Gian Lorenzo Bernini was not an entirely nice man, and neither was his little brother, Luigi. One morning in 1638 Bernini saw Luigi leaving the house of his, Bernini’s, mistress, who accompanied him to the door, Charles Avery tells us, “in a suggestively dishevelled state.” Bernini, like most sculptors, was a strong man. He chased his little brother to their work place at St. Peter’s, and went at him with a crowbar, breaking a couple of his ribs. Then he pursued him home, sword in hand. When his mother closed the door against him, Bernini broke it down. Meanwhile Luigi had taken refuge in Santa Maria Maggiore. Once again Bernini pursued him, but finally gave up beating on the door.

While all this was going on, Bernini had sent a servant to the house of his mistress, the beautiful Costanza Bonarelli, with instructions to disfigure her. The servant found Costanza in bed and slashed her with a razor. Bernini, who had painted a double portrait of himself and his mistress, went home and cut her face out of the painting. He had been, we are told, fiercely in love with her (she was the wife of one of his employees), and one can well believe this from the beautiful bust he had carved of her, which he proceeded to send into exile (it is now in the Bargello). Bernini was fined 3,000 scudi, the price of one of his busts, for disfiguring Costanza, but the Pope waived the fine; the servant took the rap, and went into exile. Luigi meanwhile prudently sloped off to Bologna, where he worked on a Bernini project for an altar.

Theirs was a family firm, and as a family firm they stood or fell together. Bernini’s father was a Florentine sculptor who had worked in Naples. Bernini thought of himself as a Florentine, while those who took a dim view of him called him Neapolitan. Years later, Luigi was working alongside his brother again, overseeing the reconstruction of the Scala Regia, the ceremonial staircase which leads from the narthex of St. Peter’s up into the Vatican. At the foot of these stairs is Bernini’s statue of Constantine experiencing his vision of the Cross. Behind this statue is another, darker, staircase. Here Luigi took a boy who was working on the site and brutally sodomized him, leaving him with sixteen broken bones. Once again, the family name was in disgrace. Bernini had to pay 2,000 scudi to the boy’s father, and 24,000 scudi to the public treasury.

He clearly pulled out all the stops in his defense of Luigi, for he persuaded Queen Christina of Sweden (in Rome having renounced her throne and embraced the Catholic faith) to speak on his behalf. T.A. Marder, from whose account of the Scala Regia we learn all these details, has his doubts about whether the Queen’s defense of sodomy can have been correctly reported in the contemporary documents he quotes. She argued that “since sodomy today is no longer a Florentine delicacy but well nigh universal, and especially a dish of princes, so the sodomites particularly in Rome have protectors and defenders of high standing, it being a delicacy enjoyed in Rome by great and small alike.”

This somewhat startling frankness cannot have put the matter entirely to rest, since we also learn, turning back to Avery’s book (the best and only up-to-date introduction to Bernini in print), that Bernini, as a result of this scandal, agreed to carve his statue of the Blessed Ludovica Albertoni free of charge. He was a pious man (the statue in question is a depiction of a pious woman’s death), and one might guess that piety was associated in Bernini’s mind with proximity to power. He was ruthless, competitive, and ambitious; and his ambition led him straight into the orbit of the popes. There his reputation, though always preeminent, was never entirely secure. Among the sculptors of the day, Alessandro Algardi, born in the same year, 1598, was often considered Bernini’s equal. It was in architecture that his abilities were most often criticized and doubted, and Marder discusses at length a set of drawings for the piazza of St. Peter’s in which a contemporary architect criticized Bernini’s plans, step by step, and (it would seem) cogently enough for Bernini to take note of some criticisms. He suffered some notable professional setbacks. His equestrian statues of Constantine and of Louis XIV were both considered failures. His plans for the Louvre were scrapped. Most humiliatingly, his projected bell towers for the façade of St. Peter’s turned out to be too taxing for their foundations, and construction had to be stopped when cracks appeared in the walls. The marble statue called Time Unveiling Truth (only Truth herself was completed) was intended as the sculptor’s great act of self-justification.


Bernini knew what it was like to fall from grace. When we read a contemporary judgment on him by one of his enemies, we should bear this in mind. “That dragon who ceaselessly guards the orchards of the Hesperides,” wrote one contemporary, Giovanni Battista Passeri, “made sure that no one else should snatch the golden apples of papal favour, and spat poison everywhere, and was always planting prickly thorns of slander along the path that led to rich rewards.” Jennifer Montagu, who quotes this passage in her monograph on Algardi, says that it would have been hard, even at the time, to say whether it was true.1 It is hard to prove malice when a judgment might have been made out of ingrained aesthetic prejudice.

