bernini: double down failure

Bernini’s trip to France was a double failure. Not only was the sculptor unable to impose his artistic views upon the Frenchand at the same time letting his frustration morph into a contempt and endless cycle of provocation and manifestations of bad faith, but also, more importantly the center of artistic patronage was passing from Rome to Paris.

The papacy had lived beyond its means too long. It could no longer dazzle Europe with its panoply of artists. This role was now assumed by Louis XIV; for in France, too, patronage of the arts was now seen as an expression of power. French national style became increasingly exclusive. Bernini had promised to make an equestrian statue of Louis XIV. It did not reach Paris until 1685, five years after the sculptor’s death. Louis took such a strong dislike to the bare-chested, bareback horseman that he ordered the statue broken.

— Bernini had originally designed the site (a mountain peak) for the Equestrian Statue of Louis XIV, the Sun King, on a fiery steed, as can be seen from the preliminary sketch. The base supporting it today lacks the vertical thrust that would enhance the image of this absolute monarch. However, Bernini chose to make the features of Louis XIV resemble those of Alexander the Great. The original terracotta model is by Bernini himself, though the sculpture was executed by his pupils, since he was by then over seventy-three years old.
When the equestrian statue of Louis XIV arrived in Paris, its triumphant Baroque quality was not appreciated. Disappointed, the king relegated it to the bottom of the Versailles gardens where, soon afterwards, Girardon transformed the figure into Marcus Curtius. Fortunately, the terracotta model has been preserved. The galloping horse repeats the type used in his statue of Constantine the Great; Louis XIV is identified, however, with Hercules, reaching the summit of the path of Virtue and, from the top of a steep cliff, attaining glory.—Read More:

Relenting, Louis had it touched up by one of his academic hacks, renamed Marcus Curtius, and banished to a remote corner of the Versailles park, where it still stands. Back in Rome’s more hospitable ambiance Bernini finished his interrupted work on the Colonnade of St. Peter’s. Also, as a tribute to Alexander VII, he designed the oddly comic monument that stands in front of the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva: an Egyptian monolith growing out of a baby elephant’s back.

Surprising Louis didn’t do a royal toss of Bernini’s statue into the Seine, the antipathy was that bad; instead he transformed the monumental into the cliche and mundane to represent Marcus Curtius.What do you expect from a king who considered himself crowned by god? Image:

The monolith has the startling quality of some of the more celebrated surrealistic juxtapositions, such as the umbrella on the operating table. But as the involved conceits of the inscriptions show, the monument was not intended to be bizarre….( to be continued)

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