James Hall

Painting in Marble

Bernini: His Life and His Rome

By

University of Chicago Press 429pp £22.50 order from our bookshop

Of all the great and still celebrated seventeenth-century artists, Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598–1680) is the only one to induce both a sporadic smirk and a shudder. Bernini’s best-known work, The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa (1645–52), provokes interest not so much because it is the prototype for overwhelming multimedia ‘total artworks’, but because the implausibly glamorous saint seems to be experiencing multiple orgasms over the altar (the real Teresa was plain and prematurely aged by ascetic practices). Bernini’s best-known deed is a gruesome double crime of passion – the attempted murder of his brother for sleeping with his own mistress (who was the wife of one of his assistants), followed by the slashing of the mistress’s face with a razor by Bernini’s henchman. His cause has not exactly been helped by Jeff Koons being his most high profile and vociferous fan, especially during Koons’s Cicciolina period: ‘I use the baroque to show the public that we are in the realm of the spiritual, the eternal.’ With friends like these, who needs enemies?

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • The mystery of Jack the Ripper's identity has long been agonised over. But what do we know about his victims?… ,
    • A piece of Literary Review history from way back in 1983: John Haffenden talks to the great Iris Murdoch. ,
    • Britain’s only travelling lit fest, the Garden Museum Literary Festival is heading to Houghton Hall, Norfolk, for a… ,
    • 'The 19th-century German sage is not my idea of a pleasant travel companion' goes hiking with Friedr… ,
    • If you want ideas about what to read next, sign up to our free email newsletter, and get book reviews, archive mate… ,
    • 'The heroic male nude could not, I think, be used today to signify civic pride and glory', as Michelangelo’s 'David… ,
    • 'Munch’s later works show us a man liberated from the torments that gave rise to some of the best-known early works… ,