Rome was a snakepit, anyway. So too was Paris, the only other city in which Bernini worked. For the months he was there, we have an almost daily record of his conversation, set down in the diary of the royal steward Paul Fréart de Chantelou.2 Bernini was a great man, and his opinion was continually sought. Often he expressed himself tactfully, but when he didn’t it was quite certain that what he had said would be used against him. One could imagine exactly the same familiar process taking place in Rome. If we say that Bernini, for most of his life, effortlessly dominated the artistic scene, that is not how it would have seemed to Bernini. He dominated, but by great effort. No doubt he felt he could never relax his guard.

It is astonishing to me that no one since Stanislao Fraschetti in 1900 has written a biography of Bernini. Fine scholars have done great work on the subject. His drawings and sculptures (but not his terracotta sketch models) have been cataloged. The great ensembles, such as the Cornaro Chapel in Rome with the Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, have been carefully examined. Marder’s study of the Scala Regia is the latest of such studies; most of its amazing detail is aimed at the specialist architectural historian, although the last three chapters, about the Constantine statue and the iconography of the ensemble, have a broader interest. But no one seems to have thought it worthwhile to accord the artist a full-dress biography.

A great deal is known about him. He lived mainly on fruit and was much feared for his anger. The sight of water—the Seine at evening—calmed him. He was not quite the first caricaturist, but he was perhaps the first to caricature such elevated figures as cardinals and popes. Great princes “enjoyed the joke with him, even regarding their own faces, and showed the drawings to others of equal rank.”3 When this was mentioned in Paris, the term caricature had itself to be explained to the court, the genre being unknown in France.

He wrote plays, one of which has survived, and acted in them. He designed sets and stage machinery and special effects. One night, Milton was in the audience. Bernini was well known for spectacular theatrical stunts, such as a play in which the swollen waters of the Tiber flooded its banks and seemed about to drench the audience, before disappearing down a concealed sluice. In another, a set caught fire, apparently through the inadvertence of an actor; but the burnt backdrop revealed a further set behind it, and the action of the play continued.

Such pyrotechnics were famous in their time and capture the imagination today, but Bernini was also, in his pronouncements on theater, a critic of stage machinery, its complication and inefficiency. The plays he put on at his own house, he would say, cost him no more than a few cents. He wanted to mount a play about stage machinery. There was a great deal of this kind of self-reference in his theater. In one production, the curtain fell (we are told that in his theater the curtain fell rather than rose on the scene—a trick which always works well in modern theater too: the released curtain drops swiftly to the ground and is whisked away to the side) on a stage beyond which the audience could see a fictive audience watching another play; eventually the real audience would be permitted to learn something of what the fictive audience was witnessing.

In his work as an artist-impresario, Bernini much resembles Inigo Jones, but unlike Jones’s stage designs none of Bernini’s work for the theater has survived. A short intermezzo called La Fiera di Farfa, which became famous, depicted a small-town fair. The music exists. It is much like Monteverdi. The text interweaves all the sounds of the fair, like the English settings of the Cries of London. Bernini’s spectacle brought the sights of the fair together with those sounds. 4


Bernini loved the psychology of perception, as it is now called, and many of his pronouncements fall into this category. He said that a portrait of a man wearing clothes all of one color would seem larger than a portrait of the same man wearing clothes of different colors. He said that if one were to make a figure of a man holding one hand to his chest and the other raised in the air, the hand held in the air would have to be made larger than the hand held to the chest, because the surrounding air would eat into the dimensions of the hand. When he produced a series of sketches, he would always, through vanity, tend to prefer the last sketch he had completed. In order to counteract this, he would do something to make the sketches look strange, such as examining them upside down or through tinted spectacles.

He pointed out that, in ordinary life, if someone suddenly turned white, one would say that he was not himself. It is hard to recognize someone who has had a bag of flour poured over him. In consequence, when one is making a portrait in marble, one has to resort to various compensatory measures in order to adjust for the alienating effect of the loss of color.

