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Bernini: His Life and His Rome
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39 of 42 people found the following review helpful
on November 15, 2011
I have read every major book [and more minor ones!] written about Bernini, the supreme artist, maestro, and impresario of Baroque Rome; without question, Mormando's has set a new standard for artistic biography and cultural history. It is as engaging, sweeping, all-embracing, and sparkling with captivating details as befits its subject. Bravissimo!
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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on March 28, 2012
About me: I'm not an artist or an art historian or anything fancy like that: I'm just an avid traveler and Rome is one of my favorite places in the world. OK, my MOST favorite place in the world. Trip after trip, I've noticed certain statues or works of art more than others... certain ones just struck me more or made me stare at them a little bit longer. Or when I get home i realize that I have more pictures of certain things than others. A few trips ago I realized that every sculpture I was drawn to had 1 artist in common: Bernini. And people would say, "Oh, that's a Bernini" -- and the name sounded familiar but I didn't know anything about him. On last year's trip to Italy I made a point of seeking out these Berninis and found myself even more interested in them, so when I returned home I started poking around for a biography. Some things looked too scholarly and highbrow, but the descriptions of this particular book made it sound like it was accessible to the regular person who just wanted to know a little something more: and that was me.

I just finished the book and I'm so happy I read it. I came at this from the standpoint of "I love this man's art so much, and it's so brilliant, that I just want to know more about the person and his life and the events that shaped him." Basically, I wanted to learn where the genius came from.

This book doesn't read like a DaVinci Code: the info itself is a little bit dry, but plugged into a narrative that is basically the story arc of Bernini's life, it has a continuity to it that makes it easy to read (vs being textbook-like). It's a biography and is constructed from many different sources. I imagine if you were well-educated in art or about Bernini in particular, or about Baroque art in Italy, you'd still find fantastic information in here. But for this novice, I was thrilled that it wasn't over my head: I learned something. And I feel like on my next trip to Rome, these beautiful works of art will have more context for me than they have in the past. And it made me appreciate that this author had such a passion for the subject that he went to the trouble of gathering all of this data and putting it into a book. It's a great read whether you're an art afficianado or, like me, someone who just wants to know more about the life and work of an artist whose work they admire.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on July 16, 2012
I did not let the severity of one amateur reviewer stop me from buying this, as it turns out, excellent book, which I urge Amazon customers to buy, especially at the steeply discounted price, and especially after recommended by Dr. Charles Scribner, himself an authority on Bernini. As the learned and award-winning author, Franco Mormando, makes clear, there is no other English language biography of Bernini in existence. Pioneering, then, but also intellectually honest for openly admitting to the want of direct evidence for writing a biography, professor Mormando marshals (what he has often found on his own) such facts as remain and, as important, discovers by his own archival, museum, and library research the context for coming closer to an elusive subject. The style that articulates the sculptor in his native landscape and cityscape is fine, as free from jargon as from any ideological bent or post-modern fashion, and the stylist wears his hard-won learning lightly. English speakers are woefully ignorant of Italian culture in general and of the genius Bernini in particular. Restored to a rich and evocative Baroque Rome, Bernini in the hands of Mormando is the kind of book to appeal to and excite interest in just such an audience. Read this book as I am, over a bel espresso made by my Gaggia. You have a lot in store for you in pleasure and profit, and you can continue on with Carvaggio, Raphael, Michelangelo, Marino, Bembo, Petrarca, to name just a handful of Italian geniuses of universal significance and influence. What a gift of passion, intelligence, and erudition Franco Mormando has given us.
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14 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on September 6, 2012
Who would dare to contradict Mr. Scribner himself?! Like other reviewers, I came to this book as a lover of Bernini and his Rome, curious to learn more about the artist and his work. The book is unfortunately almost utterly silent on Bernini's works -- that is to say, there is no thoughtful reflection on those works, no effort to illuminate them. Our author speeds through the period of Bernini's youth with shockingly little to say about the products of the period. But this haste is not vindicated by much in the way of insight to later works. Contrasted with, say, Graham-Dixon's Caravaggio, which offers sustained, detailed, and insightful interpretations of most of Caravaggio's works, tying them to his background, contemporary situation, and the tradition within which he was working, Mormando seems utterly uninterested in Bernini's actual work. In as much as these are the events of an artist's life that matter, the book is a failure.

