Imago Christi: Bernini Saviours.

Lost and Found
Charles Scribner III

he Imago Christi – Gianlorenzo Bernini’s im- After the death of Pope Innocent, cardinal Anto-
age of Christ – is the subject of the most sig- nio Barberini ordered a similar one for King Louis
nificant recent attributions to the canon of XIV of France, a sacred balancing of royal power.
his works. It was listed in Louis’s inventory of 1684, just four
They portray Christ not within narrative, dramat- years after the maestro’s death, but almost certainly
ic, multi-figure (or multi-media) works, the “bel was melted down for a cannon during the French
composto” that is Bernini’s hallmark, but rather as Revolution a century later3. Still another crucifix
iconic and singular objects of devotion-focal points is mentioned by Bernini’s biographer Baldinuc-
of veneration. One is a nearly life-size crucifix; the ci as having been “made for himself” and during
other, a larger-than-life bust of the Savior. Bernini’s visit to Paris in 1665 was given to the Jes-
Bernini’s first documented commission for a crucifix uit cardinal Sforza Pallavicino, who was looking af-
was early in the reign of Pope Urban VIII, during ter the Bernini family back in Rome and mentoring
the construction of the greatest bronze masterwork Bernini’s son Monsignor Pietro Filippo. Five years
in Rome, the Baldacchino at the Crossing of St. Pe- earlier Pallavicino had penned his monumental
ter’s. History of the Council of Trent, for which he hoped
That bronze crucifix on an ivory pedestal adorned Bernini would design a title page. Bernini was too
with precious stones was commissioned in 1627 busy, but to his gift of a crucifix he added, a year
for the first chapel on the right, closest to the Porta later, a chalk portrait of the cardinal (New Haven,
Santa1. But there is no further mention of it. One Yale University Art Gallery)4.
must fast-forward almost three decades to view the In 1908 a large bronze crucifix [fig. 2] was exhibit-
first of Bernini’s extant crucifixes, the almost life- ed in Venice and bought the next year by the Parisi-
size bronze crucifix [fig. 1] commissioned around an art dealer Raoul Heilbronner, who sold it to New
1653-1654 for King Philip IV of Spain for the royal York financier Thomas Fortune Ryan as “school of
burial chapel in the Escorial, probably at the be- Jean de Bologne” (Giambologna). Purchased from
hest of Bernini’s erstwhile nemesis Pope Innocent X, his estate in 1933 by Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge,
who pursued a pro-Spanish policy in contrast to his it was included in her estate sale at Sotheby’s
Francophile predecessor Urban VIII. Parke-Bernet in 1975 as “French late 17th centu-
Bernini’s son and biographer Domenico described it ry,” but failed to sell5. Subsequently purchased by a
as “larger than life size” but that is surely an exag- dealer, it wound up in Monte Carlo and in 2002 was
geration of a figure of four and a half feet in height, upgraded to Bernini by Maurizio Fagiolo dell’Arco,
even back then. who believed it to be the lost crucifix given to Car-
The chapel was completed in 1654; Bernini’s hon- dinal Barberini for King Louis XIV6.
orarium, according to his son, was “a large gold Three years later, Tomaso Montanari published it
chain.” The crucifix was noted in situ in 1657 but as the lost Pallavicino crucifix, praising its remark-
1. Gianlorenzo Bernini, Crucifix for Philip IV. Madrid, Monastero El Escorial. soon afterwards moved to the sacristy2. able quality worthy of Bernini7. Offered to several

3a. Follower of Bernini, Corpus. Toronto, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto.
3b. Gianlorenzo Bernini, Crucifix for Philip IV. Madrid, Monastero El Escorial.

