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The order to portray a subject who had died decades earlier did not faze Bernini. Working from a painting, the soon-to-be famous baroque artist summoned up the beloved uncle of his friend Matteo Barberini, newly elected Pope Urban VIII. Bernini chose a massive but harmonious bust form, with the truncation below echoing the arc of the slightly turning shoulders. Shadows play over Francesco's aged face, especially in the sunken temples and beneath the bushy eyebrows. The sculptor's drill has pierced dark wells in the beard. Through movement, varied textures, and manipulation of light, Bernini contrived to animate the image of a man he had never seen in life.


Cardinal Francesco Barberini [1597-1679], Rome; Palazzo Barberini alle Quatro Fontaine, Rome, by 1627; transferred 1635 to the Barberini's Palazzo alla Cancelleria, Rome; returned to Palazzo Barberini alle Quatro Fontane, Rome, until at least 1948;[1] sold to (Count Alessandro Contini-Bonacossi, Florence); sold July 1950 to the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, New York;[2] gift 1961 to NGA.

Exhibition History
The Art of Gianlorenzo Bernini: Selected Sculpture (Loan for display with permanent collection in conjunction with the exhibition Bernini Drawings from Leipzig), Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas, 1982, no. 14, repro.
Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Regista del Barocco, Palazzo Venezia, Rome, 1999, no. 48, repro.
Bernini and the Birth of Baroque Portrait Sculpture, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, 2008-2009, no. 2.2, repro.
Baldinucci, Filippo. Vita di Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Con l’inedita vita del Baldinucci, scritta dal figlio Francesco Saverio. Studio e note di Sergio Samek Ludovi. Milan, 1948: 176. (Originally published as Vita del Cavaliere Gio. Lorenzo Bernini. Florence, 1682)
Wittkower, Rudolf. Gian Lorenzo Bernini: The Sculptor of the Roman Baroque. London, 1955: 14, 189, cat. no. 24, repro.
Paintings and Sculpture from the Kress Colllection Acquired by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation 1951-56. Introduction by John Walker, text by William E. Suida and Fern Rusk Shapley. National Gallery of Art. Washington, 1956: 214, no. 85, repro., as Cardinal Francesco Barberini.
Paintings and Sculpture from the Samuel H. Kress Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1959: 438, repro.
Seymour, Charles. Art Treasures for America: An Anthology of Paintings & Sculpture in the Samuel H. Kress Collection. London, 1961: 153, fig. 143-144.
Pope-Hennessy, John. An Introduction to Italian Sculpture. 3 vols. London and Greenwich, Connecticut, 1963: 3: Italian High Renaissance and Baroque Sculpture: part 1:122-123; part 2: pl. 144; part 3:123, 127.
Hibbard, Howard. Bernini. Baltimore and Hammondsworth, 1965: 88-89, repro.
Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 146.
D'Onofrio, Cesare. Roma vista da Roma. Rome, 1967: 21, 168 fig. 83, 434 n.9.
Fagiolo dell'Arco, Maurizio and Marcello. Bernini: una introduzione al gran teatro del barocco. Rome, 1967: repro. pl. 45.
European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1968: 130, repro.
Lavin, Irving. "Five New Youthful Sculptures by Gianlorenzo Bernini and a Revised Chronology of his Early Works." The Art Bulletin 50, no. 3 (September 1968): 223-248, repro. pl. 52-53. (Reprinted in Irving Lavin. Visible Spirit: the art of Gianlorenzo Bernini. 2 vols., London, 2007: 1:186-286, esp. 264-267, repro 253 (figs. 52-53).
Raggio, Olga. "Review of J. Pope-Hennessey Catalogue of Italian Sculpture in the Victoria and Albert Museum. London, 1964." The Art Bulletin 50, no. 1 (March 1968): 98-105.
Arnoldi, Francesco Negri. "Scultura Italiana al Victoria and Albert Museum." Commentari XXI (July-September 1970): 205.
Middeldorf, Ulrich. "Bernini's Portrait of Francesco Barberini." The Burlington Magazine 113 (1971): 544.
Lavin, Marilyn Aronberg. Seventeeth-Century Barberini Documents and Inventories of Art. New York, 1975: 78, no. 85.
Middeldorf, Ulrich. Sculptures from the Samuel H. Kress Collection: European Schools, XIV-XIX Century. London, 1976: 80.
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 639, no. 1000, repro.
Harris, Ann Sutherland. "Bernini and Virginio Cesarini." The Burlington Magazine 131 (January 1989): 17-23, repro. fig. 22.
National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 298, repro.
Martinelli, Valentino. Gian Lorenzo Bernni e la sua cerchia: Studie e contributi (1950-1990). Naples, 1994: 91, 92, 162, 164n, 168, 169, 281, 489, 496, repro.
Sculpture: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1994: 29, repro.
Bacchi, Andrea and Susanna Zanuso, eds. Scultura del '600 a Roma. Milan, 1996: 141-142, repro., 780.
Pope-Hennessy, John. An Introduction to Italian Sculpture. 4th edition. 3 vols. London, 1996: 3: Italian High Renaissance and Baroque Sculpture: 398-400, 407, 519, 523, repro. 398, pl. 375.
Avery, Charles. Bernini: Genius of the Baroque. Boston, 1997: 84-85, repro.
Dombrowski, Damian. Giuliano Finelli. Bildauer zwischen Neapel und Rom.. Frankfurt am Main and New York, 1997: 21, 38, 43.
Wittkower, Rudolf. Gian Lorenzo Bernini: The Sculptor of the Roman Baroque. 4th ed. London, 1997: 88, 246, cat. no. 24a, repro.
National Gallery of Art Special Issue. Connaissance des Arts. Paris, 2000: 59, repro. 60, 61.
Penny, Nicholas. "The Evolution of the Plinth, Pedestal, and Socle." In Collecting Sculpture in Early Modern Europe. Nicholas Penny and Eike D. Schmidt, eds. Studies in the History of Art 70, Symposium Papers 47 (2008): 468, 479 n. 47.
Bacchi, Andrea, Tomaso Montanari, Beatrice Paolozzi Strozzi and Dimitrios Zikos, eds. I marmi vivi. Bernini e la nascita del ritratto barocco. Exh. cat. Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence, 2009: 13, 40, 93, 141, 173, 232, 238, 345 no. A.14, repro.
Montagu, Jennifer. "Busts and their Bases." Sculpture Journal 20.2 (2011): 155-161, esp. 157, repro. 190.
Ostrow, Steven F. “Giovanni Angelo Frumenti and his tomb in S. Maria Maggiore: a proposed new work by Gian Lorenzo Bernini.” The Burlington Magazine 158 (July 2016): 518-528, esp. 526.
Dickerson III, C.D. "The Sculpture Collection: Shaping a Vision, Expanding a Legacy." National Gallery of Art Bulletin 56 (Spring 2017): 15-16, repro.
Explore This Work

