The Life of Bernini
Fillipo Baldinucci, Translated by Catherine Enggass, a new paperback edition with an introduction by Maarten Delbeke, Steven F. Ostrow, and Evonne Levy
The Life of Bernini
Fillipo Baldinucci, Translated by Catherine Enggass, a new paperback edition with an introduction by Maarten Delbeke, Steven F. Ostrow, and Evonne LevyInitially published by Penn State Press in 1965, Catherine Enggass’s translation of Filippo Baldinucci’s Life of Bernini was the first English-language edition of this historic biography. Out of print for many years, The Life of Bernini is now available in a new paperback edition with an introduction by Maarten Delbeke, Evonne Levy, and Steven F. Ostrow, the editors of Bernini’s Biographies.
- Sample Chapters
Baldinucci’s unusual stand-alone biography of Bernini, begun while his subject was still alive, offers important insights into contemporary perceptions of the artist, the motivations of its author, and the nature of literary biography in seventeenth-century Italy.
Catherine Enggass's translations from Italian include Eugenio Battisti's Cimabue and a book on the modern Italian painter La Regina.
Maarten Delbeke, Evonne Levy, and Steven F. Ostrow
Barely two years after the death of the sculptor, architect, and painter Gianlorenzo Bernini (1598–1680), the Florentine writer and connoisseur Filippo Baldinucci published the Vita del cavaliere Gio. Lorenzo Bernino scultore, architetto, e pittore (Florence, 1682). For more than six decades Bernini had been central to the artistic life of Rome, not only as the prolific creator—individually and through his workshop—of an astounding array of works, but also as the artist who most profoundly and successfully shaped the public appearance of the Roman papacy. The prompt publication of Baldinucci’s biography established Bernini as an artist in whom one found the exceptional conjunction of a life, an oeuvre, and a society. Alongside the works that Bernini left us, mostly in Rome, Baldinucci’s biography assured Bernini of a lasting presence in the consciousness of art history.
The foundational value of Baldinucci’s lengthy, stand-alone biography of Bernini has been recognized from the beginning of modern Bernini studies, Stanislao Fraschetti’s monograph of 1900. Since the publication of Catherine Enggass’s English translation of Baldinucci’s biography of Bernini in 1966, much new material has surfaced, allowing for a far better understanding of the historical circumstances surrounding both Bernini’s life and Baldinucci’s book. Art historians have also significantly enriched their understanding of artists’ biographies in general and Baldinucci’s Life in particular. This introduction seeks to establish some cardinal points for an up-to-date approach to Baldinucci’s exceptional text in light of new materials and recent insights.
In its subject, narrative form, and inclusion of a catalogue of works, Baldinucci’s biography resembles what was, by the time of its publication, a well-developed tradition. The genre of artistic biography had been given its canonical form by Giorgio Vasari in Le vite de più eccellenti pittori, scultori, et architettori, first published in 1550 and revised and expandedin 1568. Vasari’s model was followed to varying degrees in seventeenth-century collections of vite by such writers as Giovanni Baglione, Giovan Pietro Bellori, Carlo Cesare Malvasia, and Filippo Baldinucci himself, with the Notizie dei professori del disegno. However, as a publication dedicated not to a group but to a single artist’s Life, Baldinucci’s text occupies a special position within the tradition of artistic biography. Only a handful of great artists like Brunelleschi, Michelangelo, and Titian, and lesser artists with highly motivated biographers, had taken their place along with scientists, intellectuals, and literary figures in stimulating stand-alone vite.
While belonging to the same literary genre, and treating the same subject, a monograph dedicated to a single artist emphasizes other aspects of an artist’s life and oeuvre than the biographical cycle. A case in point quite germane to Baldinucci’s Life of Bernini was the publication of a substantially revised Life of Michelangelo from both in the second edition of Vasari’s collection of lives and as an independent offprint. As part of a collection, the biography derived its meaning from the history of the development of art that emerged from the cycle as a whole. The succession of lives also allowed the reader to become aware of both the generic qualities of Michelangelo’s Life and its significant variations with regard to others. As Lisa Pon has argued, the offprint made Michelangelo appear as a singular individual rather than as the most eminent example of Vasari’s third art-historical period. Moreover, the offprint presented the 1568 biography as a rebuttal to Ascanio Condivi’s Life of Michelangelo, a stand-alone biography of the artist published in 1553 and undoubtedly the most eminent example of the full-length biography of a single artist available to Baldinucci. The offprint, much more than the identical biography embedded in Vasari’s Vite, directly challenged Condivi’s claims to have drawn the true portrait of a great man.
In Bernini’s biography, Baldinucci does not attempt to develop an all-encompassing art-historical argument. Rather, he writes the Life in praise of exemplary and exceptional greatness typical of the stand-alone biography of the great man, artist or not. Thus as much as Vasari’s biographical method is present in Baldinucci’s work, Bernini’s biography also shares something with the no less than five seventeenth-century biographies of the great Baroque poet Giambattista Marino, as well as the now-little-read monographic texts eternalizing the deeds of ecclesiastical dignitaries. We might see an indirect reference to the latter in the format of the engraved portrait of Bernini that serves as the book’s frontispiece, which adheres closely to a typology developed for the portraits of cardinals. Internally, too, Baldinucci’s text strongly emphasizes the artist’s standing not only as an equal of the cardinals and popes he deals with but also as a person whose gifts are as essential as those of the other “professionals” that make up an early modern court. Baldinucci has one of the leading intellectuals of Seicento Rome, Sforza Pallavicino, attest that “Cavalier Bernini was not only the best sculptor and architect of the century but, to put it simply, the greatest man as well.”
Baldinucci’s Biography: Truth Versus Fiction
From the very beginning, the art-historical study of Bernini has revolved around taking a position, explicitly or implicitly, on the literary value versus the truth-value of the picture of Baroque Rome and of the artist emerging from Baldinucci’s pages. In a seminar taught in 1902, the Vienna School art historian Alois Riegl read Baldinucci’s text along these lines, as a “true art historical” guide to Bernini’s work (thus stressing the text as an interpretation). The seminar was published in 1912 as a translation of and commentary on Baldinucci’s biography and it displayed Riegl’s great sensitivity to the literary nature of artistic biography. At the same time, a different strain in the art-historical use of biographies, in which the texts would be compared to archival evidence, was pioneered in Fraschetti’s monograph on the artist. This led Adolfo Venturi in his introduction to Fraschetti’s book to enshrine the truth-value of Baldinucci’s text by casting the modern author (Fraschetti) as a new and better Baldinucci. Thanks to contemporary historiographic methods, Venturi writes, Fraschetti was able to supersede Baldinucci, who, after all, had been forced to write from Florence and thus committed many a factual error.
