Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598–1680) was an Italian painter, sculptor, and architect, among other professions. He spent the better part of his life working for the Catholic Church in Rome and would become the most well known, and perhaps the best, Baroque artist.
Bernini showed tremendous talent from a young age and quickly made a name for himself. He is most noted for his advances in sculpture: in particular, his use of texture and intricate detail. With sprawling scenes, complex layouts, and dynamic characters, his groundbreaking works were able to illicit tremendous emotions and convey complex themes with the most subtle of details.
Although he created far fewer, Bernini’s paintings were masterful as well. They also used subtle gestures and details to tell whole stories and enthrall the viewer in complex narratives.
Bernini combined many of these talents, along with his architectural prowess, into enormous compostos—combinations of art pieces and mediums—that adorn numerous chapels and altars in Rome. Compostos were seen as the culmination of art; they were a unification of different art pieces and media into “a realm of divine expression that gave art its moral authority.”4 These massive undertakings were meant to inspire awe and reverence; entering these chapels would be a deeply moving and personal encounter with the divine.5
As the direction of the Catholic Church began to focus on “intensely personal religious expressions… baroque [art]… became the vehicle for this new, more dynamic, outpouring of religious fervor.”6 Bernini used his grand architectural compostos, intricate sculptures, and realistic paintings to create powerful, spiritual experiences for his audiences; his art was a vehicle through which the church spread its newfound Counter-Reformation principles.