For decades, a skillfully sculpted interpretation of a skull was largely overlooked in Germany. Pillnitz Castle. Who made the skull has long been a mystery, but new research detailed in “Bernini, the pope and death», An exhibition presented in the center of Dresden Semper Gallery, suggests that the creator of the marble head was none other than the famous Baroque sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
“Everyone had the same reaction”, commissioner Claudia Kryza-Gersch tell it Art journalIt’s Catherine Hickley. “We were standing around a table, looking at her. The question was of course: who did it? And since it has a Roman origin, someone said jokingly ‘maybe it’s a Bernini?’
Speak German press agency (DPA), Kryza-Gersch spotted the skull as he prepared for a separate Caravaggio exhibit at the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister (Photo gallery of the old masters). She then had it transferred to the restoration workshop of the Dresden State Art Collections.
“There was something about seeing the object out of your window,” Kryza-Gersch tells the Art journal. “I was so overwhelmed. It’s scary – he has an aura. “
Curious about the origins of the skull, the curator began his research in the archives in Dresden. She soon came across the papers of Raymond Le Plat, artistic advisor to the Polish king Augustus the Strong, and found a reference to a “famous skull” sculpted by Bernini. Further investigation indicated that Pope Alexander VII, who led the Catholic Church between 1655 and 1667, commissioned the skull a few days after taking office.
According to the Gemäldegalerie website, the Pope kept the strangely realistic piece of white Carrara marble on his desk as a “reminder of the fragility of human existence.” Although a the plague fell on Rome Soon after his ascension, Alexander’s proactive response to the threat enabled the city to escape relatively unscathed, as Taylor Dafoe reports for Artnet news.
Write for Artnet news in 2017, Menachem Wecker pointed out that artists throughout history have created symbols that are just as macabre. Inspired by the Latin phrase memento mori, which roughly translates to ‘remember you must die’, these paintings, sculptures, drawings and tokens seek to remind viewers of their own mortality. Although the objects may seem morbid to modern viewers, Artnet note that they often wore “optimistic, Carpe Diem messages ”to make the most of your time on Earth.
After Alexander’s death in 1667, the head – “carved so realistically that it could almost be mistaken for a real human skull,” according to the Gemäldegalerie – was transferred to his nephew, a prominent collector of antiques. In 1728, Augustus acquired marble sculpture, as well as 164 ancient statues and four Baroque works. He was then moved to Dresden.
Until recently, the Dresden State Art Collections had listed the skull as an unattributed work, notes another DPA report. Held in the archeology department, it has generated little interest from curators more interested in ancient artefacts than modern artefacts. As a result, a supposedly lost masterpiece by one of the most renowned sculptors in art history has remained hidden from view for nearly 200 years.
“This time, all the pieces came together like a beautiful puzzle,” Kryza-Gersch tells the Art journal.
Born in Italy in 1598, Bernini displayed artistic talent from an early age. At just 8 years old, locals later claimed he created a stone head that “was everyone’s wonder,” as Arthur Lubow wrote for Smithsonian magazine in 2008. Bernini’s father encouraged the young artist to continue to perfect his art, and by his mid-twenties he had established himself as one of Rome’s most eminent sculptors. Among his famous creations is a life-size rendering of David, the triumphant biblical warrior who slain the giant Goliath, and a complex representation of Daphne, a mythological Greek nymph who transformed into a laurel tree to escape the unwanted advances of the god Apollo.
The newly identified Bernini skull – along with a painting showing Alexander resting his hand on the marble sculpture – is on view in Dresden until September 5.