Perhaps the young amphibian martial artists of New York’s sewers are to blame, but when it comes to the artists of the Italian Renaissance and beyond, some getter a better deal than others in the public eye. Perhaps Caravaggio was just a syllable too many to be a catchy name for a super hero, but no more so than Michelangelo who did make it to turtle status!
I’m being flippant of course and wonder how many of the public at large appreciate why Raphael and Donatello might be names that they recognise when Giotto, Cimabue, or Brunelleschi might not. How does one differentiate between levels of genius?
You’re probably well aware of Bernini if you’ve ever visited Rome; the grand colonnade that fronts St Peter’s, the bronze baldacchino over the altar within are probably on a par with Michelangelo’s dome above the basilica and his Pieta inside in terms of public recognition. Michelangelo holds the trump card with the Sistine Chapel of course, but Bernini has other works to offer.
Why is he as a sculptor and architect any less worthy of recognition? It can’t be down to his patronage for Bernini enjoyed the favour of popes, cardinals and European royalty. He lived in a different era of course so perhaps he lacks the glamour of being a pioneer in his field. Bernini was a master of the Baroque rather than the Renaissance. All the same he fares better than his contemporary Borromini.
Most visitors to the Piazza Navona stroll the length of the former arena and pause either to partake of the many caffés or to pose for the obligatory selfie by the attention grabbing Fountain of the Four Rivers; one of Bernini’s more famous works. The fountain stands outside a fantastic baroque church, Sant’Agnese in Agone which was partly designed by Borromini.
Located elsewhere the church would have real presence, yet here it is relegated to backdrop. (There is a popular myth that Bernini’s fountain exacerbates this by having the statues which personify the rivers turn in horror from Borromini’s facade, though the story is not consistent with the construction dates of both).
Then there is that baldacchino. Actually a joint enterprise by both men, it has become known as “Bernini’s Baldacchino”.
My visit to Sant’Agnese was curtailed by the church clearing visitors, presumably ahead of some daily service, but not before I could take in the frescoes and interior decoration which draw the eye with their bright colours, colours which Borromini’s design did not include. His vision was one of white stucco throughout but a change of pope saw him lose favour and he resigned the commission, a decision he may have regretted when he saw the results.
Whether real or perceived, Borromini was probably a depressive for whom such slights can easily take on great significance. He took his own life at the age of 67 which doubtless further impacted his reputation.