Thus from the beginning of modern Bernini studies, there were two opposing views of artists’ biographies (representative of larger debates on the nature of art history as a discipline): one viewing the biography as a literary text offering access to a period’s artistic and aesthetic sensibilities, the other as a documentary rendition of the facts of history. Since World War II, the privileging of the second view has had two complementary effects on the reading of Baldinucci’s Life of Bernini. The text came to be valued more as a repository of facts about the artist, and this valuation obscured its status as a genre-specific form of writing—biography—that offers a historically specific view of Bernini and his work from an author’s perspective. The original introduction to this translation written in 1966 by Robert Enggass, for instance, assessed Baldinucci’s text as “an extraordinarily accurate and objective account.”
Domenico Bernini’s Life of Bernini (1713)
The question of the biographer’s accuracy is put into sharp relief by the existence of a nearly identical twin to Baldinucci’s Life. In 1713, thirty-one years after the publication of Baldinucci’s biography, Domenico Bernini, the artist’s youngest son and a well-respected historian of the Church, published his own Vita del cavalier Gio. Lorenzo Bernini. Domenico’s Vita does not contain the catalogue of works and the relazione on the cupola of Saint Peter’s present in Baldinucci’s text, but the core of the biography—the birth-to-death narration of Bernini’s life—is so similar to Baldinucci’s that, like many commentators after them, Adolfo Venturi and Julius von Schlosser considered Domenico an uninspired plagiarist of the earlier author. The existence of two strikingly similar yet not identical accounts of the same life forced Bernini studies from the very start to address Baldinucci’s originality, inclusiveness, and reliability. For example, in 1919 Erwin Panofsky noted that in some instances precise theoretical remarks that Domenico Bernini writes down in connection with specific works of Bernini appear as generalized and “harmless” statements in Baldinucci. This led Panofsky to hypothesize that Baldinucci was an “imprecise compiler of unfamiliar material,” who worked from notes provided by Domenico himself. Panofsky’s judgment has two implications, neither of which was to be taken up for decades: that Domenico provided a more developed theoretical view of Bernini, and that, before Bernini’s death, Domenico had written a more coherent and complete manuscript, on the basis of which Baldinucci hastily compiled his 1682 biography.
It was not until 1966 that Cesare D’Onofrio, following Panofsky’s lead, tried to answer the elementary but puzzling question as to why Domenico Bernini, an author of excellent reputation, would commit an act of barefaced plagiarism by publishing a text so similar to Baldinucci’s. D’Onofrio closely compared the two texts in light of a detailed analysis of what was then known about the genesis of Baldinucci’s and Domenico’s biographies (including hitherto unknown references to his biography of his father made in Domenico’s other published works). He concluded that Baldinucci, acting on his own initiative, had begun writing a short biography of Bernini in 1679. In D’Onofrio’s view, Baldinucci probably intended to include this text in the Notizie. Queen Christina of Sweden then asked Baldinucci to extend the biographical note into a book. To this end, D’Onofrio hypothesized, Baldinucci relied heavily on material provided by Bernini’s family, including a complete manuscript vita written by Domenico while the artist was still alive. Then, in 1713, Domenico published this hypothetical vita under his own name. Later D’Onofrio suggested that in preparing the Life, Domenico was assisted by his older brother Monsignor Pier Filippo, best known in his day as a playwright.
With some notable exceptions, Bernini studies have been were slow to take D’Onofrio’s argument into account and to examine Domenico’s Life seriously. Baldinucci’s text remained the authoritative version of Bernini’s life, undoubtedly the reason why his biography was the first to be translated into English. But when D’Onofrio’s hypotheses about the genesis and priority of the biographies finally took hold in the 1980s, Domenico’s text came to be considered the biography that stood closer to Bernini himself, even proffering the promise of conveying actual one-on-one exchanges between artist and biographer. Because to many art historians believed that the historical value of Bernini’s biographies resided in their status as actual documents, the relation between Baldinucci’s and Domenico’s texts was often framed as a question of which biography most closely adhered to historical fact. For those who accepted D’Onofrio’s argument that the biography of 1713 more closely resembled Baldinucci’s original source, the hierarchy between the two vite was simply reversed.
Genesis of the Baldinucci Biography
Tomaso Montanari’s recent research into the genesis of the two Bernini biographies has substantially enriched and complicated our understanding of the relation between the two texts. Providing a wealth of new evidence, Montanari has pinpointed the start of the biographical campaign to the early 1670s and shown that it was mounted in a bid to restore Bernini’s heavily assaulted reputation. The first trace of this campaign surfaced in France in 1673, when mention is made of the project of Pierre Cureau de La Chambre, Almoner of Louis XIV and a member of the French Academy, who was personally acquainted with Bernini, to write a Vvita. In Rome, from 1674 onward, the Bernini family began collecting material to compose a biography under the supervision of Pier Filippo Bernini. A recently published document indicates that Pier Filippo “wanted to write and publish the biography of his father, and have engraved all of the statues made by his father, which amount to about seventy, all with explanatory captions, and that for this book he would spend at least 8000 scudi; but he decided not to publish it while his father, who is now seventy-six years old, was living.” Of this astoundingly ambitious project, nothing remains but three manuscript versions of Bernini’s catalogue of works and a skeletal biographical sketch (four manuscript pages) of the birth-to-death narrative still conserved in the Bibliothèque nationale in Paris. In Montanari’s view, the project outlined by Pier Filippo led to the elaboration of that sketch into a full-fledged manuscript biography.