museums, it was finally sold to a Canadian busi- twins”11. There are telling discrepancies, to be sure,
nessman, Murray Frum, who donated it to the Art beyond the overall prettification of the Toronto
Gallery of Ontario at a stated value of fifty million bronze, with its emphasis on greater articulation of
dollars8. There it claims pride of place on dramatic the ligaments and toes in the feet, the accentuated
display, with nary a public doubt in the face of the crown of thorns, and flourish of drapery.
long list of scholars and curators solicited to bolster First, what is missing? ‘The side wound’, that sig-
the attribution9. But is it really Bernini’s lost cruci- nificant detail in all Bernini’s other crucifixes of the
fix? More to the point, is it by Bernini? Cristo morto, as may be seen in the crucifixes he
Viewing the two side by side [figg. 3a-b], one may designed in 1658 for the altars of St. Peter’s12. This
catch a glimpse of an explanation for why over the wound signifies the dead Christ since it was inflicted
decades following its exposition in Venice the To- by the lance of the centurion Longinus, the subject
ronto crucifix never conjured up the name Bernini. of Bernini’s earliest and most monumental marble
Certainly by 1975 – the sale at Sotheby’s – Bernini in the basilica. The alternative type, the Cristo vivo
was widely studied; Wittkower’s monograph and – Jesus suffering and expiring on the cross – was
catalogue raisonné, which included Bernini’s cruci- designed by Bernini a year later, in 1659, for the
fixes, had been in print for twenty years10. Yet no remaining altars13. The Escorial crucifix clearly re-
one saw Bernini’s handwriting in the piece. Com- veals the wound [fig. 4], which in bronze is added
pared with the original in the Escorial, it appears at the point of final chasing.
at first glance svelte, delicate, lacking the muscular It is inconceivable that Bernini would have allowed
dynamism of the original: ‘Bernini Lite’. it to be omitted in a second cast made expressly for
2. Follower of Bernini, Corpus. Toronto, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto. Montanari describes the pair as “brothers but not his own devotion.

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(This motif is, to be sure, typical in crucifixions and condensed all his art”, Domenico writes, add-
by Guido Reni and Algardi, but never by Bernini.) ing that his father’s “bold conception” more than
Montanari interprets this mannered flight of fabric compensated for the “weakness of his pulse [or
“as if raised by Jesus’s last sigh”15. wrist]”20. Bernini undertook this parting work as a
Montanari’s argument is clever, but specious. gift for Rome’s preeminent Catholic convert, Queen
Bernini was consistent in his treatment of compact, Christina of Sweden. When she refused to accept
lively drapery throughout his crucifixes, expressing it, saying she could never afford to repay Bernini
the tension and pathos inherent in the figure itself, for its true worth, he bequeathed it to her. On his
as seen in an exquisite bronze made from Bernini’s deathbed he asked for Christina’s prayers since she
clay ‘modello’ for the Escorial crucifix. shared “a special language with God”. It was pre-
Bernini later had that (now lost) ‘modello’ cast as a cisely through Bernini’s special language of ‘ges-
devotional crucifix for Pope Alexander VII16. Today ture’ that his otherworldly “speaking portrait” of
in a private German collection [fig. 6], it reveals – the Lord communicates its meaning21.
like all Bernini’s autograph ‘modelli’ – the maestro’s The bust was originally mounted on a Sicilian jas-
immediate touch. Immediately noticeable is the ab- per base and supported by two angels kneeling on 5. Follower of Bernini, Corpus, loincloth. Toronto, Art
sence of a crown of thorns, consistently absent in a gilded wooden socle. Bernini’s sketch (in Leipzig) Gallery of Ontario, Toronto.
the 25 crucifixes Bernini designed at this time for for the angelic pedestal reflects his drawing (also
St Peter’s, as in his marble crucifix held by St. Je- in Leipzig). Bequeathed by Christina to Innocent right who had assisted Bernini for years in realiz-
rome for the Chigi Chapel in the Siena Cathedral a XI, Bernini’s Saviour was later adapted, as Lavin ing his grand programs, would he have settled for
few years later (1661-1663)17. So much for Mon- discovered, as the official emblem of the Apostolic a work that betrayed weaknesses, especially a work
tanari’s hypothesis that the more articulated crown Hospital in Rome before vanishing from the Odels- he considered the summation of his art, his most
