Italian Baroque Art Bernini Vs  Thesis

Excerpt from Thesis :

There is a kaleidoscopic plurality of symbols and links among them, but it is easier to decipher the central meaning of the whole: the spiritual supremacy of the pope. Thus a political program was transformed into a beautiful masterpiece." (Findlen)

Bernini believed that in architecture the main focus was on the material and the invention, then on the manner in which the parts were ordered and finally on the "perfection of grace and delicacy" (Ingraham). Under these circumstances it can be argued that Bernini's statues are architecturally-oriented and this contributes to their elevate expressivity, distinguishing him from other baroque sculptors.

Another important sculptor associated with the Italian baroque current is Borromini. It is said that Bernini and Borromini were direct rivals and they competed for projects as well as for glory. One of the most important works of Borromini is represented by the St. Agnese in Agone church. The work is situated in Piazza Navona. Since his rival's work, the Fontana dei Quattro fiumi is situated right in front of the church this gas given rise to numerous legends regarding the rivalry between them. It has been argued that one of the river gods performs a gesture with his elbow as if to defend himself from the fall of Borromini's church, but the dates of construction of the edifice prove this is no more than small talk. Saint Agnese is believed to be a young girl who died during the times of Domiziano in the very same location where the church was later constructed.

Just like in the case of The fountain of the four rivers, the person issuing the order to have the church built was pope Innocenzio the tenth. The first project of the church was handed to Girolamo Rainaldi. After the pope died, the project was removed from Borromini and given to another architect but the modifications brought afterwards were rather small. The actions of the sculptor focused mainly on the interior of the church, the paintings of which present the saint in different hypostases. It has been argued that "Francesco Borromini succeeded in creating, through purely architectonic means, an din open air, something which is equivalent to the mild chiaroscuro of his contemporary, Rembrandt, at work on his own last paintings at this same time." (Giedion) If Bernini is very careful about a variety of details which he included in the fountain, his rival is more oriented towards simplicity. The techniques employed by him are said to make the stone appear as if it had changed into a flexible, elastic material. Unlike Bernini who would also paint and have architectural skills as well, Borromini focused on building only. He did not actually sculpt any statue or bust. His expressiveness was to be found rather in the simple decorative elements which he endowed churches with, such as the abstract spirals. From this point-of-view one could state that he employed modern means of expression. " Borromini's chief interest was always the molding of space. He worked with wavelike lines and surfaces, with the sphere, with the spiral and with still more unusual shape sin the wire sculptures on the points of his towers. In his hands all the inherited forms took on a new flexibility. He took nothing for granted and almost from the beginning of his work he was accused of cultivating the bizarre and allowing himself to great liberties." (Giedion) St. Agnese in agone can be considered as one of the most relevant works of art that he created because it illustrates not only all these principles, but also demonstrates his architectural skills and his engineering capacities.

Both of them are important representatives of the Italian baroque movement. Since the current was deeply influenced and promoted by the catholic church, this implied that art had to serve a more pragmatic purpose than the purely aesthetic one. Its role was to transmit a message to the illiterate. This is why art becomes even more narrative than before, because its role is an educational one. Some might argue that from this point-of-view, Bernini did a better job with his Fountain of the four rivers than his rival with the Saint Agnese in agone church. It is true that the fountain is full of details and symbols. It is also true that there are numerous and various connections which can be made between them and it is true that the river gods are metaphors which can easily be understood by the large audience. However, since the work of art was supposed to teach the masses which had little education, it can be assumed that most of the people did not really understand all the present symbols, nor made all the possible connections between the existing element. The surprise factor which has been discussed before may be the element which reinforces the fountain as a means o communication. In managing to transmit a strong emotion associated with the beauty and expressivity of the fountain, the artist succeeds in transmitting the idea that the church is somehow to be associated with beauty (and therefore goodness). The message that Bernini manages to communicate is most likely to be recorded like this. Borromini on the other hand focuses less on the symbolical elements he might include in his sculptures. It is difficult to judge the two artists through a comparison which involves two pieces of art which do not belong to the same category. It is easier to be expressive through the conception and the construction of statues. It is more difficult to transmit detailed ideas through the creation of a building, especially when the focus of the creator is not on small visual details, but on how to succeed in transforming the space's harshness while turning it into a more fluid element and yet preserving its initial properties as well. Judging them from the perspective of the role that Baroque art was meat to perform, one might argue that Borromini succeeded in doing his job better than Bernini.

Baroque art concentrate upon touching the senses and communicating a message both at emotional and reason level. The iconographic representations were supposed to be simple and dramatic. From this point-of-view, both sculptors are important representatives of the art trend under discussion. The idea that a work of art could surprise the viewer and provide him with new elements which appeared when the viewing angle changed is very obvious in Bernini's work The fountain of the four rivers. As far as baroque architecture is concerned, it can be easily stated that Borromini is an important representative. Volume and void are important baroque concepts which he managed to create and interpret. The St. Agnese in agone church is a relevant example in this direction. The colonnades of the church, but more importantly the light and shade effect inspired by the chiaroscuro paintings are important proofs of Borromini's skills.

The rivalry between the two sculptors was only natural to occur. They were both very talented and they both wanted to develop themselves and have the opportunity to create works of art that clearly demonstrated their potential. I do not think that it can be stated that one was better than the other because they did not benefit from the same opportunities. Bernini's character and the circumstances allowed him to become the protege of important rich families who ordered him various artistic works, such as the Fountain of the four rivers.

His social status, not only his beautiful works contributed to him achieving popularity and fame. At the same time it can very well be stated that Borromini had a complex and difficult character. He did not have the opportunity to become the protege artist of a rich and relevant family and he often offered his work for free.

It is easy to understand how this might have affected his morals and his self-esteem. His tragic suicidal ending might tell us something about the situation. In my opinion, the number of works which he realized are a clear proof of his skills and his genius.

The chosen pieces of art are the best symbols of the rivalry between the two of them because of the context they are situated in. They were both ordered by the same papal authority, pope Innocenzio the tenth, which means that they had to respect the same quality standards. In addition, they are both situated in the same location, piazza Navona, close to one another.

The fact that they are physically close allows for an immediate comparison. Symbolically the geographical position might suggest direct rivalry. Nevertheless, it can be stated that the chosen works are artefacts which reflect clearly both the technical skill and the talent of both artists, therefore allowing room for comparison. While the two works of art allow for the comparison to be made, I do not believe that they are relevant enough in order to decide if one is better than…

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