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Page revised in September 2009.
Passeggio di Ponte S. Angelo (Book 5) (Map C2) (View C4) (Day 8) (Rione Borgo)
In this page:
The Statues of the Angels in detail
in a previous page:
The plate by Giuseppe Vasi
Ponte S. Angelo
The Statues of the Angels
The statues of the angels were assigned by Bernini to eight other sculptors, as he reserved to himself the execution of two of the ten statues. Many of the chosen sculptors were Bernini's pupils, but others had worked with Pietro da Cortona and Alessandro Algardi.
In antiquity and until the time of Michelangelo statues were generally carved from a single block of marble; this explains why human figures rarely stretched their arms: this position would have required a much bigger block; in paintings David was represented in the act of throwing the stone with his sling; Michelangelo, in the statue which gave him immediate fame, portrayed David in a resting position; for this reason most of the full scale statues of antiquity had a dignified and composed attitude; the same applies to their drapery which were adherent to bodies and fell to the ground without many folds. The statue of an angel placed by Pope Paul III at the top of Castel Sant'Angelo had metal wings.
In the second half of the XVIth century the technique for assembling a statue made of different sections was improved and Ratto delle Sabine (Abduction of the Sabines) by Giambologna in Florence marked the beginning of a new era in marble sculpture. It was theorized that a statue should be viewed from several different angles.
Bernini all through his career paid a great deal of attention to how his statues would appear from different points of view. His early works for Cardinal Borghese (Apollo and Daphne, Rape of Proserpine) were immediately recognized as masterpieces because they were equally viewable from different angles. Bernini gave instructions on the exact positioning of the statues in the room taking into account the proximity of windows. Apollo and Daphne was first to be seen from the back to discover only in a second moment that the young woman was turning into a tree.
Bernini devised three points of view for the angels of the bridge, bearing in mind that people would be crossing the bridge in both directions. So in addition to the frontal view the statues can be seen also at a 45 degree angle. The angled view for those who came from Rome received more attention, because this was the first view for the pilgrims. Bernini used to prepare full scale models made of clay to visualize the final effect of his statues from different points of view (some of these models can be seen in the Vatican Museums, near the picture gallery).
In the following set of photos the first image shows the angled view from Rome, the second is a frontal view and the last image shows the angled view from Castel Sant'Angelo.
The wings of the angels were used to improve the view from different angles: one wing was best seen from Rome and the other from Castel Sant'Angelo; the torsion of the body was another technique for "giving something" to each angled view.
Antonio Raggi is regarded as the most "Berninian" of Bernini's pupils; in some aspects he exceeded his master; his angel is very tall and slender, the dress forms the most unlikely folds, the face is portrayed in a very ecstatic expression, the hair is extremely ruffled.
This is the only angel who expresses real grief. Cardinal Giacomo Rospigliosi, nephew of Pope Clement IX was so impressed by this and the other statue by Bernini that he wanted them for the Cathedral of Pistoia in Tuscany, the town of origin of his family. The statues never left Rome and they were eventually relocated to S. Andrea delle Fratte, the church nearest to Bernini's house.
Cosimo Fancelli worked for many years with Pietro da Cortona and although his angel is coherent with the overall plan of the statues, some aspects are treated in a different manner, especially the face and the hair.
Paolo Naldini was so trusted by Bernini that he was charged with the execution of the copy of the angel with the crown of thorns. He and other sculptors mentioned in this page relied very much on being called by Bernini to cooperate in large projects, but they also tried to acquire direct commissions, mainly for works to be placed in provincial towns. It was probably with the objective of impressing his potential customers that Naldini decided to show his skill in the veiled leg of this angel.
Girolamo Lucenti started his career by working with Alessandro Algardi, the great rival (in sculpture) of Bernini and the leader of a school of thought which avoided departing too much from the works of the old masters. Lucenti did not forget the recommendations of his first master and his angel stands on a cloud solid as rock, his dress is very static and the wings are almost neglected.
The spiritual tension of Bernini's age is expressed in this statue where the face of the angel is very similar to that of St. Theresa. When the cultural and religious climate changed, this statue became a symbol of an excessively theatrical art.
Ercole Ferrata was the senior member of the group of sculptors who cooperated with Bernini in this and other projects (such as Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi); his angel is more composed than others: the statue follows the guidelines issued by Bernini, but without much enthusiasm.
Antonio Giorgetti was a young sculptor who died before completing his angel; the statue was most likely finished by his brother Giuseppe who later on sculpted a fine St. Sebastian. It is evident that Giorgetti did not depart from Bernini's recommendations.
After the death of Alessandro Algardi in 1654, Domenico Guidi was the only sculptor in Rome to have a workshop competing with that of Bernini. His assistants were not much more than stone cutters, but this allowed him to sell his statues at a lower price than that charged by Bernini and his inner circle. Probably Bernini could not avoid asking Guidi to have a role in the decoration of Ponte S. Angelo.
P. S.: The decoration with statues of the bridge inspired the Jesuits of Prague who promoted the decoration with statues of saints of the main bridge of Prague.
Excerpts from Giuseppe Vasi 1761 Itinerary related to this page:
Next plate in Book 5: Ponte e Mole Adriana
Next step in Day 8 itinerary: Ponte e Mole Adriana