When he was carving his portrait of Louis XIV, the courtiers giggled at the way Bernini stalked around the King, observing him from all angles; and Louis himself had a hard time keeping a straight face. Bernini sketched the King standing, motionless; he sketched him sitting; he himself sat at the feet of the King to draw him from below—a view which is extremely familiar, since the resultant bust is always photographed from below, and was designed to be placed high, so that it has a commanding presence. Bernini not only posed the King, he also sketched him at work in the council of ministers, so that he could become familiar with the living features. He said that the human face was at its most characteristic either just before, or just after, speaking. If the artists of France learned any one thing from Bernini, it was this last maxim: time and again, especially in the eighteenth century, a portrait relies for its vividness on a mouth slightly open, as if about to speak.

He made sketches. He made models. What these preliminary procedures did was fix in his memory the nature of the task ahead of him. Once he could remember what his task was, he could ignore the sketches and the models. They had served their purpose, as far as he was concerned.

He carved his portrait of Louis under the eyes of the whole court. When it was said that the bust lacked the characteristic lock of hair fallen over the forehead, Bernini replied at first that a sculptor cannot do what a painter can—he cannot show the forehead as seen through the hair. Every art has its own limitations. He was also wont to point out that the difference between a sculptor and a painter is that a sculptor cannot change his mind. On this occasion, however, he did change his mind, cutting into the forehead to allow for the lock of hair. This story tells us two very characteristic things about Bernini: he did listen to criticism, even when he had a ready answer; and he did always bear in mind that he was not creating a phrenological replica of a head, as defined by the measurements of calipers, but an object that would create the illusion of a living human being. If those who knew the King well thought that the curl was so characteristic, then it might be worth rethinking the whole surface of the forehead in order to accommodate it.

Bernini did not invent the Baroque, nor indeed did he invent Baroque sculpture. As Bruce Boucher implies in his useful introductory account, the revolution had its origins in painting. Furthermore, there were stirrings of something new in the works of older sculptors such as Stefano Maderno and Francesco Mochi. The examples Boucher gives are chosen for their originality of composition and theatricality of impact. Visitors to the Chicago exhibition of Bernini’s terracottas can check out Mochi in the Art Institute’s permanent collection: there is an extraordinary white marble head of the young John the Baptist—a work which used to be ascribed to Bernini himself, as was a Mochi bust of Cardinal Antonio Barberini, now in the Toledo Museum of Art, Ohio.

It is indeed quite possible to attribute too much to Bernini. Many visitors leave Rome under the impression that he built St. Peter’s (or those bits of it not by Michelangelo). Others (tour operators included) think that he carved the Trevi Fountain. But I have to confess myself shocked by Jennifer Montagu’s argument, in an essay called “Bernini Sculptures Not by Bernini,” that, while the design and most of the execution of the Apollo and Daphne are by Bernini himself, the “metamorphosis of the block of marble into delicate roots and twigs, and into floating tresses, was largely the work of Giuliano Finelli.”5 The evidence for this comes mainly from sources Montagu states to be hostile to Bernini, but it is taken up by Boucher: “Of course, Bernini did not carve the Apollo and Daphne alone. Giuliano Finelli (1601-1657) was responsible for some of the more dazzling passages of tendrils and sprouting leaves….” Dazzling passages of tendrils? Daphne is turning into a laurel, not a sweet pea, a tree (as per Ovid), not a climbing plant.

Charles Avery, who quotes Montagu at length at this point, concludes that Bernini “succumbed to the temptation of claiming as all his own work virtuoso passages of carving that ethically he perhaps ought to have declared as the morceau de réception of the gifted newcomer.” But a passage, even a brilliant passage, that is a part of someone else’s sculpture can hardly be termed—even in a loose figurative sense—a morceau de réception.

Returning to Montagu’s article we find that she has apportioned the “roots and twigs and floating tresses” to Finelli on the grounds that they demonstrate the kind of use of the sculptor’s drill at which he elsewhere excelled. Finelli, Montagu tells us, grew tired of seeing his triumphs enriching another, and so “left Bernini’s studio and set up on his own, seeking the opportunity to demonstrate that it was he who had produced these admired carvings.” But what was the outcome? Montagu adds in a footnote that “in his independent work [Finelli] does not achieve (and probably did not seek) the extraordinary finesse Bernini required of him.” In other words, brilliant though he might have been, he was not as brilliant without Bernini as he had been under his instructions. If so, it seems wrong to speculate (for that is all that it amounts to) that the virtuoso passages in this famous group can be attributed to someone other than Bernini.