of thorns in Toronto reflects Bernini’s revised, per- calchi collection in the late eighteenth century22. precious piece and legacy? There was nothing weak
sonal vision18. Only a preliminary drawing (in Rome) preserved about Bernini’s eye or mind as he approached the
Comparable measurements of both crucifixes sug- Bernini’s redeeming image until Irving Lavin pub- end. Side by side, which one – after a career of sev-
gest that the Toronto casting was likely made from lished the marble at the Chrysler Museum in Nor- en decades and eight popes – would the maestro
some of Bernini’s original molds, or copies thereof folk, Virginia, as the lost bust [fig. 8]23. himself have chosen as his parting masterpiece, the
– but not the casts of drapery19. In conclusion, it is But controversy is the spice of connoisseurship. Bril- work he called his ‘beniamino’, his favorite?
highly improbable that Bernini had any role in this liance and quality offer no immunity. So even this Today displayed in a grand niche in the church
later casting or in the finishing details in wax and late discovery of the Saviour, lost and found, has proper, the St. Sebastiano bust reveals in full glo-
final chasing. The coda of drapery in the Toronto provoked denials from at least two distinguished ry Bernini’s magnificent sunset in marble. It is well
corpus – requiring an additional mold and alien to scholars: Jennifer Montagu and Tomaso Montanari. worth a pilgrimage along the Appian Way. Clearly
all known Bernini crucifixes –betrays the Toronto Both see the Norfolk bust as the original, the S. Se- no simple blessing, the unusual gesture that Lavin
bronze as a pastiche, a later recasting neither over- bastiano as the polished copy by an anonymous first interpreted as an ambiguous combination of
seen nor molded in wax by himself, much less for member of Bernini’s circle. Here is Montagu’s ver- abhorrence and protection may on one level re-
4. Gianlorenzo Bernini, Crucifix for Philip IV, side himself. Parts of that highly finished corpus – the dict: “I’m convinced that he made the Saviour in call26 – but not, I must stress, illustrate – the “noli
wound. Madrid, Monastero El Escorial. head and upper torso, above all – appear identical Norfolk, Virginia, which is completely mad, and not me tangere”, that first appearance of the resurrect-
to Bernini’s original in the Escorial; yet others – the the rather academic one in San Sebastiano, which ed Christ to Mary Magdalene: “Do not touch me,
Montanari finesses this problem by arguing that in drapery, exaggerated feet [figg. 7a-b] and slimmer now most people think is by him, but I can’t believe for I have not yet ascended to the Father” (John
returning to this crucifix a few years later, Bernini legs – seem arbitrary, utterly lacking in Bernini’s this. The late sculptures are mad and hard to take, 20:17). Evoked through Christ’s aloof visage and
“ha voluto trasformare un ‘Cristo morto’ in un handwriting. but interesting”24. raised hand – an unexpectedly cautionary gesture
‘Cristo’ ancora vivo, ma prossimo allo spirare”14: in The ultra-refined details of the Toronto corpus re- Montanari, too, considers the S. Sebastiano bust – Bernini’s biblical allusion would have been rein-
other words, a novel third type to be seen nowhere flect the expertise of the bronze craftsmen molding “a very beautiful and sensitive copy” of the Nor- forced by the angels that, with hands covered, lifted
else in his oeuvre or indeed in the iconographic tra- the wax and completing the chasing: it is an im- folk original. While acknowledging its high quali- the divine effigy above the touch of mortals. When
dition of crucifixes: that of Christ at the very point pressive bronze, ‘Bernini based’ – but not Bernini’s ty, he perceives in it nonetheless “a language more designing a symbolic globe to raise his Louis XIV
of death, a comatose Christ. He reinforces his the- vision.  graceful than heroic”25. The Norfolk bust’s incon- in a royal apotheosis, he explained that its practical
ory by invoking the unique fling of loincloth [fig. *** sistency in quality illustrates, in his view, Domen- function was to prevent viewers from touching the
5], a striking detail alien to Bernini, here requiring The Sign of the Cross was to play a signal role in ico’s reference to his father’s “weakness of wrist”. bust27. Considered afresh in its original context, as
an additional cast of bronze to be amended to the Bernini’s final sculpture, the bust of the Saviour, in But that raises the key question: with a workshop a sacramental apotheosis, the Saviour may finally
Escorial original. which the eighty-year-old maestro “summarized of eminent sculptors at hand, masters in their own come into focus. The features that seem exaggerated

