Baroque prize

The Getty beefs up Bernini’s pres­ence in L.A.

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - BY DAVID NG

From his dra­matic de­sign for St. Peter’s Square in the Vat­i­can City to his re­mark­ably life­like sculp­tures of popes and Euro­pean no­bil­ity, 17th cen­tury artist and ar­chi­tect Gian Lorenzo Bernini cre­ated a body of work that is widely re­garded as a corner­stone of the Baroque era.

Three months ago, there were no ma­jor Bernini works in Los An­ge­les mu­se­ums. Now there are two: The J. Paul Getty Mu­seum is set to an­nounce Wed­nes­day that it has ac­quired a Bernini bust of Pope Paul V that has been hid­den from public view since the late 19th cen­tury.

The Getty’s pur­chase fol­lows the an­nounce­ment in March that the Los An­ge­les County Mu­seum of Art ac­quired a late-pe­riod Bernini bust de­pict­ing an uniden­ti­fied man in honor of its 50th an­niver­sary.

The bust of Pope Paul V stands more than 2 1⁄2 feet tall. It was cre­ated when Bernini was only 23 and is be­lieved to be the artist’s first pa­pal por­trait. The Getty said it ac­quired the piece in a pri­vate sale through Sotheby’s.

Sotheby’s in Lon­don con­tacted the mu­seum in March. “It was a sur­prise. We were im­me­di­ately in­ter­ested,” said Ti­mothy Potts, di­rec­tor of the Getty Mu­seum.

The Getty sent cu­ra­to­rial staff mem­bers to Lon­don to in­spect it, and they found it in ex­cel­lent con­di­tion. Potts de­clined to say how much the Getty paid for the work. “But it was a sig­nif­i­cant amount,” he said.

In 2002, a terra-cotta fig­ure at­trib­uted to Bernini sold at a Sotheby’s auc­tion in Lon­don for about $3.3 mil­lion.

The Bernini bust of Pope Paul V was com­pleted in 1621 as a com­mis­sion from Car­di­nal Sci­p­i­one Borgh­ese, a nephew of the pa­pal leader who would be­come one of the artist’s most im­por­tant pa­trons. It be­longed for cen­turies to the fam­ily un­til it was sold at auc­tion in 1893 to a pri­vate Vi­en­nese col­lec­tor.

The Getty said that when it was sold, the bust was er­ro­neously at­trib­uted to Ital­ian artist Alessan­dro Al­gardi, not Bernini. But a study pub­lished in 1916 re-at­trib­uted the work to Bernini.

For more than 100 years, the bust dis­ap­peared from public view, and its own­er­ship dur­ing this pe­riod re­mains a mys­tery.

The most re­cent owner of the sculp­ture ac­quired it in 2014, ac­cord­ing to the Getty Mu­seum.

“It’s a real coup for the Getty,” said Tony Sigel, a Bernini ex­pert at the Straus Cen­ter for Con­ser­va­tion at Har­vard. “I think it’s tremen­dously ex­cit­ing when an orig­i­nal work be­comes known again af­ter so long.”

An early work by Bernini is es­pe­cially sig­nif­i­cant be­cause the young artist didn’t del­e­gate as much work to as­sis­tants as he would at an older age, Sigel said.

There are few sculp­tural works by Bernini in the U.S. Only one other por­trait bust by Bernini re­sides in an Amer­i­can mu­seum: a sculp­ture of Francesco di Carlo Bar­berini at the Na­tional Gallery of Art in Washington.

A non-por­trait mar­ble sculp­ture by Bernini is in the col­lec­tion of the Metropoli­tan Mu­seum of Art in New York, while the Kim­bell Art Mu­seum in Fort Worth owns terra-cotta works by the artist.

The Getty’s ac­qui­si­tion is the first sculp­ture at­trib­uted solely to Bernini to en­ter its per­ma­nent col­lec­tion. The mu­seum has a Bernini sculp­ture that is at­trib­uted to both the artist and his fa­ther, Pi­etro. In ad­di­tion, the Getty owns draw­ings cre­ated by the younger Bernini.

In 2008, the Getty pre­sented the ex­hi­bi­tion “Bernini and the Birth of Baroque Por­trait Sculp­ture.” The Pope Paul V bust wasn’t part of the ex­hi­bi­tion, but it did fea­ture a bronze cast of the bust, which is now in a mu­seum in Copenhagen. Although it is al­most 400 years old, the mar­ble sculp­ture is in ex­cel­lent con­di­tion, ac­cord­ing to Anne-Lise Des­mas, head of the Getty’s sculp­tural and dec­o­ra­tive arts depart­ment.

“Usu­ally, there will be cracks or other dam­age in some­thing of this age,” Des­mas said. “It’s as­ton­ish­ing that it’s in such good shape.”

The bust was sculpted out of a sin­gle piece of mar­ble, in­clud­ing its base, she said.

The Getty’s Bernini is sched­uled to go on public view Thurs­day. LACMA’s sculp­ture is cur­rently part of its an­niver­sary ex­hi­bi­tion and is ex­pected to go on per­ma­nent dis­play af­ter that show closes in Septem­ber.

The Bernini will be dis­played at the Getty’s Ital­ian Baroque gallery where there is al­ready a por­trait by the Ital­ian artist Guer­cino of Pope Gre­gory XV, the pope who suc­ceeded Paul V in 1621.

J. Paul Getty Mu­seum / Sotheby ’s

A BUST of Pope Paul V cre­ated by 17th cen­tury artist-ar­chi­tect Gian Lorenzo Bernini has been ac­quired by the Getty and is set to go on dis­play on Thurs­day af­ter more than a cen­tury out­side of public view.

GIAN LORENZO BERNINI was 23 when he cre­ated the bust of Pope Paul V, com­pleted in 1621.

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