Bernini and one side of the moat

Bernini. Are the roots of heaven made of stone?  The vision of Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini…

Bernini appeared just at the moment when the papacy was going through its most intensive phase of art patronage. To commission great works and support famous artists was to enhance the personal luster of the pope’s reign. A funerary chapel of St. Peter’s was among the highest marks of status among the families that competed for the papacy, if not the highest. Great religious art also added to the temporal and spiritual glory of the church. Control over the best-known artists gave the popes the illusion of temporal power after their actual power had begun to decline. and at this critical period of church history artists became missionaries, propagators of the faith at the service of Counter Reformation ideals.

—During the Counter-Reformation (the official Catholic reaction to the rise of Protestantism), Gianlorenzo Bernini sculpted a life-sized sculpture of David for Pope Paul V’s nephew, but the intended audience was actually for Catholic pilgrims. An important aspect of the Counter-Reformation was the use of art as propaganda. Churches were lushly and richly decorated to help convince the pilgrims of the power of the Catholic religion and a new bronze baldachin, or canopy, was added to the altar of St. Peter’s, all of which exemplified the Baroque predisposition for extravagant displays. Bernini’s David is no exception. Portrayed at the moment of battle, David infringes forcefully on the viewer’s space. The sculpture captures David as he launches the stone at the giant Goliath. There is a lot of movement in this sculpture with David bending at the waist and his arms twisted to one side. David’s clothing twists dramatically around his body accentuating the power David is putting behind the stone. At his feet lays his discarded armor. His face is full of emotion and he seems more human-like, more relatable. David shows intense determination with his clenched jaw and furrowed brow.—Read More:

The Council of Trent, ending in 1563, had taken eighteen years to establish a bold front of resistance to the Protestant heresy. Church dogma was redefined and church administration reformed. The ardor of the clergy and the faithful was rekindled by encouraging a sort of siege mentality. There was the church triumphant, the only true church, and on the other side of the moat the heretics who sought to destroy it. This mentality was at the same time militant and defensive.

It trumpeted church doctrine while guarding against impurities that would dilute it. Art was placed at the service of dogma. The Council of Trent rules that all religious art had to be approved by bishops. It had to be pure, both in style and in subject matter. Nudes were proscribed from religious art. Specialists in fig leaves came to be much in demand. Paul IV at first wanted to cover Michelangelo’s Last Judgement in the Sistine Chapel but finally settled for having Daniele da Volterra paint in a minimum of modesty. Pope Innocent X and XI had the Christ child swaddled. Caravaggio was criticized because his Saint matthew was barefoot.

—According to both of Bernini’s biographers, when a group of cardinals went to see the bust, one wittily proclaimed that the bust was “Montoya petrified.”
When Montoya himself arrived, Cardinal Maffeo Barberini (later Pope Urban VIII) went to greet him, “and, touching him, said, ‘This is the portrait of Monsignor Montoya,’ and turning toward the statue, ‘and this is Monsignor Montoya'”
Pedro de Foix Montoya (1556-1630) was a Spanish cleric and lawyer who worked in the Curia. This was not the first work that he had commissioned from a young Bernini.
In 1619 he commissioned Bernini to execute two companion busts Damned Soul and Blessed Soul. Both are in white marble and still in the Spanish Embassy to the Vatican. Both are an elaboration of the “good death” propounded in Catholic doctrine especially in the counter-Reformation.
The bust became the central feature of a cenotaph for the prelate who died in 1630. The cenotaph was completed in 1632. The bust and the niche in the cenotaph are perfect complements
… The late Monsignor was a benefactor of the Spanish church. That is why his tomb is there.
The bust is of course the work of a genius.
Montoya lives. His presence is overwhelming. Austere and perhaps aloof but his piercing eyes focus our attention. The figure leans forward slightly. It is as if he has been caught “mid-motion”. The hair has been modelled in fine parallel waves, shadow creates colour and there is an effect of lightness. Notice the folds in the clothing, slighlty suggesting motion as well as the quality of the material being depicted. Note also the momentary inntensity of expression achieved by slight inclination of the head accompanied by a downward glance from half closed eyes.—Read More:

By the time Bernini began to accept papal commissions, the Counter Reformation was over its initial puritan phase and had entered a period of artistic exultation, of which he became the most important exponent. He was a truly pious man. He took communion twice a week, went on an annual retreat, and attended mass every morning, like a priest. His favorite book was the Imitation of Christ, and a close friend was the General of the Jesuits. Imbued with the spirit of the Counter Reformation, he was naturally drawn to themes that defended what the protestants attacked: angels. All those aspects of the church that repelled Protestant sensibilities became his favorite subjects.

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