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4.8 out of 5 stars
4.8 out of 5 stars

on 22 December 2006
The photographs in this book are suberb, with several of Bernini's greatest works photographed from a number of unusual and illuminating angles. His main works are shown full page, a number of them in colour, and there is an exhaustive catalogue at the back showing all of his work with informative information on each. Consequently Rudolf Wittkower has produced a book that not only looks good as a coffee table browse but which contains much detailed information of enormous interest to anyone interested in this great sculptor's work at any level.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 24 April 2014
There is quite a history to this marvelous monograph and catalogue raisonné by the German art scholar, Rudolf Wittkower, 1901-71. It was originally published in 1955 and, eleven years later, a second edition was published under the author’s supervision. Following Wittkower’s death, the third edition of 1981 included revisions by Howard Hibbard, Thomas Martin and Margot Wittkower, 1902-1995, Rudolf’s wife, that were presented as addenda to an otherwise unchanged text.

In 1990, an Italian revision was published by Electa, which included a new design, newly commissioned photographs including 30 in colour. The addenda of the 1981 edition were incorporated into the body of the book and new addenda were introduced taking account of the results of new art historical research published between 1980-89. This edition, published in 1997, is based on the Italian edition, incorporating its new features whilst retaining the original English text. There is no indication of who made the translation.

Wittkower explains that his original, 1955, work was the result of a desire to interpret Bernini’s sculptural work in the spirit in which, he believed, it was created. Bernini, 1598-1680, was the most fertile and most accomplished artistic exponent of 17th-century Catholicism and his religion conviction is a necessary background against which his art should be considered. As Wittkower points out, it is impossible to divorce the artist’s views on art from his religious belief. The sculptor prophesied that after his death his reputation would decline and Wittkower suggests that this is exactly what happened. Ruskin’s considered view of his sculpture is that it seemed ‘impossible for false taste and base feeling to sink lower’. This book, then, is the author’s contribution towards reversing this undeserved ecline and ensuring that the Bernini is considered by scholars and lovers of art to be the genius that he undoubtedly was.

The sculptor’s life and work of is presented in complementary chapters that address ‘Early Works and Borghese Patronage’, ‘Religious Imagery’, ‘Portrait Busts’, ‘Work in St Peter’s and the Vatican’, ‘The Cornaro Chapel, other Chapels, Churches and the Baroque Stage’, ‘Fountain and Monuments’ and ‘Bernini and his Period, The Organisation of the Studio: Theory and Practice’. The colour plates precede the Catalogue, following which there is a Chronological Table, Bibliography, an Index of Names and an Index of Places and Works.

The catalogue comprises 81 works, together with 10 attributions that Wittkower did not accept in 1955, and a further 8 attributions not previously mentioned. There are well over 300 b/w reproductions, many as full page plates.

As has been mentioned by an earlier reviewer, the photography in this book is splendid, especially the 30 colour plates which show the polychromatic environment of these exceptional sculptures, most notably “Tomb of Pope Urban VIII”, 1627-47, “Medusa”, mid-1630s, “The Ecstasy of St Teresa, Cornaro Chapel”, 1647, “The Blessed Ludovica Albertoni”, 1674, a detail of which is illustrated on the front cover, “Altar of the Cappella del Sacramento”, 1674, and “Tomb of Pope Alexander VII”, 1675-77. Since sculpture is a 3-dimensional medium, the multiple photographs from different perspectives help the viewer envisage the sculpture on the 2-dimensional page. The close-up photographs enable the viewer to focus on elements that might otherwise be missed or glossed over.

The delicacy of sculpture in the early “Apollo and Daphne”, 1622-25, is quite staggering, with the leaves sprouting from Daphne’s extremities at the transitory moment of metamorphosis. I remember seeing this many years ago in a deserted room in the Galleria Borghese where I was able to see the delicacy of the metamorphosing leaf tendrils from very close up and also, I admit it, to touch them. As Wittkower points out, in this gallery environment the sculpture is free-standing but the work was initially placed, and was designed to be placed, against the wall to enable it to be seen from their principle direction of view. The photographs of “Pluto and Proserpina”, 1624, which show the God’s splayed fingers digging into the Goddess’s thigh and back, is so realistic as to lead one to expect the marble to be warm to the touch.

This scrupulously research book provides the art historical knowledge available at the end of the 20th century. As such it can be unreservedly recommended.
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on 23 November 2012
Phaidon does something that I've not seen before with other publishers: understands that statues are made to be looked at from various angles. This superb collection does just that, showing the works of a Master Sculptor (to my taste, better than Michelangelo) in great detail. The photos are art-photos, not just catalog photos. You can feel the photographer has a good understanding of sculpture and light and brings them together in a way that does justice to Bernini.
Another forte of the book is the text. Unlike other art books, where the writer floods you with professional information and likes to impress with his knowledge, the text in this book goes straight to the point: explains Bernini's life and the context in which his work came to life.
Watch the video I made, it will help you get a better idea of what the book has to offer. Im a great lover of Bernini and this is the first time I feel really close to his work, while turning the pages of a book. Ive seen most of his works, as I live in Rome. So it's not little to see Bernini so well represented in a book! Kudos for Phaidon!
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on 31 March 2017
A book by a great scholar on Italian baroque to be read again and again. Also the great Pelican History of art by Wittkower.
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on 31 March 2011
This book on Bernini was purchased as a present for a relative. The photographs, although mostly black and white, are excellent and include unusual angles and close-ups. Bernini is a favourite of my aunt and she was delighted with the book.
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on 4 May 2014
Marvellous carvings and the photographs do justice to Bernini's unbelievable skill. Very dramatic in black and white. Interesting to read about the man and his time.
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on 18 November 2015
The book is full of beautiful photos, including a lot of close-up details, which you usually don't see in other books. A great book for practising sketches too.
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on 8 July 2016
Bought as a gift for my partner, lovely book but a little disappointed given what I paid, as the glossy front cover is quite scratched and marked.
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on 24 January 2017
the book is big enough and has many lively photos.
nothing needed to appreciate bernini's works
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on 5 February 2017
superb, anything you want in a book!
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