Gianlorenzo Bernini was born December 7, 1598 in Naples to a Neapolitan mother named Angelica Galante and a Florentine father, Pietro Bernini. Pietro was a sculptor who moved his family to Rome in 1605 to work for Pope Paul V Borghese on his funeral chapel in the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore. 

Paul V took an immediate liking to young Gianlorenzo, and the boy was allowed to have his run of the Vatican's art treasures. When he was 11 Bernini, who was already known to be something of a prodigy, carved a portrait bust that brought him so much attention throughout Rome that he was summoned by the Pope. Paul V commanded that Bernini sketch the head of St. Paul, and the pope was duly impressed with the resulting picture.

The Pope decided that Bernini's further education was a matter of importance to the papacy and entrusted him to Cardinal Maffeo Bernini, future Pope Urban VIII, the greatest art patron in the history of the Church.

Urban VIII made Bernini Architect of St. Peter's and gave him over 30 commissions during his papacy, but one brought Bernini into disgrace. While constructing a bell tower for St. Peter's the weight of the tower caused damage to the base on which the tower was resting, and when Urban died and Pope Innocent X assumed the papal throne he refused to give Bernini any new architectural projects until Bernini won his favor with his design for the Four Rivers Fountain.

After Innocent X accepted his genius Bernini never had another real low point. He continued to be the most sought-after sculptor in Rome, where he spent his whole life except for a six month stay in Paris at the request of King Louis XIV and with the permission of Pope Alexander VII. Louis wanted Bernini to design his new palace, the Louvre, but he ultimately rejected all of Bernini's ideas after he insulted French art and culture.

Bernini worked under eight popes, but only the first six of them, Paul V through Clement IX, commissioned him for any major projects. Gianlorenzo Bernini died a few days before his 82nd birthday on November 28, 1680 after an illness of two weeks. At the time of his death his wealth was in the neighborhood of 400,000 scudi, which would make him a millionaire today.

Self Portrait
Completed: 1635
Oil on canvas
Galleria Borghese, Rome
Source: Web Gallery of Art