Rome, Pope Urban VIII and Pope Alexander VII jealously guarded Bernini’s talents, selectively allowing him to undertake international commissions.
The exhibition is curated by Catherine Hess, associate curator of sculpture and decorative arts at the J. Paul Getty Museum; Andrea Bacchi, scholar and professor, Università di Trento, Italy; and Jennifer Montagu, Honorary Fellow, Warburg Institute, London. It premiered at the Getty Museum this past summer before being exhibited at the NGC. The partnership with the J. Paul Getty Museum has been spearheaded by the Gallery’s Deputy Director and Chief Curator, Dr. David Franklin. This exhibition presented at the NGC has been coordinated by Mayo Graham, Interim Chief Curator and Director, National Outreach and International Relations, and Dr. Christopher Etheridge, Curatorial assistant.
A 336-page catalogue produced by the National Gallery of Canada and the J. Paul Getty Museum accompanies this exhibition. Published in English and French, its 155-colour plates and 114 black and white illustrations reveal the remarkable innovation of Bernini and his contemporaries and the artistic richness of the Baroque period. Edited by Andrea Bacci, Catherine Hess and Jennifer Montagu, it contains contributions by the editors as well as Julian Brooks, Ann-Lise Demars, David Franklin, Jennifer Montagu, Stephen F. Ostrow and Jon L. Seydl. Available at a cost of $44.95 in soft cover and $70.00 in hardcover, it is now on sale at the National Gallery of Canada Bookstore or at www.shopngc.ca, the NGC’s online store.
A full program of educational activities is scheduled throughout the exhibition. These include an opportunity to tour the exhibition with the curator, lectures, films and a play written by Bernini. For more information, visit www.gallery.ca, call 1.800.990.1985 or 1.800.319.ARTS.
Admission and NGC hours
Tickets for Bernini and the Birth of Baroque Portrait Sculpture are on sale at $15 for adults, $12 for seniors and full-time students, $7 for youths aged 12 to 19 years, and $30 for families (two adults and three children). Admission is free of charge for children under 12 and for Friends of the Gallery. Tickets include admission to the NGC Collection.
Tickets are available by telephone at 613-998-8888 or 1-888-541-8888 and at www.shopngc.ca.
From October 1, 2008 until April 30, 2009 the Gallery is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10 am to 5 pm; Thursday until 8 pm. Closed Monday December 25 and January 1, 2009.
About the National Gallery of Canada
The National Gallery of Canada is home to the most important collections of historical and contemporary Canadian art in the world. In addition, it has pre-eminent collections of Indigenous, Western and European Art from the 14th to the 21st century, American and Asian Art as well as drawings and photography. Created in 1880, it is among the oldest of Canada’s national, cultural institutions. As part of its mandate to make Canadian art accessible across the country, the NGC has one of the largest touring exhibition programs in North America. For more information, visit www.gallery.ca.
About the J. Paul Getty Trust
The J. Paul Getty Trust is an international cultural and philanthropic institution devoted to the visual arts that features the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Getty Research Institute, the Getty Conservation Institute, and the Getty Foundation. The J. Paul Getty Trust and Getty programs serve a varied audience from two locations: the Getty Center in Los Angeles and the Getty Villa in Malibu.
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For more information and to set an up interview with David Franklin, Deputy Director and Chief Curator of the National Gallery of Canada or with guest Curator, Catherine Hess, please contact:
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