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His Life and His Rome

Sculptor, architect, painter, playwright, and scenographer, Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598–1680) was the last of the great universal artistic geniuses of early modern Italy, placed by both contemporaries and posterity in the same exalted company as Leonardo, Raphael, and Michelangelo. And his artistic vision remains palpably present today, through the countless statues, fountains, and buildings that transformed Rome into the Baroque theater that continues to enthrall tourists today.
It is perhaps not surprising that this artist who defined the Baroque should have a personal life that itself was, well, baroque. As Franco Mormando’s dazzling biography reveals, Bernini was a man driven by many passions, possessed of an explosive temper and a hearty sex drive, and he lived a life as dramatic as any of his creations. Drawing on archival sources, letters, diaries, and—with a suitable skepticism—a hagiographic account written by Bernini’s son (who portrays his father as a paragon of virtue and piety), Mormando leads us through Bernini’s many feuds and love affairs, scandals and sins. He sets Bernini’s raucous life against a vivid backdrop of Baroque Rome, bustling and wealthy, and peopled by churchmen and bureaucrats, popes and politicians, schemes and secrets.
The result is a seductively readable biography, stuffed with stories and teeming with life—as wild and unforgettable as Bernini’s art. No one who has been bewitched by the Baroque should miss it.

456 pages | 43 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2011

Art: Art--Biography, European Art

Biography and Letters

History: European History


"By adopting the manner of a lecturer—teasingly mentioning things to come, employing the first-person plural as a teacher, roping students into his intellectual questing, throwing in some slang now and then, and without neglecting scholarship (this is a history of papal Rome as much as a biography)—Mormando gives us a succulent reading experience. Quanto e dolce."

Booklist | starred review

"Mormando provides enough salacious details of the scandal-ridden life of baroque artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini to keep readers turning pages in this engaging, well-researched biography. . . .  Mormando’s extensive research and documentation not only will satisfy scholars and students of art history, especially baroque aficionados, but this biography will also appeal to general readers"

Library Journal

"Gian Lorenzo Bernini was one artist whose life was every bit as dramatic, sensual, and emotional as his art. Franco Mormando’s sympathetic, intimate biography moves as fast as its hyperactive subject, taking us on a whirlwind ride through the glittering courts of papal Rome and the Paris of the Sun King, Louis XIV. From its shocking beginning to its perfect ending, the book is sheer unmitigated delight."

Ingrid Rowland, author of Giordano Bruno

"There are a few artists to whom the label ’faultless’ applies, and the top of that list is Bernini, architect, showman and sculptor. Franco Mormando’s book shows him in full as a man for the first time, and he is as pleasing, as sweet, as interestingly ambiguous as his amazing oeuvre. This is a wonderful book to have at last."

John Crowley, author of Aegypt and Little, Big

“Franco Mormando’s fascinating book is a welcome addition to the Bernini literature. It is both a biography of the artist and a portrait of Roman Baroque culture. Though written for a general audience, it reveals an impressive command of the specialist scholarship—in art history, literature, and history. Mormando wears his learning lightly, writing with animation, carefully pacing his anecdotes, and making the whole as entertaining as it is informative.”

Pamela Jones, University of Massachusetts, Boston

"Such a publishing landmark by a lauded historian of the period is an event."

The Tablet (UK)

"Like the finely crafted artwork, Franco Mormando’s biography of Bernini is outstanding."

Jonathan Farrell | Digital Journal

Table of Contents

Preface: The First English-Language Biography of Bernini
     Website Information
     Money, Wages, and Cost of Living in Baroque Rome

1. The Neapolitan Meteor
     A Twelve-Year-Old Pregnant Bride
     We Pause to Talk about Our Sources
     Childhood in a “Paradise Inhabited by Demons”
     Moving on Up: To Rome, 1606
     Falling in Love with the Boy Bernini
     “I Beg You to Dissimulate”
     Bernini Comes of Age
     “Why Shouldn’t Cardinal Scipione’s Penis Get What It Wants?”
     The Tender and the True
     Bernini Rejoices

2. Impresario Supreme
     “Pretty-Beard Urban”
     “The Michelangelo of His Age”
     Fire Is Never a Gentle Master
     “What the Barbarians Didn’t Do, the Barberini Did”
     “The Cupola Is Falling!”
     Head of the Clan
     An Encounter with Death
     Bernini Slashes a Lover’s Face
     Bernini Purchases a Bride
     “Making What Is Fake Appear Real”
     “To Our England Your Glorious Name”
     For Whom the Bell Tolls, or Not

3. Bernini’s Agony and Ecstasy
     A Universal Father So Coarse and So Deformed
     Bernini Sinks and Teresa Floats
     “Not Only Prostrate, But Prostituted as Well”
     “Unless Moved by Something Extraordinary That They See”
     La Pimpaccia to the Rescue
     A Heroic Bust for a Mousy Princeling
     The Papal Corpse Left to Rot

4. Bernini and Alexander
     The Dream Team: Pope and Architect
     “She’s a Hermaphrodite, They Say”
     Bubonic Plague, Yet Again
     A Jewel for the Jesuits
     Final Act of the Bernini-Borromini Rivalry

5. A Roman Artist in King Louis’s Court
     Bernini Becomes a Political Pawn
     Over the Alps in a Sedan Chair
     “Speak to Me of Nothing Small!”
     Bernini Weeps
     “A Plague Take That Bastard!”
     The Long, Troubled Aftermath

6. “My Star Will Lose Its Ascendancy”
     A Brief Sigh of Relief
     The Stoning of Casa Bernini
     Sodomy behind the Statue(s)
     “That Dragon Vomiting Poison in Every Direction”
     Queen Christina Lends Her Name to a Hoax
     An Occasional Round of Applause
     “Cover Those Breasts!”
     “The Cupola Is Falling (Again)!”
     Not with a Bang, But a Whimper
     Works Cited


Choice Magazine: CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title Awards

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