According to Montanari, when attempts to publish the vita with papal patronage failed, the family turned to Christina of Sweden for support. Probably in 1678, Baldinucci was approached to serve as the official author of the biography. When Bernini died, on 28 November 1680, Baldinucci was still working on the book, as we know from two of his letters of late 1680 and early 1681 asking the Bernini family for additional material, such as an account of the artist’s death, a prerequisite of an early modern biography. In Montanari’s view, the final version of the book coalesced around April 1681, when Baldinucci visited Rome, met with Queen Christina (to whom the book was dedicated), and saw Bernini’s works in situ. When, sometime after June 1681, Baldinucci received the written “relazione” of Bernini’s former assistant, Mattia de’Rossi, on the cupola of Saint Peter’s, he had all the material that would constitute this biography. The book was printed by early February 1682, and in April of that year Christina received a copy that included Arnold van Westerhout’s portrait engraving after Baciccio.
The complex process leading to the publication of Baldinucci’s biography has innumerable implications for our understanding of the text. Bernini’s Life is not a single-authored attempt to extract an exemplary narrative out of Bernini’s works and deeds, but the layered result of a multi-authored “biographical workshop” (to borrow Montanari’s characterization). So, for instance, when we come across Baldinucci’s quotations of Bernini, we cannot preclude be certain that these are records, accurate or not, of Bernini’s utterances. When Louis XIV was posing for Bernini for his bust in 1665, Baldinucci says that Bernini “threw down his chisel in admiration and loudly exclaimed ‘Miracle, miracle, that a King so meritorious, youthful, and French should remain immobile for an hour!’” In reading a passage such as this one, we should keep in mind that not only do such passages obey conventions of the genre, one of which is to use dialogue to enliven the text, but they may also incorporate fragments that were generated over time and may have been drawn from a wide variety of less obvious contemporary literary sources. For instance, when Baldinucci explains Bernini’s dictum that “in order to give great praise to something it was not sufficient that it contain few errors but that it have great merits,” he invokes the authority of Cardinal Sforza Pallavicino, who compared Bernini’s bon mot to the paradoxes of Zeno. Because we know in this case that Baldinucci was summarizing (and transforming) a passage from one of Pallavicino’s devotional treatises, L’arte della perfezion cristiana (1665), it is unlikely that he quoted an actual conversation; if he did, it was one already filtered through another text.
For all its apparent coherence—on the most basic level, its existence as a book—Baldinucci’s text carries the marks of a nearly decade-long campaign to enshrine Bernini. In this respect, it is important to note that because very little material prepared by the Bernini family preliminary to Baldinucci’s publication actually survives, any assessment of what Baldinucci actually had in hand when composing his text is largely hypothetical. For the same reason, we do not know exactly how Domenico’s text relates to the material of the 1670s, also given that Bernini’s son(s) most certainly had access to Baldinucci’s Life. As a consequence, in view of the current state of research, final statements on the relative veracity of the two biographies are hazardous to make. But, more to the point, such a statement would bypass the true relevance of the biography presented here. For this book is an incredibly important historical source as long as it is not read as a transparent window onto Bernini’s work, life, and mind. Baldinucci’s biography of Bernini is first and foremost a text that should be approached by taking into account as many contextual elements as are available to us. A logical first step is to look at its author.
Filippo Baldinucci: Life and Work
In contrast to Giorgio Vasari and Giovanni Baglione, the two most important Italian biographers of artists before him, Baldinucci was not a professional artist and never aspired to be. Instead, he was—like his contemporaries Giovan Pietro Bellori and Carlo Cesare Malvasia—an amateur artist, scholar, and connoisseur, who devoted most of his career to studying and writing about art. As a servant of the Medici court, Baldinucci knew most of the artists and literary figures of his generation, and he took advantage of these connections to advance his career and status as a writer.
By the time Bernini’s biography went to press, what had occupied most of Baldinucci’s writerly efforts was the preparation of his most ambitious publication, the Notizie dei professori del disegno. Organized chronologically, the Notizie would retrace Vasari’s history of art, beginning with Cimabue, and extend to living artists. Like Vasari’s Lives, the Notizie were intended to demonstrate the continual progression of the visual arts and prove the preeminence of the Tuscan school. Each of the Notizie would be relatively short, providing basic biographical information, a list of works, a characterization of style, and something about the character of the artist, all components present in his much longer biography of Bernini.
The first volume of the Notizie, issued in 1681, is relatively short, with just sixty-eight pages of text. Covering the years 1260 to 1300, it includes a twenty-two-page “Apologia a pro delle glorie della Toscana,” defending the primacy and superiority of Tuscan art. A reiteration of Vasari’s teleology, it is also a barely disguised attack on Carlo Cesare Malvasia’s Felsina Pittrice (1678), which championed Bologna as the most important center in the history of Italian art.
In publishing his Notizie, Baldinucci hoped to establish himself, as Philip Sohm has written, as “the new Vasari.” Parallel motives lay behind a complementary work also published in 1681, one year before the publication of Bernini’s biography, the Vocabolario toscano dell’arte del disegno, the first-ever dictionary of art terms. In his letter to the reader, Baldinucci states that the Vocabolario was intended to define the terms used by artists and critics (including his own in the Notizie) and to demonstrate Tuscan linguistic supremacy. It was especially this last aspect of the Vocabolario that earned him admittance, a year later, to the prestigious Accademia della Crusca, to which he dedicated the volume. He inscribed his new status as academician in the Bernini biography by ending it with the Crusca’s motto—IL PIÙ BEL FIORE NE COGLIE (who gathers the most beautiful flower).
The Notizie were the outgrowth of a project started earlier, what Baldinucci called the “Albero genealogico delle maniere,” a genealogical tree charting the history of art from Cimabue onward. The “Albero” had been drafted in 1675 as a result of Baldinucci’s efforts on behalf of Leopoldo de’ Medici. Baldinucci had entered into Leopoldo’s service in 1664, when he was sent to the Gonzaga court in Mantua to help sort out some legal matters pertaining to the duke’s sister, Anna d’Austria. During his two-month Mantuan sojourn, Baldinucci studied the Gonzaga collection and impressed Carlo II Gonzaga with his discriminating eye. Soon after his return to Florence, Leopoldo appointed Baldinucci a member of the consultà, an advisory committee that evaluated prospective purchases of art, and soon after he became involved in his patron’s massive parallel projects of assembling an encyclopedic collection of drawings, arranged according to periods and schools, and a collection of artists’ self-portraits. Baldinucci assumed the leading role in these projects, advising Leopoldo—who was named cardinal in 1667—on his purchases and evaluating their attributions. In 1673 he compiled and published a master list of Leopoldo’s drawings, entitled the Listra de’ nomi de pittori de’ quali si hanno disegni . . . , which was intended for circulation among the cardinal’s agents.