If a man whitens his hair, his beard, his lips and his eyebrows, and, were it possible, his eyes, even those who see him daily would have trouble recognizing him.


Gian Lorenzo Bernini understood that the uniform whiteness of marble diminishes the contrasts of the colors of eyes, eyebrows, and flesh that help a viewer to identify a face, but probably no other sculptor has better overcome this difficulty. Bernini’s extraordinary skill in carving marble enabled him to render varied textures and create subtle shadows so convincingly that they suggest a range of colors. In this sculpture, Francesco Barberini’s face is finely polished, hinting at the bloom of living flesh, while his hair is grizzled slightly by the roughness left by a fine-toothed chisel. Shadows formed by deep recesses darken his beard. A tinge of blue can almost be imagined below the eyes. As Bernini himself explained, “to represent the bluish color which people have around their eyes, the place where it is to be seen has to be hollowed out....”


Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Funerary Monument of Pope Urban VIII, 1627-1647
bronze, gilt bronze, and marble
Saint Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City
Photo credit: Scala/Art Resource, NY

By the time Bernini created the pope’s tomb, he had many times portrayed the pope, who was a friend as well as his most powerful patron.

The challenges of animating a marble bust were magnified in this case by the fact that the sitter, Monsignor Francesco Barberini (1528–1600), had died more than 20 years before Bernini set to work. The monsignor was a learned man, serving in several positions within the church. He became an influential mentor to his nephew, Maffeo Barberini, the future Pope Urban VIII. After Maffeo’s father died when the boy was only three years old, Francesco had taken him under his care and guided his career. Before his election as pope in 1623, Maffeo commissioned Bernini to create several busts to honor family members, including this one of his revered uncle. The intricately carved bee that appears on the socle is the family’s symbol.