Bernini knew, or at least said, that after his death his reputation would wane. But whether he realized how far it would wane is another matter. He had been the most famous artist in Europe. By the mid-nineteenth century he was a villain. Charles Eliot Norton, later to become the first Professor of Fine Arts at Harvard, published his Notes of Travel and Study in Italy in 1860.6 At the climax of this work Norton tells us that Savonarola’s “Bonfires of the Vanities” had been a good thing, that the execution of Savonarola had triggered a decline in Italian civilization, and that—this is the last sentence of the book—“for two hundred years Italy has lain dead.” Here is Norton on the age of the Baroque:

Raphael and Michael Angelo were the forerunners of decay…. The spirit of the earlier artists was incongruous with the worldly pomp and selfish display of the capital of the Popes; but Michel [sic] Angelo’s genius gave just expression to the character of the Papacy in its period of greatest splendor and Bernini is the fit representative of its weakness and decline. The eye is wearied and discouraged by the constant repetition of monuments of Art which, the more skilful and elaborate they may be, only the more exhibit the absence of noble design and elevated thought…. Simplicity is banished and modestly proscribed. Instead of being the minister of truth, the purifier of affections, the revealer of the beauty of God, Art was degraded to the service of ambition and caprice, of luxury and pomp, until it became utterly corrupt and false.

This is what Norton and his friend Ruskin believed. This is what Norton, a pessimist, taught generations of young men at Harvard. When the Fogg was founded, on a bequest made in 1891, Norton successfully argued that it should be “a well-fitted art laboratory, for the study and comparison of facts relating to art and artists.” And when the museum began to collect original works of art, it concentrated for years on building up a collection of early Italian panel paintings, until eventually people began to feel that enough was enough. Arthur Kingsley Porter, the great medievalist who on becoming Professor of Fine Arts at Harvard used his salary as an unofficial purchase fund for the museum (most of the early curators seem also to have been collectors), expressed his impatience thus in 1910:

Characteristic of this America of ours are the waves of fashion that sweep through the country. There is a danger in this jerky, intense way of doing things, even when the excitement is directed towards some object in itself entirely laudable. It is therefore with some mixed feelings that we must regard the rise in the field of art of a distinct fad for Italian primitives. We may concede that the present popularity of the Giotteschi in many ways gives cause for optimism. It is impossible not to feel that a taste for Giotto, if sincere, represents an immeasurable intellectual and artistic advance over the taste for Barbison [sic] and Fragonard, which it supplants. Yet American fads have a way of blighting and befouling all they touch. The swarm of locusts flies away leaving the verdure sere, the flowers deprived of their freshness.7

I quote this in order to show that Richard Norton, the son of Charles Eliot Norton, was not alone in his exasperation, and was not merely attacking what his father stood for (although there may have been an element of that in it, for all I know), when he began his 1914 essay on Bernini with the observation “Whereas our grandfathers and our great-grandfathers held Carracci and Guido and others of the same time in high esteem, we are now taught that these later men are of little value or interest in comparison with the artists of the fifteenth century, and even the most halting and stuttering ‘Primitive’ is held of more worth than the more able masters of the seventeenth century.” 8

Richard Norton had done something quite extraordinary. In 1905 he had gone to Rome and purchased from the director of the Galleria Borghese, Giovanni Piancastelli, a collection of twenty-seven clay sculptures, twenty-five of which were later deemed to be “by or in the manner of Gian Lorenzo Bernini.” Norton is described as having been “a discreet dealer.” So discreet is he in his essay that he does not say that it was he who purchased the collection and sold it to the Brandegee family, of Faulkner Farm, Brookline, Massachusetts. What he does say is that it is

extremely fortunate that their present owner realized their great beauty and extreme interest and added them to the artistic treasures stored in America, where they will serve in ages to come to show students and sculptors a clear reflection of the mind of one of the world’s greatest artists.

The phrasing here contains perhaps a hint that, in due course, the terracottas would find their way into a museum. The sumptuous production of Norton’s book, with its heliotype plates, suggests to me that the writing of the essay and its publication were all part of that happy symbiosis whereby curators and collectors have advanced each others’ interests in America. In 1937, Mrs. Edward D. Brandegee sold her terracottas to the Fogg, which carefully stored them away. Now on view in Cambridge, they are the greatest and most various representation of the work of any of the major Italian sculptors in any American collection, including several studies for the angels on the Ponte Sant’Angelo, but they were not displayed at first. In recent years only a few have been on show at any one time. In this, their fate closely resembles that of the Farsetti collection of Italian terracottas in the Hermitage, thirty-five of which have been sent for exhibition in Chicago, where they are finely presented. Neither of these great collections has been easily visible until recently. Neither has been particularly well known to scholars. Important facts about both collections have only recently come to light. In many respects, this is a new field of research.


