Together, the sprawling group of Bernini’s marble and bronze sculptures, paintings, restoration work, and a single drawing not only reveal the full arc of the artist’s development and oeuvre—but also spotlight the importance of Borghese’s patronage to this process.
Central to the exhibition are Bernini’s best-known masterpieces: monumental marble sculptures that he made in his twenties at the behest of Borghese. Despite the more conservative tastes of other members of the papacy, Borghese gave Bernini artistic license, allowing him free reign to experiment with supple, sensuous figures.
Towering sculptures like The Rape of Proserpina
(1621–22) and Apollo and Daphne
(1622–25), both bankrolled by Borghese, depict mythological scenes in which gods passionately and violently pursue goddesses. In these, Bernini rendered his classical subjects with humanity, communicating carnal urges
through gaping mouths and hands that hungrily grasp thighs. Apollo and Daphne,
in particular, shocked some in the Catholic Church—but the sculpture only stoked Borghese’s interest in Bernini.
The story of Bernini crafting David (1623), another Borghese-commissioned masterpiece on view, shows how far the Cardinal and his friends would go to support the artist’s work. For the sculpture, Bernini is said to have modeled the biblical character’s face after his own. During the process, Borghese’s colleague Cardinal Maffeo Barberini, who would later be known as Pope Urban VIII, reportedly held a mirror for Bernini as he chiseled the sculpture’s face.