Bernini’s genius: Making stone speak

Gian Lorenzo Bernini made sculptures that are simply astonishing. I look at his work and marvel that he lived more than 300 years ago, from 1598 to 1680.

The two most awesome fountains I experienced in Rome were designed by him: The Four Rivers Fountain and the Trevi Fountain. Oceanus absolutely bursts out of Trevi’s stone and I wish I had been able to return to make a better photo of the full magnificence of his figure, the horses and other figures. Bernini designed but did not build his glorious fountain; however, his style pours out of it. (Pictured above.)

One small section of the Four Rivers Fountain, with the Church of the Agony in the background

My shots of Four Rivers also do not do that fountain justice. We visited at night, which is how they should first be seen – it is an almost mystical experience to see them emerge from the dark, glowing like planets. Four Rivers stands in front of a tremendous building, Church of Sant’Agnese in Agone, or the Church of the Agony in Piazza Navona. Visitors could spend an entire day in just this one piazza to fully experience the fountains and the church.

Two of my three favorite sculptures in the Borghese Gallery (itself a work of art) were Bernini creations: David and Apollo and Daphne. Another smaller figure – a rider and horse – was so full of his touch that I include a photo

Now THAT is a horse!

here, even though it is distorted from the glass cover. I loved David – so full of energy and purpose – and am convinced that he looks like someone trying to fell a giant. I did not care for the theme of Apollo and Daphne, as she only escapes being raped by turning into a tree, but was completely gobsmacked by the figures.

David about to fell Goliath

Bernini worked against the nature of stone and made it alive, made it speak, pulled the story out so it became breathtaking.

What would it be like to have all of that beauty inside one heart and mind? To have Oceanus awaiting release, swirling and calling through the stone. To have David’s feet thudding, his sling whistling, and perhaps hearing

Daphne escapes nasty Apollo by shape shifting

involuntary grunts as muscles strained for the throw, reaching out of the marble.

History suggests he was a little bit crazy. Perhaps a lot. But he made some of the most beautiful art I’ve ever seen.


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