If one thinks of a terracotta as an essentially French thing, a clay sculpture with a high degree of finish, a surface sponged smooth, the color of pale biscuit, a delicate and fine object to be placed on a Louis Quinze commode—that is not what we are talking about in this context. We are talking about what is classed in the old inventories as a primo pensiero, or first thought—sometimes even as just a pensiero.

Such a terracotta is a three-dimensional sketch, in some ways resembling the little wax models which Italian sculptors also made, but with this difference—in nearly all cases it is built up without an armature. It is going to be fired, and an armature would split the clay. So a clay sketch model will if necessary be given a simple exoskeleton to support it while it dries. If a limb projects in the way that, for instance, Bernini’s Saint Longinus thrusts out his arms (arms that in the finished marble would have to be carved from separate blocks of stone, in defiance of the strong tradition that a statue should derive from one block alone), the arms will need wooden struts to support them, and these struts may well leave a little mark on the surface of the clay.

A model like this is not supposed to be finished. The artist is talking to himself and to his assistants. He is not yet talking to a patron or client. Bernini takes a thumbnail and presses it into the clay. Nailprint and fingerprint remain. In one case, at the back of the neck, the curve of the thumbnail is used to indicate the curve of the neck. But in other parts of the same surface the thumbprints are simply a consequence of the pressing of the clay into shape—they are not meant to be “read.” The fingerprints are not sponged off, nor are the marks of the various tools erased. Whereas in a finished marble sculpture every tool mark will have been left for a purpose (giving various textures to different areas of surface, so that they will respond variously to light), in a sketch model the tools are used haphazardly, as they come to hand.

Modeling is not, as sometimes thought, essentially a process of addition. It is a conversation between addition and subtraction. The clay is added, then gouged out. The folds of the drapery—which are the abstract, emotional language of the Baroque—are deeply, deeply gouged. There is nothing remotely tentative about the process. With a Renaissance terracotta, one can usually be pretty sure that the drapery implies a garment which could be tailored without a problem. They think of the garment first, then of the effect it can make.

Bernini thinks of the effect first. He is not a clothes designer—why should he be? He is thinking of the meaning of ecstasy. And he is thinking fast. Although there are some places on the models where the addition of clay implies an afterthought, several hours later, for the most part what is conveyed in the pensieri is speed of execution. He is expressing himself in a shorthand which his assistants can read without a problem.

Sometimes there are marks on the models, cut into the wet clay, giving a rough scale to allow for an enlargement. At other points on the surface, measurements have been taken with calipers, giving, say, the distance between the foot and the elbow. By searching for these paired indentations the researcher can come extremely close to the daily details of studio practice. Some of the bases are cut off the stand with wire. Some have been placed on a tray of sand, so that they can be moved without being squished.

One is not to imagine a modern art school, with a kiln handy in the corner. Rather the economy of the community resembles those peasant villages where the household sends the meat down to the baker’s shop to be roasted in his oven. The sculptors, in other words, lived in association with kiln workers whose chief job was making pots and tiles. The low heat at which the sketch models were fired suggests that the firing of these sketches was something that could be fitted in, cheaply, alongside of the major business of the kiln.

One can tell that an object is fired at a low heat both by the comparative softness of the clay and by the fact that, under a certain temperature, minute organic forms of fossils will remain intact. Subjected to a higher heat they would disappear. Firing at a low heat reduces the chance of disaster, but it leaves an object which is extremely fragile. At the laboratory of the Fogg (for Charles Eliot Norton’s dream came true, and the Fogg both possesses and is itself “a well-fitted art laboratory, for the study and comparison of facts relating to art and artists”)—where I was shown the Brandegee collection before it went on display, a large terracotta fragment, a saint’s head, was being examined. Because it was an irregularly shaped object, it was placed on a glass dish containing small clear vinyl beads, which arranged themselves, after the manner of a beanbag, in order to support the terracotta along all its contours.

The “study and comparison of facts” included the building up of an archive of fingerprints, and the analysis of these prints by the FBI in the hope of perhaps identifying Bernini’s. (Two prints did indeed match, and on models made some thirty years apart.) It is not known how useful this research will prove, but the Fogg hopes to build up information from Italian terracottas all over the world. Fingerprints are one part of this. Another new line of inquiry is into the mineral composition of the clay. It might be that the local Roman clay, which came from the Valle d’Inferno, not far from the Vatican, has a sufficiently distinctive composition to assist in establishing the provenance and authenticity of a piece.