Filippo Baldinucci had established his reputation as a connoisseur while attending to his family business of accounting and managing mercantile affairs. Born in Florence on 3 June 1625, he was named after the recently canonized St. Filippo Neri, the founder of the Oratorians, and was educated by the Jesuits. As a youth he studied modeling, painting, and drawing with several Florentine artists and developed close friendships with a number of them. An accomplished draftsman, in 1648 he was granted membership in the Florentine Accademia del Disegno, earning the title “accademico.” Although Baldinucci intended to enter the Capuchin Order, in response to his dying father’s request he agreed to continue the family business and to carry on the family name (to which end, in 1658, he married Caterina degli Scolari, a member of a well-known Florentine family). Over the years, Baldinucci cultivated ties to the cultural elite in Florence. He continued to draw, amassed a collection of drawings and paintings, and established a reputation as a connoisseur.
In spite of successive appointments as an art advisor to Leopoldo de’ Medici in the 1660s and Cosimo III in 1675, questions around professional competence continued to occupy him. The same year in which the first volume of the Notizie and the Vocabolario appeared saw the publication of another Baldinucci work, his Lettera a Vincenzo Capponi, a sixteen-page pamphlet. Addressed to Cosimo III’s representative to the Accademia del Disegno, the Lettera primarily concerns connoisseurship—how to ascertain an original from a copy, how to distinguish between hands, and who is capable of judging art. It is not surprising that the man who was, for the first time, systematically establishing the very terms for a discourse on art would defend his ability as a “dilettante” rather than as an artist to make sound judgments about works of art.
While the Bernini Vita was in press, the question of Tuscan supremacy also continued to occupy Baldinucci. In 1682, he wrote another Lettera, this one addressed to Lorenzo Gualtieri, a close collaborator and member of the Medici court, which addressed the question of whether Raphael or Andrea del Sarto was the “prince of painters” of the sixteenth century. The verdict came out on the side of Raphael, the same opinion attributed to Bernini in Baldinucci’s Vita. This was followed, in 1684, by La Veglia: Dialogo di Sincero Veri, a twenty-three-page pamphlet, issued anonymously, written in the form of a dialogue. In this comedy filled with wit and sarcasm, and including practical instructions for archivists, Baldinucci reiterated Tuscany’s preeminence in the visual arts, responding to criticism of his claims in the Notizie’s “Apologia.” He also defended his work as being grounded in documentary evidence and a rigorous historical and historiographical method. Over the course of the final decade of his life (he died in January 1697), Baldinucci continued to work on the Notizie and penned other texts as well. In 1686 the second volume of the Notizie, covering the years 1300 to 1400, was published, as was his Cominciamento e progresso dell’arte dell’intagliare in rame, the first specialized history of the art of engraving. The third installment of the Notizie (actually volume IV), spanning the years 1550 to 1580, appeared two years later. His last major work, the Lezione di Filippo Baldinucci nell’Accademia della Crusca, based on two formal lectures delivered at the academy, was written in 1692. Addressing the relative merits of ancient versus modern painting—a subject that would soon be widely debated in France—the Lezione warrants careful comparison to his Life of Bernini, for the Vita contains numerous pronouncements on the subject, and Bernini himself was frequently compared by contemporary writers to the greatest artists of antiquity.
In discussions of the complicated genesis of the Bernini Vita considerable debate has centered on why Baldinucci was chosen to author the biography. Cesare D’Onofrio posited that, in order to conceal the fact that the biographical campaign was being led by Bernini’s son(s), it was essential to bring in an outside author who would compose the final text and be recognized as its author. Why was Baldinucci their choice? Building on Catherine Soussloff’s work on the Tuscan bias and Michelangelesque themes in the biography, Tomaso Montanari proposed that Baldinucci, who was emerging as one of the leading biographers of artists, was, as a Florentine, the only writer who could credibly cast Bernini within the Florentine tradition as the Michelangelo of his century. The nearly contemporary debates over Tuscan supremacy that emerge from Baldinucci’s publications of the early 1680s point to the constitutive association with Baldinucci of the bias that the Bernini clan is thought to have wanted to capture for Bernini. Not surprisingly, a central conceit of Baldinucci’s text is Bernini’s imitatio Buonarroti, and Baldinucci casts Bernini as a Tuscan artist, calling Florence (rather than Naples, where he was born) his “native land.”
Looking beyond political considerations (his distance from the Bernini family and unwavering Florentine campanilismo), it is important to ask what Baldinucci’s other publications and his professional trajectory might yield for an understanding of the Bernini Vita and his selection as its author. His training in connoisseurship may have been relevant to the Bernini family, as well as his ability to write in an elegant Tuscan style. With the goal of acquiring information for his “Albero genealogico” from the leading critics and connoisseurs in Italy, he drew up and circulated a questionnaire seeking basic biographical and chronological data about artists. This, together with writing the first volume of the Notizie and the Vocabolario, which predate his biography of Bernini, guaranteed his familiarity with the terminology, history, and practice of art, and with the prominent publications in the genre of artistic biography. That Baldinucci was also experienced in court diplomacy and service, learned while working for the Medici, is still another factor to consider, for in assuming the authorship of the biography and negotiating its publication with both the Bernini family and its dedicatee, Christina of Sweden, diplomatic skills were certainly necessary.
We might also ask whether Baldinucci’s historical method was a factor in is his being chosen as author. His research into the history of artists, particularly for La Veglia and the Notizie, involved the use of published sources and primary documents, as well as seeking information from the leading authorities in Italy. Yet he was criticized by some for the very historical method he continually defended (in addition to his Tuscan bias). In the Bernini biography he drew from Mattia de’ Rossi’s defense of Bernini against accusations (“empty clamorings,” “completely hollow, vulgar ideas,” he called them) that the cracks in the dome of Saint Peter’s were Bernini’s doing, and, in defending Bernini’s design of the bell towers, asserted “that everything I have related is dealt with in written documents contained in the Archives of the Fabbrica.” Is his reliance on the vaunted expertise of de’ Rossi (referred to as “Bernini’s most beloved assistant” and as “that most excellent architect”) and use of the archive without quoting from documents signs of historical rigor or a lack of it? To begin to answer this question, we must understand exactly what the standards of the biographical genre were and where, within this culture, his text stood.
