Having trouble viewing this message? Click here. In 1664 Gian Lorenzo Bernini finally traveled to Paris after having been goaded and flattered by the

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Gian Lorenzo Bernini Self Portrait

In 1664 Gian Lorenzo Bernini finally traveled to Paris after having been goaded and flattered by the Sun King and his court into making the trip, what was to be his only extended stay outside of Rome.

The great artist. The world famous architect. The apogee of an Italian genius that started with Giotto and had reached its final, glittering consummation. A figure who wore his lineage lightly, like linen vests on young shoulders. Virile and easy.

Alberti, Brunelleschi, Bramante, Cellini, Reni, Michelangelo, Raphael, Leonardo, Romano, and on and on and like all great family trees its results were manifest in the confidence of his every gesture, a certainty in the sweep of each façade, an assurance that each of the marks he made were of unimpeachable, incomparable extraction.

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Bernini, detail, The Rape of Proserpina (1622)

Marble statues as supple as a sleeping baby’s thighs. Altars over which the sun gently set all day. Crowds clogged the streets when it was rumoured he was to be passing through. Paris was electrified. France had taken receipt of the age’s greatest hands.

The sophistication of Rome was to grace the dishevelled and disorderly streets of a northern town. The new Roman architecture was to triumph in its crowning of the French royal palace.

Facades that curved in, bulged out, in great sweeping ranges of windows, columns, attics, and plinth. Powerfully energetic, sculpturally coherent, unified in the precise balance of opposing forces. Four designs and two masterpieces. A commission for the face of a great public building of a kind that had eluded him back in Rome.

But in squalid Paris. For nouveau-riche France. The great artist was faced with his greatest work being an orphan. Far away from civilisation, far from his peers, from his predecessors, from its heritage.

He was not happy.

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Bernini's proposal, ultimately rejected, for the facade of the Louvre (1664)

The master architect’s millennial dilemma: to build compromises in your cherished home, or to build wonders for foreign dictators in places you hate.

He stumbled upon the work of a compatriot: “This Annunciation by Guido Reni is worth half of your Paris,” but he immediately corrected himself: “No, it’s worth more.”

Bernini’s sourness and disdain for his hosts soon preceded him as he moved around the city. The crowds thinned and then disappeared altogether. The court no longer courted him. The alien complexity of his designs for the Louvre lost their sheen of novelty and became simply strange, foreign, arrogant.

France was powerful, intellectual, austere and on the up. Bernini was too instinctive, too flamboyant, too multi-disciplinary, disordered. France could construct its own great lineage, construct its own architecture. An ordered architecture, an austere architecture.

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Bust of Louis XIV by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1665), now in the Salon de Diane in the King's Grand Apartment in Versailles.

To keep their guest sweet as his star faded, he was commissioned and completed a bust of the Sun King. It went down well. He returned to Rome a failed export. Genius is temperamental. It is not a reliable commodity. Despite their vigour and charm, Bernini’s great convex, concave, in and out and sweeping Louvre facades were infertile, they bore no fruit and sowed no French seeds.

They however found their way back to Rome. They made it home.

There they entered the city's blood stream and so remain, hidden in every building, carried dormant in the genes of every Roman Palazzina, each office tower, every petrol station. Bernini's Parisian dream shows itself partially realised everywhere in the city, in every period, it is continuously built in parts on almost every street, in the arc of a 1950s balcony, the tower of a 19th Century church, the entrance to an underground station, the counter of a bar, a collection of ceramics on sale in Porta Portese…

Adam Nathaniel Furman
UK Rome Prize for Architecture 2014-15

Statue with Dates

Bernini, Equestrian Statue of Louis XIV, later modified by François Girardon

Gianlorenzo Bernini - Study for an Equestrian Statue of Loius XIV - WGA02055

Bernini, sketch for equestrian statue of Louis XIV

 
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Bernini, model for equestrian statue of Louis XIV

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