It is good to ask of a work of art three questions: What is it? Where does it come from? And why is it here? The third of these questions is a way of asking: Are works of art distributed at random around the world, or is their location an aspect of their meaning? Might a drawing in London just as well be in Vienna, or is there some significance about its being in London, in a certain building, in company of other drawings?

Terracotta working models are such rare survivors—especially in comparison with drawings—that the existence of an old collection of them is inevitably full of meaning. The eighteenth-century sculptor and restorer Bartolomeo Cavaceppi built up a collection with which he hoped to found an academy. He had 7,300 drawings: these are now for the most part in Berlin. He had, by comparison, perhaps a couple of hundred terracotta sketch models, and that was a large collection. The Brandegee terracottas, it was recently established, come from Cavaceppi’s collection, as do a group of models in the Palazzo Venezia in Rome. So what we are looking at at Harvard is a fragment of an eighteenth-century vision of what was exemplary in art.9

The Chicago exhibition, so beautifully mounted and lit, comes from the Hermitage. It had been in the Palazzo Farsetti, a private museum in Venice. In 1782 the future Tsar Paul I came incognito with his wife, traveling Europe under the pseudonym the Count and Countess Serverni (“Of the North”). Everyone knew who they were. They saw the museum and wanted to buy the collection, but the Venetian government refused to allow the sale. The Tsar did not forget, however. The Republic of Venice fell in 1797. The then owner of the collection was a passionate botanist whose garden was ruining him. He sold.

In 1992, when a slightly different choice from the same collection went to Italy, it was shown under the title Alle Origini di Canova. Strangely enough, this title was just as appropriate as Chicago’s Bernini’s Rome, for the models were studied in Venice by the young Canova, along with the rest of the sculptures and casts in the Farsetti collection in Venice. What the Italian exhibition asked the visitor to remember, then, was the early education of the preeminent neoclassicist sculptor. The young Canova was an enthusiast for the Baroque. And indeed, when we look at the address and verve with which he habitually made his own models in terracotta, that astonishing decisiveness can easily remind us of Bernini.

The Farsetti collection had been formed in Rome by Abbot Filippo Farsetti, a rich man who decided to turn his palace into an academy of drawing. He had permission to make casts from the antique, and he also collected small-scale models of classical statues, including a series by Stefano Maderno. For him to have put together a collection of, again, a couple of hundred items, he must have gone the rounds of the artist’s studios. Charles Avery says he bought from Cavaceppi, but Sergei Androsov, in the Chicago catalog, does not echo this view.

What Farsetti could have found, in Rome around 1750, of the models made in the previous century (he attempted in fact to collect as far back as Michelangelo) would have been valued objects preserved by artists as exemplary. We know that the Bernini family let their collection go to rack and ruin, so it is most likely that the Bernini terracottas Farsetti found came from the collection of Giulio Cartari, Bernini’s pupil. We can see also, from a eulogistic address delivered at the opening of the Farsetti museum, that the intention of the collector was to persuade the young artists of Venice, as Androsov says, “to study the classical heritage from the masters of antiquity to Bernini, François Duquesnoy, Pierre Legros, Nicolas Poussin, Annibale Carracci, and Guido Reni.”

It would be impossible to guess, from the excellent selection in Chicago, that this was the classical program. It is a perception that only comes from the posing of the question: Why are these objects here (in the Hermitage)? In Chicago, the answer is that these objects are here in celebration of Bernini and Algardi’s 400th birthdays, and to show us what the standard is for the Baroque terracotta. Here (among first thoughts, developed sketches, and presentation models by various artists) is Algardi’s executioner, designed for the altar on which Luigi Bernini was working when he skulked in Bologna after the unfortunate business with his brother’s mistress. And here is a model of the Blessed Ludovica Albertoni, made to get the family out of that other unfortunate scrape.

After Chicago, I went to Detroit and saw the model of the Cathedra Petri at St. Peter’s in Rome, made to show the Pope how Bernini proposed to encase Saint Peter’s very throne. The angels flanking this throne have been broken off the terracotta, clearly deliberately, by Bernini, and have been replaced in stucco. As if after a conversation with the Pontiff, who had made some objection, Bernini, being a consummate courtier as well as an artist, had said: Of course, as your Holiness wishes, I shall change the angels at once. What looks at first like an imperfection in the piece becomes, as you reflect on it, the most vivid invitation to insight. This is what these terracottas do for us. Here, they say, is how all that great art was made.

This Issue

April 23, 1998