It is equally important to consider what other ideas or beliefs attributed to Baldinucci may have shaped his biography of Bernini and how we might evaluate them. Primary is the matter of his spirituality, a central theme in the author’s diary, letters, and a biography penned by his son, Francesco Saverio. These sources portray Baldinucci as an extremely devout man who, in addition to associating with the Oratorians, frequently went on retreat to undertake the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius. For twenty-seven years, from 1669 until the year of his death, he kept a “Diario spirituale,” the entries in which document what Edward Goldberg has called his “spiritual disorder,” a life filled with visions, demons, and supernatural occurrences. Over the course of most of his adult life, he sought religious counsel from a visionary nun in the convent of Santa Maria Maddalena de’ Pazzi, and he relied on several Jesuit advisors for spiritual and professional guidance. Despite his successes at the Medici court and as a letterato, Baldinucci struggled with a crisis of confidence and was prone to profound depression. In his biography of his father, Francesco Saverio tells us that ultimately “he lost heart and fell into an extraordinary melancholy,” which led, soon after, to his tragic death.
S. Samek Ludovici and Edward Goldberg have suggested that Baldinucci’s tendency to structure his biographies of artists “like moral tracts,” emphasizing their piety or other spiritual characteristics, was the product of his own religious convictions. How does Baldinucci’s language of spirituality and religious practice, as articulated in the Bernini Vita, compare to that of the Church historian, Domenico Bernini, in his biography of his father? What, exactly, does Baldinucci’s own biography explain about the Bernini text? To evaluate and better understand Baldinucci’s Bernini, it is important to read both Baldinucci’s spiritual diary and his son’s biography carefully, and to consider their own motivations, biases, and use of rhetorical conventions.
Baldinucci’s Biography: Literary Genres and Themes
Similarly, to fully appreciate Baldinucci’s biography of Bernini, it is necessary to understand the balance between conveying facts and the conventions governing the form of seventeenth-century biography. Since Baldinucci’s text incorporates fragments from other writings and adopts characteristics of different literary genres, we should take the conventions proper to those texts and genres into account as well.
A subcategory of life-writing, artistic biography was essentially history. Baldinucci’s work as a whole arises from both the more specialized conventions of artistic biography and the general conventions of all life-writing. Hence, many of the components of the “historia,” as Baldinucci terms the narrative account of Bernini’s life, were expected: description of character was typical of artists’ lives as an explanation of the stylistic character of the work; stories of (good) birth and good deaths were expected in an account of anyone’s life as well.
The elaboration of Bernini’s piety—“So spiritual was his way of life from the time of his marriage that, according to what was reported to me by those who know, he might often have been worthy of the admiration of the most perfect monastics”—is one of the most conventional aspects of Baldinucci’s Life. Because of this theme’s extraordinary impact on modern Bernini studies, it is worth thinking about just how Baldinucci’s own faith may have shaped his account of Bernini’s. Should we read his portrayal of Bernini’s spirituality and nearly saintlike virtues as a projection of his own spiritual aspirations or as a conventional formulation? A careful consideration of questions like these will not necessarily contradict the widely held view that Bernini’s stylistic evolution was guided by his personal religiosity as laid down in the biographies. But it signals the extent to which Baldinucci’s Vita offers a writer’s purposefully fashioned interpretation of Bernini’s work. Since it lies embedded in a text, Baldinucci’s view of Bernini is dictated by parameters often less connected with making seventeenth-century art than with writing an early modern biography.
The multiple literary conventions and genres at work in Baldinucci’s biography of Bernini already become apparent in its physical composition. The first edition, a luxurious quarto on heavy paper, was divided into several distinct parts. The book opens with the dedication to Christina of Sweden, followed by a four-page alphabetical index (“of the most notable things”). The core of the book is comprised by a 102-page uninterrupted birth-to-death narrative followed, without a break in the typography or format, by remarks about Bernini’s character and his views on art, and a lengthy defense of Bernini in response to critics who claimed that his work in the crossing of Saint Peter’s had caused cracks in its dome. Nine engravings illustrating these claims are the only illustrations in the book other than the portrait of Bernini bound (in some copies) opposite the title page. A short catalogue of Bernini’s works, assembled at the end of the book in order “not to extend the narrative tediously and fragment the account,” is followed by the final section, the “protesta dell’autore,” a statement by Baldinucci about his methods and aims in writing Bernini’s Vita.
We have already made reference to the community of biographical texts of artists and of great men among which Baldinucci’s comfortably takes its place. Yet some components of the Vita pertain to other clearly defined literary genres, making Baldinucci’s a heterogeneous text not fully encompassed by the term “biography.” This is most obviously the case in the section of the text (occupying one-quarter the length of the entire book) that consists of an apologia, or defense. This apologia was based on the report discussed above, which was compiled for this purpose by Mattia de’ Rossi at the request of the Bernini family. There is, in addition, a second, six-page-long apologia for Bernini’s bell towers (which also elicited accusations that Bernini had caused structural damage to Saint Peter’s) embedded in the birth-to-death narrative around the papacy of Innocent X. Both sections are quite analogous in their reliance on documents (many of which have been verified by recent scholars) and their aim: to exonerate Bernini from accusations that his work compromised the integrity of the basilica.
The apologetic aspect of Baldinucci’s Vita is not confined only to these sections. As Montanari has argued, given the contemporary attacks on Bernini in the 1670s, the entire text had an apologetic purpose. This purpose drove the overtly idealizing character of Baldinucci’s text, which he acknowledged in his “protesta dell’autore” and elsewhere in the book.
Another literary genre that has been much discussed in relation to Baldinucci’s Life of Bernini is that of autobiography. Bernini’s voice appears sixty-three times in Baldinucci (and eighty-four in Domenico), for the first time when he exclaims,“Oh if only I could be the one” when Annibale Carracci prophecies the advent of a genius who would embellish the interior of Saint Peter’s with two magnificent monuments. Bernini thus appears as a live presence in the text, one whose role may have exceeded that of the subject. It is important to distinguish Bernini’s own input in compiling the biography from Bernini’s presence in the text. Given the dating of the biographical projects to Bernini’s lifetime, we can be certain that Bernini, at the very least, recounted stories, shared memories, and voiced his favorite sayings. It is safe to assume that Bernini helped craft his image of himself, whether directly or indirectly. For Montanari, who views Baldinucci’s text as a reflection of the view of an old man looking back on his life, this role was quite important. A more moderate view than Montanari’s recognizes Bernini’s active role as the subject of his “authorized biography.” Regardless of how closely Baldinucci’s text corresponds to Bernini’s intentions, the use of vivid rhetorical devices, such as quoting Bernini’s speech, produced what might be called an “autobiographical effect,” exuding the more ineffable sense that the text emanates from Bernini himself.