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7a. Gianlorenzo Bernini, Crucifix for Philip IV, detail. Madrid, Monastero El Escorial.
7b. Follower of Bernini, Corpus, detail. Toronto, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto.

up close, together with the tumultuously abstracted he sees the swirls of drapery and hair as alluding to
drapery folds and the blank eyes of classical Ro- “the tempest which accompanies the second coming
man portrait busts, are resolved into an expression of Christ […]. In short,” he asks, “should we see
of enormous spiritual intensity when viewed from Bernini’s Christ as repelling the damned souls on
below. Its ‘concetto’ is emphatically Eucharistic – a Doomsday?”31. No.
huge white Host elevated as “the Bread of Angels”. Lavin is surely correct in emphasizing salvation in
This is Bernini’s marble sacrament, raised in his last his interpretation of the gesture as eschatological:
labor of adoration. “The beneficent shielding gesture of the Savior’s
Yet the literally crucial question remains: what is right hand abhors the sinister threat from the lower
the primary, simplest meaning of Christ’s gesture? left,” he concludes. Above all, Lavin focuses on the
According to the poet-playwright Hugo von Hof- “powerful contrapposto that is […] unprecedented
mannsthal, “Depth must be concealed. Where? On in an isolated image of the Savior”32.
the surface”28- a notion with which Bernini would It is precisely that contrapposto that provides the
have concurred. One need not diminish, much less key to Bernini’s immediate, implied action. One
deny, the multilayered depths of Bernini’s iconogra- need not plumb iconology to recover that ‘surface’
phy by insisting that Bernini’s shimmering surface message – literally, the signing of the hand. If one
always makes dramatic sense. His son and biogra- takes Domenico at his word, then – in the spirit
pher Domenico described the gesture “as if in the of Occam’s Razor – the answer is obvious: what
act of imparting a blessing”29. If anyone knew what Bernini has captured in stone is the ‘act’ of bless-
that gesture meant, Domenico did. We may take ing. The maestro of movement in marble leaves as
him at his word. his parting tour de force not an icon, a static Christ
There has been no shortage of exegesis on this point. with hand symbolically raised in blessing, but a
One scholar interprets the gesture in reference to dynamic divine figure caught at the moment he
Christ’s prayer to his Father in the Garden of Geth- is about to complete the horizontal sweep of the
semane to ward off the chalice of his Passion30. An- cruciform blessing, a moment – and movement –
other maintains that “the diverging movements of familiar then as now to every Catholic who has
6. Gianlorenzo Bernini, Crucifix for Alexander VII. Germany, private collection. gaze and hand argue against a blessing gesture” and attended Mass.

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8. Copy after Bernini, Bust of the Saviour. Norfolk (Virginia), Chrysler Museum. 9. Gianlorenzo Bernini, Bust of the Saviour. Roma, St. Sebastiano.

