Bernini: Sculpting in Clay

C.D. Dickerson III, Anthony Sigel, and Ian Wardropper. Metropolitan Museum of Art (Yale Univ., dist.), $65 (432p) ISBN 978-0-300-18500-3
To know and understand the work of Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598–1680), it is not enough to look at his finished sculptures. The thesis of this monumental art book is that Bernini’s clay models and drawings reveal an even greater genius. Because Bernini was such a skilled modeler, his preparatory work shows a liveliness that is not only helpful in understanding the finished work, but also shows advanced technical and design acumen. As a scholarly study of artistic process, the book is thorough and well organized, including equal shares of history and biography, art criticism, reception studies, historiography, and curatorial practice. As a catalogue of Bernini’s models, the book is equally as exhaustive, with enlarged photographs of key details, such as “striations from dry brush smoothing” or finger marks that indicate Bernini’s fast and free style. The catalogue entries go so far as to include X-ray images that reveal the interior structure and density of the models. One of the most important questions that the book attempts to answer is one of attribution—what work was done by Bernini, what work was done by assistants in his studio, and which pieces may be wrongly attributed to the artist? The detective work can be both tedious and fascinating, and this obsessive book both suffers and shines as a result. 472 illus. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 10/15/2012
Release date: 10/01/2012
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