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Three chapels by Gian Lorenzo Bernini

Cappella Raimondi

S. Pietro in Montorio is a XVth century church with very small chapels, not much larger than a niche in the wall. The right side of the church is adjoining the cloister of the monastery so it is not possible to modify the chapels on that side. On the left side there were no other buildings, so in the early XVIIth century Carlo Maderno expanded one of the chapels and in 1642-46 Gian Lorenzo Bernini did the same to build a chapel for the Raimondi family.
Since his early works for Cardinal Scipione Borghese, Bernini had been interested in the effects of light over a sculpture and had given clear indications on how his sculptures ought to be positioned to obtain the effect he had planned for them. His sculptures are often referred to as pictorial sculptures for the use of light (and sometimes color).
Usually a chapel was conceived like a little church and thus received light from the lantern of the chapel dome. Bernini was unhappy about this central light and for this chapel he designed four lateral windows and making use of the thickness of the walls he directed the light of two of them towards the very end of the chapel.

Cappella Raimondi: seen from the exterior and overall view
Cappella Raimondi: seen from the exterior and overall view

Funeral monuments were in general of two types: one derived from the Roman and medieval tradition and showed the dead lying on a sarcophagus, the other derived from Michelangelo's Medici tombs in Florence and had a triangular shape with the dead between two other statues. Only a large chapel could accomodate such monuments and so the decoration of the walls of the chapels was in general made of paintings (either frescoes or canvasses). For this chapel Bernini adopted a different solution, by designing a funeral monument which did not require a lot of space and marble. Only the upper part of the body of the dead is visible as if he were behind a kneeling-stool. On the altar there is a relief by a Bernini scholar (Francesco Baratta) showing the Assumption of St Francis. Reliefs were very popular in the XVIIth century as they were seen as a perfect combination of picture and sculpture: Bernini himself was not very celebrated for his reliefs, but his rival Alessandro Algardi excelled in this technique.

Cappella Raimondi: the busts of the donors
Cappella Raimondi: the busts of the dead and a detail of a relief

Of the two busts (again by a Bernini's scholar, Andrea Bolgi) the one on the right side is very interesting because it looks towards the entrance of the chapel, as if he was inviting you to enter. Bernini's sculptures with very few exceptions always show an action: a classic example is the comparison between Michelangelo's (or Donatello's or Verrocchio's) David and Bernini's David, whom we see in the act of throwing the stone. Another interesting feature of these monuments is the space for a small relief: in this case the reliefs are not related to the lives of the dead, but this design will be adopted in many other funeral monuments, in particular the papal monuments in St Peter's to celebrate a particular episode of their lives.
The detail of the relief shown in the picture (Resurrection of the dead) announces the great number of skeletons which for more than a century will jump out of most of the funeral monuments in Rome and elsewhere.

Other chapels by Gian Lorenzo Bernini:
Cappella Cornaro in S. Maria della Vittoria
Cappella Paluzzi Albertoni in S. Francesco a Ripa

Other pages dealing with Baroque sculpture:
Monuments showing the dead in a medallion
Representation of Death in Baroque sculptures
Statues in the act of praying
Three busts by Alessandro Algardi
See also my List of Baroque Architects and my Directory of Baroque Sculpture.

Go and see another work by Gian Lorenzo Bernini  or go to my Home Page on Baroque Rome or to my Home Page on Rome in the footsteps of an XVIIIth century traveller.

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