Powers Matchless: The Pontificate of Urban VIII, the Baldachin, and Gian Lorenzo Bernini

Powers Matchless: The Pontificate of Urban VIII, the Baldachin, and Gian Lorenzo Bernini

Powers Matchless: The Pontificate of Urban VIII, the Baldachin, and Gian Lorenzo Bernini

Powers Matchless: The Pontificate of Urban VIII, the Baldachin, and Gian Lorenzo Bernini

Excerpt

Myth and history are close kin inasmuch as both explain how things got to be the way they are by telling some sort of story. But our common parlance reckons myth to be false while history is, or aspires to be, true. Accordingly, a historian who rejects someone else's conclusions calls them mythical, while claiming that his own views are true. But what seems true to one historian will seem false to another, so one historian's truth becomes another's myth, even at the moment of utterance.

William H. McNeill

The Baldachin is the centerpiece of this investigation. In its initial stages, I envisaged the study becoming a treatment of the monument that would be in the critical mainstream of the art-historical discipline. My plans took shape accordingly. By "critical mainstream" I mean that the investigation would deal, I early expected, with the monument in a traditional monographic manner, as Howard Hibbard suggested, and that it would trace the patronal and artistic aspects of the Baldachin's form and meaning, its aesthetic and intellectual significance. At first, I accepted the consensus of modern art historians, who identified the patron, Urban VIII, as the last Pope of the Counter-Reformation, and the artist who is usually held to have been the sole designer of the Baldachin, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, as the outstanding exponent of the Roman Baroque period. I even said so in my first publications on the project, which sketched its general outlines. There would be little need, I then assumed, to remeasure the historical and artistic concepts that were bound up in the terms "monograph," "Counter-Reformation" and "Baroque"; still less reason to reassess Bernini's role as the inspiratory genius of the structure. Or so I thought.

During the growth of this study and a careful reading of the voluminous Urbanate record, my early assumptions and ideas changed rather radically. I have come to know that the Baldachin must be centered as Urban saw it in his complex, interconnected military, political, and artistic plan for the Pontifical States, Rome, and the Vatican. And I have come to believe that the modern terminology of "Counter-Reformation" and "Baroque" obscures the actual dynamics in which Urban commissioned Bernini to make the Baldachin. In fact, I have come to regard the terms as impediments to full comprehension of the Baldachin. These appellations were in fact inventions of a later age, the Enlightenment, and their creation tells us rather more, I am now convinced, about that period than about the time two centuries or so earlier when the historical and artistic figures who will concern us in the following discussion lived. It is my contention that both terms should be replaced by more appropriate ones, ones that were born and used in the age in which the figures of my narrative actually existed.

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