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Bernini's terracotta models illuminate his unique creative process in Met Museum exhibition
Gian Lorenzo Bernini (Italian, Naples 1598–1680 Rome), Model for the Lion on the Four Rivers Fountain, Ca. 1649–50. Terracotta, 12 5/8 x 23 ¼ x 12 5/8 in. (32 x 59 x 32 cm) Accademia Nazionale di San Luca, Rome. Photo: Zeno Colantoni, Rome.
NEW YORK, NY.- To visualize life-size or colossal marbles, the great Baroque sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598–1680) began by rapidly modeling small clay sketches. Fired as terracotta, these studies are bold, expressive works in their own right. Together with related drawings, they preserve the first traces of Bernini’s fervid imagination and unique creative process that evolved into some of the most famous and spectacular statuary in Rome, including the fountains in the Piazza Navona and the angels on the Ponte Sant’ Angelo. Bernini: Sculpting in Clay features 39 of these terracotta sketch models, shown together for the first time, with 30 drawings. Due to unprecedented loans especially granted for this occasion, the exhibition is the first to retrace Bernini’s unparalleled approach to sculptural design and his use of vigorous clay studies and drawings in directing the largest workshop of his time. The exhibition offers viewers a more profound insight into the artist’s dazzling creative mind and his impact on the fabric of Baroque Rome.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini was the most famous and important sculptor in 17th-century Europe, best known for his stunning works in marble that still decorate many of the churches and piazzas of Rome today. Bernini examined problems of construction and design by modeling damp clay with his fingers and tools with incredible dexterity. He used these studies and related drawings to decide carefully on the perspective of his majestic compositions. Bernini: Sculpting in Clay presents an overview of his exceptional career and showcases his full range as a modeler by assembling almost all of his surviving terracottas, including 15 from the Harvard Art Museums, the largest collection of Bernini terracottas in the world, on loan for the first time.

Bernini’s liveliest terracottas divulge an impassioned imagination and also raise the curtain on the practical side of sculpture-making. Unlike his contemporaries, Bernini often fashioned his clay figures in groups, and the two such groups that survive are recreated in the exhibition. Occasionally, he also presented more finished models to his patrons to win commissions or to his assistants to use as guides in carving. The exhibition also treats the role of drawing in Bernini’s design process and, where possible, the drawings and the models to which they relate are displayed together. These juxtapositions make clear the evolution of Bernini’s own works, as he shifted between media, and allow visitors to follow the many steps of his creative process. Significant clay studies by his closest assistants are also on display to illustrate the practice of sculpture production in his studio.

Bernini: Sculpting in Clay includes other outstanding loans from international museums such as the Musée du Louvre, Paris, the Vatican Museums, the Museo del

Palazzo di Venezia, Rome, the Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, and the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle. Many of these loans have never been seen in the United States. Highlights include a dynamic terracotta model for the lion (ca. 1649-50) destined for the base of the Four Rivers Fountain in the center of the Piazza Navona in Rome; the series of models for the Angel with Superscription (1668-69); the Moor (1653), Bernini’s largest surviving model; and drawings and clay sketches for the Kneeling Angels (1672) on the Altar of the Blessed Sacrament in Saint Peter’s Basilica.





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