The core of the Vita is the birth-to-death narrative, which occupies 65 percent of the text. It runs from beginning to end without chapters, subtitles, or marginal headings (increasingly employed at that time) to guide the viewer on the way. In this respect, Baldinucci’s book differs from Domenico’s, whose distinct chapters, headings, and subchapters indicated in the margins call more attention to its structure and to historical time. This structural characteristic of Baldinucci’s Vita is born out in the book’s principal theme. John Lyons has proposed that Baldinucci portrays Bernini as a timeless entity. Because of the transcendental talent of the artist, Bernini does not develop. He lives in time but is not subjected to time’s vicissitudes. As Lyons puts it, “Time is an organizing framework—a kind of filing system or rhetorical order—of the vita rather than an explanatory category.” Hence one thing the reader will not find in this text is any conventional art-historical account of the artist’s development.
Nor, surprisingly, did Baldinucci consider providing extensive descriptions of works of art as one of his tasks, going so far as to say that “I would thus count the time completely wasted that I might spend in such a description [of Bernini’s Baldachin].” Baldinucci’s position seems almost defiant in the face of the ekphrasis-laden book of artists’ lives published in 1672, Giovan Pietro Bellori’s Lives of the Artists, which did not include an account of Bernini’s life and works. But Baldinucci claimed that actually seeing Bernini’s works in Rome had taught him something about the inadequacy of those descriptions: “For the eye alone and not the ear is reserved the merit of being able to render complete judgment.” So he included the catalogue of works that we know to have been assembled by Bernini’s sons, and only rarely elaborated on the appearance of Bernini’s works. After all, as Baldinucci pointed out, Bernini himself had left the works for us to see for ourselves.
The central event of Bernini’s life that did need to be recorded for posterity, and that Baldinucci reiterated over and over again, is a social and political one: the recognition of the artist, above all by popes, kings, and cardinals. Indeed, the narrative moves forward by dint of papal time. The succession of each new pope creates suspense around how quickly and effusively Bernini would be recognized by the new pontiff: “The sun had not yet set on the day that was Cardinal Chigi’s first in the office of Supreme Pontiff when he sent for Cavalier Bernini.” Sometimes the narrative slows and thickens, as during the pontificates of Urban VIII and, especially, Alexander VII, to whose court the dedicatee (Queen Christina) was deeply connected. Bernini’s recognition by Louis XIV during his trip to France is the climax of the book.
In its central preoccupation with Bernini’s intimacy, at times even his domesticity with power (“It was often said that Bernini was a man born to associate with great princes”), Baldinucci’s text itself runs a parallel course with its subject. For instance, in the dedication to Christina of Sweden, the author writes that it is the most enviable power of the great monarchs to bestow honor (rather than wealth) on their subjects, and that the “virtue” of his patron gave his “studies life, stimulus, spirit.” In other words, just as the pope gazing upon Bernini gave life to the artist, the favor of Christina gave life to Baldinucci’s Vita of Bernini. In this and other ways, Baldinucci’s text is similar in form and content to Bernini’s life as Baldinucci represents it.
Fame and making a place in history drove early modern life-writing. The relentless testimony to Bernini’s greatness by those greater in stature to him, combined with Baldinucci’s selection of Bernini’s best parts, has lent Baldinucci’s Vita an air of the hagiographic. But such idealization was the rightful province of early modern life-writing. To call a text hagiographic should not mean that it does not attempt to render its subject’s virtues without truth to its subject. On the contrary. While Baldinucci certainly steered clear of Bernini’s less virtuous behavior, his doing so was within the bounds of historical method. Hence Baldinucci stood by the selectiveness of his method as that of the Accademia della Crusca, whose members, like the bee, “collect [nectar] from the most beautiful flower.”
Because of the work’s status as a stand-alone biography, and the apparent completeness and vividness of the birth-to-death narrative, it has always been tempting to view this Vita as a complete and authoritative account of Bernini’s life. It is more accurate, though, to think of Baldinucci’s biography as a first fulsome interpretation of Bernini’s life and an elaborate network of road signs pointing to many other texts, as well as to the archive.
While many things about Bernini in Baldinucci’s Vita are factually verifiable, the reader should be cautious in taking him too literally. There has been much discussion since the publication of Kris and Kurz’s Legend, Myth, and Magic in the Image of the Artist about the historical value of artistic topoi, conventional stories about artists that repeat, with variation, in many early modern artists’ biographies. It is virtually impossible, and perhaps less interesting, to discover the truth behind Baldinucci’s invocation of a conventional topos than to understand its operation in the text as a whole. So, for instance, Baldinucci’s tale of Bernini’s precocity—before Paul V, the purportedly ten-year-old Bernini drew a head of Saint Paul “with free bold strokes in a half an hour to the keen delight and marvel of the Pope”—sets the artist in a genealogy of artists including Giotto, Michelangelo, and others who were discovered as youthful geniuses. In keeping with Baldinucci’s argument that Bernini’s talent transcended time, the story also demonstrated that Bernini had always been fully formed, or, as the pope put it to the ten-year-old boy: “You know how to do everything.”
Baldinucci’s respect for chronology offers another good example of how to read a historically-based text as a simultaneously literary one. While Baldinucci writes in roughly chronological order, at times he departs from that order (either knowingly or unknowingly) for the sake of thematic coherence. So, for example, he rightly places Bernini’s Cornaro chapel (1647–52) in the papacy of Innocent X (1644–55), when Bernini was out of papal favor for a time. He discusses this work directly after he makes the argument that Bernini was steadfast in the face of adversity, the proof of which was that “during this very period he brought forth for Rome to see the most beautiful works he had ever done.” In Baldinucci’s text, the Saint Theresa serves to prove Bernini’s perseverance, because it is the scalpel of the suffering artist that rises above misfortune to produce Theresa. Like the artist, the saint was pierced by an arrow, but she, like Bernini, reacted not with mortal pain and anguish, but with exquisite pain and love of God. Because Baldinucci uses this sculpture as a figure of Bernini rising above his earthly misfortune, he places the work (rather than dates it) after the bell tower debacle of 1646 and before Bernini’s period of disfavor ended with the commission for the Four Rivers Fountain (in 1648). The actual chronology of such a commission, though, cannot sustain Baldinucci’s point, for it is highly unlikely that the sculptural group of Saint Theresa was completed by the time Bernini was back in favor. In other words, using the biographies to establish dates with any precision is tricky, for facts are often subservient to some degree to the thematic needs of the text.
