Several books and exhibitions about the 17th-century master, Gian Lorenzi Bernini, are discussed in the June 4th edition of The New York Review of Books. Essayist Ingrid D. Rowlands writes a mini-biography of the sculptor-architect-adulterer, his art and times. What immediately prompted the essay are two exhibitions — one on Bernini that’s closed at the Prado in Madrid, the other about Baroque art in Rome in general that’s still at the Fondazione Roma Museo.
But Rowlands uses those as a launching pad for a wider consideration of recent studies and shows — including Bernini: Sculpting in Clay, which the Kimbell presented in 2013 (here’s my extensive review of the exhibition). Because the Metropolitan in New York also presented the show, it’s generally credited with it, but those who saw both know the presentation at the Kimbell excelled the Met’s.
In any event, here’s Rowlands on Bernini’s clay models:
As a doctoral student, Irving Lavin made a pioneering study of the terra-cotta models that were such an important part of Bernini’s working method, and a choice selection of these, by Bernini himself, by his assistants, and by his rivals, has been gathered in one room of the “Barocco a Roma” exhibition. The best guide to understanding these works and their place in the great sculptor’s artistic life is Bernini: Sculpting in Clay, the catalog of a recent exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Here Anthony Sigel, curator of sculpture at Harvard’s Fogg Museum (which has its own impressive set of Bernini terra-cottas), provides a detailed list of Gian Lorenzo’s sculptural techniques, but for any viewer the most moving aspect of terra-cotta will be the way it preserves traces of the artist’s touch, in smears and swipes of the fingers, in the imprints of his nails and his surprisingly slender fingertips. As long as these exist, it is hard to maintain that Bernini is dead.
It should be noted that Kimbell curator C. D. Dickerson III is co-author of the catalog and oversaw the Kimbell’s superlative exhibition.