Bernini’s portrait busts are among the most brilliant ever made. When Bernini had a living subject before him, he preferred that the sitter talk and even walk around. It helped the artists to animate his sculptures, physically and psychologically. In the case of Francesco Barberini, the fact that his portrait was carved posthumously may explain a certain remoteness that is uncharacteristic in Bernini’s work. Bernini probably based the portrait of Francesco on a painting. Beyond the facial resemblance, details of the monsignor’s dress are identical in both the painting and the sculpture. The breadth of the chest, which is considerably larger than those that Bernini normally carved at this time, suggests the bulk of the seated figure in the painting. Bernini’s genius in carving is revealed in the intricate treatment of the shirt, deeply undercut collar, and pleated vestment with its zigzag patterns.

About the Artist

Gian Lorenzo Bernini was born in Naples but spent most of his adult life in Rome, the appearance of which he transformed with large-scale architectural projects and spectacular fountains. His career was long and prodigious. Perhaps as early as age ten, he was active in the workshop of his father Pietro, who was himself a highly gifted and successful sculptor. Within a few short years Gian Lorenzo had become Europe’s foremost artist and remained so until his death at 82. He was not only a sculptor but was also a painter and draftsman, a leading architect, a playwright, and an impresario who organized spectacles and performances for the papal court. His talent, energy, and dynamic personality left an indelible mark on 17th-century culture, and his exuberant style came to embody the baroque age. Almost every traveler to Rome has seen his work: the ecstatic face of his sculpture of Saint Teresa in Santa Maria della Vittoria; the towering baldachin with twisted columns that rise above the altar inside Saint Peter’s Basilica; the enormous colonnaded plaza that lies before it; and the fountains that animate the Piazza Barberini and the Piazza Navona.


Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Apollo and Daphne, 1624.
Galleria Borghese, Rome
Photo credit: Andrea Jemolo/Scala / Art Resource, NY

Bernini’s first important patron was Cardinal Scipione Borghese, who commissioned the artist, still in his early 20s, for four large sculptural groups. Their dazzling technique (achieved in part by gifted assistants) and innovative narrative approach established the artist’s international reputation. In Maffeo Barberini, who became Pope Urban VIII 1623, Bernini found an engaged patron, with funds to match his ambition. Urban shared Bernini’s literary and intellectual ambitions as well as his artistic ones, and his patronage would sustain the artist until the pope’s death in 1644.

After Urban VIII appointed Bernini to supervise the work at Saint Peter’s, Bernini became the virtual artistic director of Rome. His designs for the urban plan of Rome dramatically altered significant sections of the city. Aided by large teams of artists and skilled artisans, Bernini conceived ambitious sculptural projects as well. When Urban VIII died, Bernini’s fortunes declined. Too closely allied to the unpopular pontiff, Bernini was excluded from new papal commissions and took on private ones, including the Cornaro chapel in the church of Santa Maria della Vittoria, where the renowned sculpture of Saint Teresa is located.


Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Bust of Louis XIV, 1665.
white marble
46.5 cm
Chateau de Versailles et de Trianon, Versailles, France
© RMN-Grand Palais/Art Resource, NY
Photo credit: Gérard Blot

Some scholars have called Bernini’s bust of the French king the greatest baroque portrait sculpture.

Then Urban’s successor, Innocent X, was lured unwittingly into seeing Bernini’s design for the Four Rivers fountain in the Piazza Navona, and he could not resist it. The sculptor returned to favor, although he never again enjoyed the level of papal support he had known previously. In 1665 Louis XIV invited Bernini to France. The description of his time there, recorded by Paul Fréart de Chantelou (1609–1695), is one of the most significant documents pertaining to his career. Despite the high expectations for his success in a foreign country, Bernini’s dynamic, individualistic style clashed with Louis’ formalized French academic system. Although Bernini’s plans for the Louvre were rejected, he created a magnificent marble portrait of the king. Back in Rome, Bernini continued working until his death in 1680.