Bernini and Rome
Judith Hook profiles the genius of Rome during the great Catholic Reformation.
Gian Lorenzo Bernini was born in Naples on December 7th, 1598, and died at Rome on November 28th, 1680. His long and remarkable life therefore spans much of the seventeenth century, a period usually regarded as one of Italian decline. Most of this life Bernini spent in Rome in the service of the Catholic Church to which he gave unquestioning devotion and obedience. He was clearly much influenced by Jesuit teaching, and was the intimate friend of the Jesuit father, G.P. Oliva, for the second volume of whose Prediche he designed the frontispiece. His favourite books were the Imitation of Christ of St Thomas a Kempis and the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatious Loyola. We are told that for the last forty years of his life he went to church every day and took Communion twice a week. ‘Better a poor Catholic than a good heretic,’ he once remarked, thus revealing the extent to which he was the true heir to the great Catholic Reformation whose aspirations he has frozen into marble.
In the years in which Bernini was growing up, the Counter-Reformation was by no means spent. But, as ever, the Popes were unable to devote their entire attention to the concerns of the Church. The Papal State continued to exist; indeed, few as yet questioned its existence, and it continued to give the Popes importance as Italian princes as well as leaders of Christendom.