The themes of Baldinucci’s text are best appreciated by close comparison to its doppelgänger, Domenico Bernini’s biography. Although the philological problems in such readings are considerable owing to the complex genesis and authorship of the two texts, reading Domenico and Baldinucci side by side is rewarding if not necessary. In fact, one might say that the two texts provide almost a running commentary on each other. Two brief examples suggest the richness of the comparisons. For example, Baldinucci has Paul V declaring that “we hope that this youth will become the Michelangelo of his century,” while Domenico has Paul prognosticating with certitude that Bernini “will be the Michelangelo of his time.” Whether such a prognostication was ever made is less important than what Baldinucci’s hesitation tells us about how he characterizes the times in which Bernini lived, how he sees Bernini in relation to Michelangelo, and, above all, how he places Bernini in history. How both authors come down on these crucial questions is foundational for the aims of their Vite. A second example can be found right on the title page: both authors use virtually the same title for their books, as if one were to supplant the other. But Domenico omits Bernini’s professional identities (scultore, architetto, e pittore), a choice that is sustained throughout the text in his depiction of Bernini as a “great man” rather than as a great artist.
Artistic genealogies operate as subtexts throughout Baldinucci’s biography, which can be fruitfully read against other early modern artists’ lives. This is especially the case with the Vite of Michelangelo. Condivi’s text, for instance, probably reinforced the idea of Saint Peter’s as the principal monument and bête noir of the artist. Baldinucci explicitly invokes Abbé Pierre Cureau de la Chambre’s Préface (a brief biographical account of Bernini’s life and works) as a negative example: rather than drawing poison from his subject, as the Abbé does, Baldinucci’s claims to extract only what is beautiful. Other rich intertexts for Baldinucci’s Life are the seventeenth-century biographical corpus and Cellini’s autobiography, which we know Baldinucci had read.
One section of Baldinucci’s Vita that offers particular promise for study is the collection of Bernini’s views on art, which are strung together following the account of Bernini’s death. Bernini never engaged in any kind of formal theorizing of art and yet here, in nuce, is what might be called a theory of art. These passages, though, should be read in the context of the thematics of the entire text, and also in tandem with passages that do not invoke an art-theoretical vocabulary. Only then will the full theoretical potential of these passages, as motivated by Baldinucci’s own method and specific view of Bernini, be decipherable.
In reading this Vita we should be as attentive to what Baldinucci included as to what he excluded from view. Recent work by several scholars has reminded us of how selective Baldinucci (like Domenico) was in the depiction of Bernini’s actual milieu: of how absent are family, friends, and the members of the court that substantially contributed to the intellectual and artistic foment of the day.
With this introduction, we have attempted to give the reader a sense of the wide variety of research and questions that have been brought to bear upon this text, and of the many possibilities for further investigation and reflection that scholarly work and, above all, this rich and complex text itself have opened up. We hope that this overview stimulates the reader to enjoy Baldinucci’s biography of Bernini, and then to venture further into the world of seventeenth-century texts and histories it points to beyond its pages.
This introduction is a further reflection upon material and arguments presented in the authors’ “Prolegomena to the Interdisciplinary Study of Bernini’s Biographies,” in their co-edited volume Bernini’s Biographies: Critical Essays (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2007), with essays by Eraldo Bellini, Heiko Damm, John Lyons, Sarah McPhee, Tomaso Montanari, Rudolf Preimesberger, Robert Williams, and the editors. For a full bibliography and a more sustained development of the arguments presented here, we refer the reader to all of the contributions to that volume. Our aim here is to offer a bibliographical orientation, including the works referred to in the Introduction. Note that all quotations in the Introduction are from the Enggass translation of Baldinucci’s Life of Bernini.
After its first publication in 1682 (Vita del cavaliere Gio. Lorenzo Bernino scultore, architetto, e pittore, scritta da Filippo Baldinucci fiorentino [Florence: Vincenzio Vangelisti, 1682], Bernini’s biography was not republished as a monograph in Italian until the edition of Sergio Samek Ludovici (Milan: Edizioni del Milione, 1948). This edition also contains many sources relevant to the genesis of Baldinucci’s text. Baldinucci’s Vita, however, remained permanently available as it was appended (with very minor variations) to Baldinucci’s Notizie from the second edition onward, published by Domenico Maria Manni as part of Baldinucci’s Opere in 1767–74. As part of the Notizie, the biography is included in Paola Barocchi’s facsimile reprint of the Ranalli edition (1846): Notizie dei professori del disegno da Cimabue in qua, 1681–1728, 7 vols. (Florence: SPES, 1974–75).
The early critical studies based on Baldinucci’s biography referred to here are: Stanislao Fraschetti, Il Bernini: La sua vita, la sua opera, il suo tempo (Milan: Hoepli, 1900), and Alois Riegl, Filippo Baldinuccis Vita des Gio.Lorenzo Bernini: Mit Übersetzung und Kommentar, edited by Arthur Burda and Oskar Pollak (Vienna: Schroll, 1912). Important remarks on Riegl’s book are made in a review by Georg Sobotka, published in the Repertorium für Kunstwissenschaft 36 (1913): 107–13.
Filippo Baldinucci’s diary has been published as Diario spirituale, edited by Giuseppe Parigino, introduction by Enrico Stumpo (Florence: Casa Editrice Le Lettere, 1995). Studies dealing with Baldinucci’s life, milieu, and historical method include Edward Goldberg, After Vasari: History, Art, and Patronage in Late Medici Florence (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988), and Philip Sohm, Style in the Art Theory of Early Modern Italy (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001).
