Bernini’s six months at the French court. A total failure. The artist who believed his gifts came from god would inevitably clash with a king who considered himself crowned by god. A collision of two forms of divine right as well as teo forms of chauvinism…
Meanwhile, Bernini’s Louvre design, a huge facade with his trade-mark of the concave-convex flow, detached columns on the outer and courtyard fronts, and a cornice crowned by a balustrade, was running into interference. Bernini complained that Jean Baptiste Colbert was obsessed by minutiae. There was little common ground between the visionary Italian and the practical Frenchman. Bernini wanted to express grandeur in stone, while Colbert badgered him with details about plumbing and sewage. To be asked such things, Bernini lamented, was like a king granting audiences to paupers and widows begging for pennies.
The storm broke during a work session with Charles Perrault, one of Colbert’s assistants. Perrault told Bernini that his design did not leave enough room for the kitchens. Bernini penciled in a few changes. Perrault complained that he had a notebook full of unanswered queries about Bernini’s work. He said that he and many others wanted to know why the est facade would be lower than the east. Bernini, whose temper was at the breaking point, explained it was for reasons of general harmony. And in any case, he blustered, when it came to craftsmanship, he would accept criticism only from someone more capable than himself, not from someone like Perrault, who was not worhty to clean the soles of his shoes.
“A man like me to be treated thus,” shouted Bernini. “I’ll complain to the king- I am leaving tomorrow, and I don’t know what keeps me from taking a hammer to my bust after so much contempt has been shown me.”
Bernini left Paris without thanking either Colbert or the king. France had not suited him. He did not travel well. He didn’t like the weather. His art was linked to the physical and intellectual climate of Rome and the papacy.
Shortly after Bernini’s brusque departure the Louvre facade design was awarded to Claude Perrault, the architect brother of the courtier who had goaded Bernini into losing his temper. Perrault’s design was sober, elegant, and traditionally French in its motifs. It was ample evidence that the artistic formalism sponsored by the French court could not have assimilated the lushness and extravagance of a Bernini in any large scale project.