Bernini in France

The visit of the Baroque master in 1665, writes Michael Greenhalgh, coincided with a rejection of Italian influence by French taste.

The visit of Gian Lorenzo Bernini to France in 1665 is of great significance in the history of French art although it was, in artistic terms, a failure.

He produced there a bust of the King, some designs for the Louvre which were never executed, and set in train an equestrian statue of Louis XIV which, when it arrived in France several years later, was to prove an even more resounding failure than the visit itself.

Why did the visit of the greatest sculptor and architect of the Italian Baroque, to a country traditionally responsive to influences from Italy, prove so unsuccessful?

The answer must be sought in the growing confidence, politically and artistically, of the French nation, and it is convenient to see in Bernini’s visit and its consequences a symbolic rejection of the blandishments of the Baroque in favour of a less emotional and more rational style.

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