During the seventeenth century, a major player in Rome’s art world was the Italian sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini. One of his well-known pieces of sculpture is the ‘Bust of Pope Urban VIII’. With cardinals and popes as his patrons, Bernini’s sculptures and architecture projects helped shape and transform the appearance of Rome.
Bust of Pope Urban VIII
The ‘Bust of Pope Urban VIII’ is a marble statue that is a portrait of the subject. Being 102 cm high, Bernini created the bust in the 1630s. Today, the bust is on show at the Palazzo Barberini in Rome. This version of the bust is not the only one in existence. Bernini created several busts of Pope Urban VIII (Maffeo Barberini). They are a mixture of marble and bronze works, all having the same title. A lack of documentation makes it difficult to establish an exact date when Bernini worked on each of the busts. The version in the Palazzo Barberini is thought to have been created between 1632 and 1633.
Looking at the bust of Pope Urban VIII, it’s possible to see how Bernini brings the marble to life. It’s all down to the tiny details he applies to the subject’s features and clothing. For example, the details in the eyes, the folds in the mozetta, as well as the detail in the Pope’s beard, make the subject appear real. Bernini’s use of marble and the lifelike detail in the bust gives the impression that the sitter has been frozen in time. The bust is typical of the baroque style in its realism and attention to detail.
Bernini had a number of patrons throughout his career. Many of them were popes and cardinals in Rome’s Catholic Church. At a young age, Bernini’s first major patron was Pope Paul V. It was later, under the patronage of Pope Urban VIII, that he gained his reputation as a sculptor and architect. During his career, Bernini received a large number of commissions involving the church. For the 21 years that he held office, Pope Urban VIII commissioned over 30 projects from Bernini. These included sculptures, fountains and architectural works amongst many other types of works. Some of Bernini’s other church patrons were:
Cardinal Scipione Borghese.
Pope Gregory XV.
Pope Innocent X.
Pope Alexander VII.
Bernini’s last church patron was Pope Clement IX.
Because of the number of commissions he received, Bernini opened up a workshop in Rome. Many of those who worked for him were masters in their own right. When it came to sculptures, Bernini’s most trusted workshop assistant was Giulio Cartari. In producing the various busts of Pope Urban VIII, Bernini had differing levels of help from those who worked in the workshop. Of all the busts that exist of Pope Urban VIII, it’s thought that Bernini’s workshop assistants produced at least one of them.