The Fogg Museum houses the world’s largest collection of clay models by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the most celebrated sculptor of the baroque period. The selection displayed here presents clay sketches (bozzetti) and a model (modello) he made for a range of public projects. These clay models were then dried or fired in a kiln: the term “terracotta” can be translated as “baked earth.”
Bernini began by sketching in clay, then developing his ideas through subsequent versions. These models were then transformed into large-scale sculptures in marble or bronze, often by his workshop. Imprinted on the surface of the clay are the movements of Bernini’s hands, a variety of tool marks, and even his fingerprints. Close examination of the bozzetti provides insight into the artistic process of this preeminent sculptor.
Bernini created the bozzetti of standing angels holding the instruments of the Passion while designing the marble angels on the Sant’Angelo bridge that crosses Rome’s Tiber River (1937.57, 1937.58, 1937.67, 1937.68, 1937.69). Enlivened by their pose and drapery, these angels exemplify Bernini’s masterful manipulation of light and shadow.
The group of bozzetti for the two gilded bronze angels that flank the altar of the Holy Sacrament in Saint Peter’s Basilica represents both Bernini’s earlier and final designs. In his initial conception of Half-Kneeling Angels (1937.65, 1937.66), the drapery creates the illusion that the angels are suspended between flight and rest. In his final design, the two Kneeling Angels (1937.63, 1937.64) are posed in an attitude of prayer.
Also for Saint Peter’s, the modello for the marble sculpture of Longinus is caught in the charged moment of his conversion to Christianity after piercing the side of Christ with his spear (1937.51). The gilding indicates its possible use as a presentation piece for its patron, Pope Urban VIII, or as a prized trophy in the hands of a later collector.
By contrast, the full-scale bozzetto for the head of Saint Jerome captures a more interior moment of religious meditation and penitence (1937.77). Though Bernini made many such full-size head studies, this is the only one to survive, and his numerous revisions in the clay are descriptive of his use of these models to design his works.
These clay models reveal the evolution of ideas as Bernini prepared his monumental sculptures; but they also offer an intimate view of the artist and his technique.