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Most images of Christ blessing, like those familiar as Salvator Mundi, the world’s Savior. Its redemptive 1
R. Wittkower, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, London 1966, p. 268.
images of popes or saints on holy cards, show the theme – orchestrated in a major key – may be found
Wittkower, Gian Lorenzo Bernini cit., pp. 228-229. See also D. Bernini, The Life of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, transl. and ed.
by F. Mormando, University Park (PA) 2011, p. 142 and note 1, p. 334. For the ‘Escorial crucifix’, see also F. Petrucci in La
figure in static equilibrium, his right hand raised at in the maestro’s own words as recorded by Domenico: Passione di Cristo secondo Bernini. Dipinti e sculture del barocco romano, Roma, Palazzo Incontro, 3 aprile - 2 giugno 2007,
the center of his breast. Not Bernini. This contrap- “God’s goodness is infinite, and infinite is the merit Roma 2007, pp. 102-107.
posto is analogous to his early Davide (Roma, Gal- of the precious blood of His Son; and thus it is an 3
Wittkower, Gian Lorenzo Bernini cit., p. 229.
leria Borghese). The frightening power of that figure offense to these attributes to doubt divine mercy”33. 4
See Bernini, The Life of Gian Lorenzo Bernini cit., p. 334, note 1; and T. Montanari, Gian Lorenzo Bernini e Sforza Pallavicino,
– what makes the viewer want to duck – is the fact According to his biographers, Bernini’s career com- in “Prospettiva”, 87-88, 1997, pp. 42-68.
Thomas Fortune Ryan sale, American Art Association Anderson Galleries, New York, 25 November 1933, lot 419, 111; and
that we know what will happen in a second, as the menced with the posthumous bust of Bishop San- Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge sale, Sotheby’s Parke-Bernet, New York, 29 November 1975, lot 54.
arm swings across the body of this heroic ancestor toni, a public effigy (Roma, Sta. Prassede); seventy 6
M. Fagiolo dell’Arco, Berniniana. Novità sul regista del Barocco, Milano 2002, pp. 112-119, 124-125.
of Christ. years later, it concluded with a sacramental bust of 7
T. Montanari, Percorsi per cinquant’anni di studi berniniani, in “Studiolo”, III, 2005, pp. 269-298.
So too in the Saviour, whose right hand will mo- the Eternal Savior, animated through marble folds 8
M. Knelman, AGO Gets $50M Sculpture, in “Toronto Star”, 11 January 2007.
mentarily, if more benignly, sweep across his chest that follow no natural pattern. The striking realism
Appended to AGO Research Report, kindly provided by Toronto journalist George Traini.
See note 1. The first edition was published in 1955.
to his right side, in which direction his gaze is al- of the child prodigy was transfigured in the end by 11
T. Montanari, Bernini per Bernini: il secondo ‘Crocifisso’ monumentale. Con una digressione su Domenico Guidi, in “Pro-
ready turned. The practical purpose of the contrap- the ethereal vision of a genius to whom life and art spettiva”, 136, 2009, p. 4. But a recent documentary discovery suggests that the “similar” crucifix cited by Baldinucci as given
posto is to evoke a sweeping blessing mirrored and were as inseparable as fact and faith34. by Bernini to Cardinal Pallavicino was not in bronze but “cartapesta”: see Rubén López Conde, A Propósito del Crucificado
anticipated in Christ’s enlivened drapery. In the de Bernini en el Escorial: el Crucifijo de cartapesta del Cardinal Sforza Pallavicino, in “Archivo Español de Arte”, LXXXIV,
end, it’s all about movement. The angels elevate the This article originated as a paper delivered to the 335, 2011, pp. 211-226. I am most grateful to Professor David García Cueto at the Universidad de Granada for bringing this
important article to my attention.
Savior in Eucharistic benediction as he reaches to Renaissance Society of America meeting in Boston 12
Wittkower, Gian Lorenzo Bernini cit., p. 229; and Petrucci in La Passione di Cristo secondo Bernini cit., pp. 102-107.
complete the act of blessing the world below with on 31 March 2016. I wish to thank Professor Franco 13
See C. Scribner, Bernini, New York 1991 (rev. ed., 2014), p. 31.
the sign of the Cross, the axis of salvation. That is Mormando, who chaired the session on new Bernini 14
Montanari, Bernini per Bernini cit., p. 5.
the implied kinesis. attributions and invited me to share my findings. 15
On a deeper level, the point at which the act of bless- To Professor Irving Lavin – teacher, mentor, and
Petrucci in La Passione di Cristo secondo Bernini cit., pp. 88-101.
See Wittkower, Gian Lorenzo Bernini cit., plate 92.
ing is here shown frozen forever in marble under- standard – I dedicate this article with four decades 18
Montanari, Bernini per Bernini cit., 4f.
scores Lavin’s interpretation of this gesture as ambiv- of gratitude and affection. His generous encourage- 19
I am grateful to George Traini, see note 9, who shared with me his painstaking measurements of the two crucifixes.
alent – simultaneously blessing virtue and warding ment was matched by probing questions, insights, 20
See Bernini, The Life of Gian Lorenzo Bernini cit., pp. 224-225.
off evil. Thus in a final stroke of genius, as he pre- and challenges that left no page unimproved. Fi- 21
See I. Lavin, Bernini’s Death, in “Art Bulletin”, LIV, 1972, pp. 171-184; Scribner, Bernini cit., p. 126; and I. Lavin, Bernini’s
pared for his own death, Bernini here combined in nally, special thanks to Francesco Petrucci for his Death: Visions of Redemption,” in Visible Spirit: The Art of Gianlorenzo Bernini, II, London 2009, p. 1079.
See Lavin, Bernini’s Death: Visions of Redemption cit., pp. 1080-1082.
marble the effect of movement – the familiar act of scholarly insights, encouragement, and assistance 23
Lavin, Bernini’s Death cit., pp. 171-186.
blessing – with a sublime gesture that signifies Christ to this publication. 24
J.R. Figueiredo, In Conversation with Jennifer Montagu, in “Forma de Vida”, 5, January 2015.
T. Montanari, Bernini, Roma 2004, pp. 204-206.
Lavin, Bernini’s Death cit., p. 182.
P.F. de Chantelou, Journal du Cavalier Bernini en France, Paris 1885, pp. 150, 156. For an analysis of the iconological rela-
tionship with the bust and pedestal of Louis XIV, see Lavin, Bernini’s Death cit., pp. 178-181.
H. von Hofmannsthal, Buch der Freunde (Gesammelte Werke in zehn Einzelbänden, 10), Reden und Aufsätze III, Frankfurt
1986, p. 268.
Bernini, The Life of Gian Lorenzo Bernini cit., p. 225.
A. Poséq, Reading Bernini’s Language of Gesture, in “Acta Historiae. Artium”, 47, 2007, pp. 28, 30-31.
D. Dombrowski, Apotheosis and Mediality in Bernini’s Later Portrait Busts, in “Artibus et Historiae”, 32, 2011, p. 189.
Lavin, Bernini’s Death: Visions of Redemption cit., p. 1079.
Bernini, The Life of Gian Lorenzo Bernini cit., p. 228.
See C. Scribner, Transfigurations: Bernini’s Late Works, in “Journal of the American Philosophical Society”, 1991, pp. 490-50

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