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.
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.
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)