Now let me twist the knife. Even if one cared as much about the small, often petty politics of Bernini's immediate situation (for Mormando is utterly predictable on the larger political currents of counter-reformation Rome), this book would disappoint. For Mr. Mormando's discussion is punctuated by trite moralizing, and banal generalizations about sexual mores and honor codes etc.. Finally, sin of sins, he is a rather poor, I would even say, utterly mediocre writer. So the book is a toilsome for anyone with much esprit or taste.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on June 19, 2013
It's surprising that nobody has made a movie or written a novel about the life of Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680), the greatest artist of the Roman Baroque, but perhaps this enthralling book will inspire someone to try. Bernini's long life had just about every dramatic ingredient imaginable. His blazing artistic genius enabled him to create some of the most memorable monuments of Rome: virtuoso marble statues of saints and mythological figures, the Fountain of the Four Rivers in Piazza Navona, the Baldachino under the dome of St. Peter's, and the altar of the Chair of Peter at the far end of that enormous church, to name only the most famous. But there's a lot more to Bernini's life than just his art. He was a controlling and domineering man shrewd enough to be charming and diplomatic in the presence of his social superiors. He was hot-tempered and highly-sexed, and his explosive romantic life alone--which included paying a thug to make a knife attack on his mistress, whom he discovered was having an affair with his brother--would lend itself to a steamy novel or an R-rated film. And it doesn't hurt that Bernini was also extremely handsome.

Most books about Bernini concentrate on his art and pay little attention to the man behind those works, failing to question the pious platitudes, omissions and distortions offered by the artist's earliest biographer: his son Domenico. Not this book! Bernini the man-in-full emerges emerges from Mormando's pages as in no other biography of the artist. Although the author is a scholar who displays an impressive command of original sources, there's not a pedantic sentence to be found. This is a highly readable book for anyone interested in Bernini and, in a wider sense, in Baroque Rome.

As the title promises, the author also presents an unforgettable portrait of that seething city, contrasting its glorious monuments, haughty aristocrats and art-loving, corrupt cardinals with the squalor and desperate poverty of the majority of its inhabitants. Learning how most Romans lived during the 1600s, it's not difficult to understand why the popes and prelates celebrated today for commissioning Bernini's grandest works were so unpopular in their own times. They spent the equivalent of billions of dollars on monuments to triumphant Catholicism (and made Bernini a multi-millionaire) while all around them the poverty-stricken Roman populace starved.

A case in point is Cardinal Scipione Borghese, the obese, over-privileged nephew of Pope Paul V. He's best known for building the Villa Borghese --now Rome's most elegant museum--and filling it with an exquisite art collection that includes some of Bernini's finest sculptures. Mormando reveals, however, that Scipione was also an art thief who regularly stole what he couldn't buy, and a voracious pedophile who thought nothing of having his servants murder a boy who had refused his advances.

Although this book has only black and white plates, there are plenty of books that illustrate Bernini's art in gorgeous color. No other book, however, gives such a vivid, many-faceted portrait of the artist himself, a man whose relentless, conniving ambition, frightening temper and at times out-of-control sexual impulses co-existed with deep devotion to his family and, above all, with incomparable genius as an artist. Int the end, Bernini's greatest love was his art.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on December 10, 2014
This is a excellent book on Bernini and on Rome - from his point of view - in the 17th century. This is not a book about Bernini's art per se. It is more a biography of the artist and a very interesting story about his personality and his relationships. Mormando has a lot of respect for his sources, and he stays strictly with the evidence he can get. When he does not have facts , he says so. We understand his sources , their motivations and reasons for writing what they do. When I wanted to look at some piece of work, i googled it. I have been to Rome many times, now I have a reason to go again, for I discovered through this book, a few more hidden treasures that this city has to offer.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on December 22, 2012
I really enjoyed this book. You don't have to be a student of art history. Very accessible to all readers.
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on February 18, 2015
Very well written and entertaining, but the author takes up only some 3 pages on St Peter's Square's Colonnades, the Baldacchino and the Cathedra Petri while devoting more than a third of the book on religious practices of the time and personalities such as popes and Louis XIV. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the historical context, but the author practically only mentions those three wonders of the Baroque (to mention only three) and without more facts about them and others, the book feels incomplete and vague when it's most interesting subjects should have taken central stage.
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on June 20, 2013
I love this book. I am getting more than just a bio of the man. The times, the people around him during the period (of course) and a visceral feel for the man.
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on April 7, 2014
This biography provides another fascinating look at how the Vatican influenced art and artists, specifically Pope Urban and Bernini in the Baroque period of history.
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