The question of the genesis of Baldinucci’s text was first broached in Erwin Panofsky, “Die Scala Regia im Vatikan und die Kunstanschauungen Berninis,” Jahrbuch der Preussischen Kunstsammlungen 40 (1919): 241–78, especially 272 n. 1 and 276 n. 4. Then in the work of Cesare D’Onofrio, “Note berniniane 2: Priorità della biografia di Domenico Bernini su quella del Baldinucci,” Palatino 10 (1966): 201–8; Roma vista da Roma (Rome: Edizioni Liber, 1967); and Scalinate di Roma (Rome: A. Staderni, 1974), especially 54 n. 69.
The essential studies of Tomaso Montanari on Bernini’s biographies include: “Bernini e Cristina di Svezia: Alle origini della storiografia berniniana,” in Gian Lorenzo Bernini e i Chigi tra Roma e Siena, ed. Alessandro Angelini (Siena: Silvana, 1998), 331–477; “Gian Lorenzo Bernini e Sforza Pallavicino,” Prospettiva 87–88 (1997): 42–68; “Sulla fortuna poetica di Bernini: Frammenti del tempo di Alessandro VII e Sforza Pallavicino,” Studi Secenteschi 39 (1998): 127–64; and “Pierre Cureau de la Chambre e la prima biografia di Gian Lorenzo Bernini,” Paragone, 3rd ser., 24–25 (1999): 103–32.
The document, culled from Giulio Cartari’s diary, describing Monsignor Pier Filippo’s desire to write the biography of his father is published in Marcello Beltramme, “Un nuovo documento sull’officina biografica di Gian Lorenzo Bernini,” Studi romani 53, no. 102 (2005): 146–60. The biographical sketch now in the Bibliothèque nationale in Paris is transcribed in Felicita Audisio, “Lettere e testi teatrali di Bernini: Una postilla linguistica,” in Barocco Romano e Barocco Italiano: Il teatro, l’effimero, l’allegoria, ed. Marcello Fagiolo dell’Arco and Maria Luisa Madonna, 26–45 (Rome: Gangemi, 1985).
Domenico Bernini’s Life of Bernini is now widely available in a facsimile edition: Vita del cavalier Gio. Lorenzo Bernino, descritta da Domenico Bernino suo figlio (Rome: Rocco Bernabò, 1713; Todi-Perugia: Ediart, 1999). Franco Mormando is preparing an extensively annotated English translation.
A first critical examination of Baldinucci’s biography as a literary text was undertaken by Catherine Soussloff in “Critical Topoi in the Sources on the Life of Gianlorenzo Bernini” (Ph.D. diss., Bryn Mawr College, 1982) and “Imitatio Buonarroti,” Sixteenth Century Journal 20 (1989): 581–602. The issue of Bernini’s religiosity is central to her “Old Age and Old-Age Style in the ‘Lives’ of Artists: Gianlorenzo Bernini,” Art Journal 46 (1987): 115–21.
Soussloff also contributed to the study of the history and genre of artistic biography with “Lives of Poets and Painters in The Renaissance,” Word & Image 6 (1990): 154–62. Today the literature on this area of scholarship is vast, just like the bibliography on Vasari’s foundational collection of Lives. Essential are Paola Barocchi’s edition of Michelangelo’s Life (La vita di Michelangelo nelle redazioni del 1550 e del 1568, edited by Paola Barocchi [Milan: R. Ricciardi, 1962]), and Rosanna Bettarini’s edition of the Vite (Le vite de’ più eccelenti pittori, scultori e architettori nelle redazioni del 1550 e 1568, 6 vols., edited by Rosanna Bettarini, commentary by Paola Barocchi [Florence: Sansoni, 1966–97]). Among the interpretations of Vasari’s work, important contributions are: Il Vasari, storiografo e artista. Atti del congresso internazionale nel IV centenario della morte, Arezzo-Firenze, 2–8 settembre, 1974 (Florence: Istituto nazionale di studi sul Rinascimento, 1976); Paola Barocchi, Studi Vasariani (Turin: Einaudi, 1984); and Patricia Rubin, Giorgio Vasari: Art and History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995). Our discussion of the stand-alone Vita of Michelangelo is based on Lisa Pon, “Michelangelo’s Lives: Sixteenth-century Books by Vasari, Condivi, and Others.” Sixteenth Century Journal 27 (1996): 1015–37.
The foundational critical study of artistic biography as an art-historical source is: Julius von Schlosser, La letteratura artistica: Manuale delle fonti della storia dell’arte moderna, 3rd Italian ed., translated by Filippo Rossi with additions by Otto Kurz (Florence: La Nuova Italia, 1964). The problem of the literary topos in artists’ Lives was first broached from a sociological perspective by Ernst Kris and Otto Kurz, Legend, Myth, and Magic in the Image of the Artist: A Historical Experiment, translated by Allistair Laing, revised by Lotte M. Newman, preface by Ernst H. Gombrich (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979), first published in German in 1934.
More recent works include Matthias Waschek, ed., Les “vies” d’artistes: Actes du colloque international organisé par le service culturel du musée du Louvre, 1–2 octobre 1993 (Paris: Musée du Louvre et école nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts, 1996), and the work of Paul Barolsky: The Faun in the Garden: Michelangelo and the Poetic Origins of Italian Renaissance Art (1994), Giotto’s Father and the Family of Vasari’s Lives (1992), Why Mona Lisa Smiles and Other Tales by Vasari (1991), and Michelangelo’s Nose: A Myth and Its Maker (1990), published by Pennsylvania State University Press.
English editions of seventeenth-century collections of artists’ biographies that also offer more general insights into early modern artistic biography include: Gian Pietro Bellori, The Lives of the Modern Painters, Sculptors, and Architects: A New Translation and Critical Edition, translated by Alice Sedgwick Wohl, with notes by Hellmut Wohl, and introduction by Tomaso Montanari (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005); and Ann Summerscale, ed., Malvasia’s Life of the Carracci: Commentary and Translation (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000).
A good introduction to early modern biography is Thomas F. Mayer and Daniel R. Woolf, eds., The Rhetorics of Life-Writing in Early Modern Europe: Forms of Biography from Cassandra Fedele to Louis XIV (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1995). On the Lives of great men, see Tommaso Casini, Ritratti parlanti: Collezionismo e biografie illustrate nei secoli XVI e XVII (Florence: Edifir, 2004).
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