Bust of Pope Paul V
(Naples 1598 - Rome 1680)
Pope Paul V Borghese is wearing the papal mantle, embroidered with images of the apostles Peter and Paul and fastened on the chest by a precious clasp, over the rich smock edged with lace and the amice around his neck. The formal attire, together with the severe expression, make it a portrait with an official purpose, despite its small size. For a long time, the small bust was thought to be a youthful work by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, made between 1617 and 1618 on commission by Scipione Borghese, nephew of the pope. Subsequently, following the rereading of some payment documents, a proposal was made to move the date of its execution to immediately after the pope's death, between 1622 and 1623, but the question is still under debate.
Thanks to the varied ways in which the sculptor worked the marble, the bust creates tactile sensations for the viewer, as if one could stroke Camillo Borghese's skin and the fabrics of his garments, and fully grasp the facial expressiveness.
The reference model for this work by Bernini has been identified in a portrait of the pontiff by Nicolas Cordier, preserved today in a private collection.
Inventario del Casino del Graziano, 1765, p. 220; Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese, 1833, C, p. 48, no. 107; purchased by Italian state, 1902.
- 1930 Roma, Istituto di Studi Romani
- 1998 Roma, Galleria Borghese
- 1999 Roma, Palazzo Venezia
- 2008 Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum
- 2008-2009 Ottawa, National Gallery of Canada
- 2017-2018 Roma, Galleria Borghese
Conservation and Diagnostic
- 1963 G. Pedrazzoni
- 1997 C.B.C. Coop. a.r.l.
- 2008/ 2009 E.M. Conservazione + Arch. S.r.l.
This small bust of Paul V was long considered a work of Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s youth, executed upon a commission by Scipione Borghese between 1617 and 1618, when the pope was still alive. This date seemed supported by the posthumous biography of the sculptor written by his son Domenico (1713, p.17), which reported the well-known anecdote that the pope kept the bust on his desk until his death. Subsequent re-examination of several payment documents led some scholars to propose moving the execution of the work to a later period, namely 1622-23, shortly after Paul V’s death. At the same time, these writers believed that Domenico’s story was just another of the many imprecisions regarding his narration of his father’s early career (Bacchi, in Bernini and the Birth, 2008, p. 103). In any case, the question of the exact date of the work is still open.
The bust is certainly documented in the 1765 inventory of the works at the Casino del Graziano, a small building on the edge of the sycamore valley purchased by Cardinal Borghese in 1616 and converted into a resting place during hunting parties. In 1833, it was included in the fideicommissum drawn up by Marcantonio V. It was then taken to the Palazzo di Campo Marzio before being definitively brought back to the Villa sometime before 1889. Prior to the reopening of the museum to the public in 1997, it was kept in the entrance hall of the Villa. When Galleria Borghese opened again it was placed in room 14 upon its original pedestal in giallo antico marble, which had been found in the museum storerooms.
While the sculpture’s small size indicates that it was destined for private use, the iconography bears traces of officialdom: the starched amice around the neck, the vestment lined with lace, and the papal cape with the images of Sts Peter and Paul. The representation of other details is truly laudable: the growth of hair around the tonsure and of the beard on the cheeks as well as the pope’s squat neck, which the artist has masterfully drawn attention to by means of the creases on the clothing. Meticulous work on the marble transmits tactile sensations to the observer, as if one could caress the skin and fabrics of the attire of Camillo Borghese. Here the eyeballs are left smooth, without attempting to represent the pupils, a motif that was generally adopted for posthumous portraits: before this work, Bernini had only left the eyes unfinished in Capra Amaltea. The indeterminate character of the gaze foregrounds the expressiveness of the other parts of the face, which lends psychological truth to the bust (Coliva, in Bernini scultore, 1998, p. 107).
A portrait of the pope by Nicolas Cordier was the reference model for this bust; today that work is conserved in a private collection (Bacchi 1989, pp. 28-29). The painting and the sculpture have many traits in common, though they differ in the representation of the eyes and the details of the vestment, which Bernini has made more lively by emphasising the lower curve.
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- Scheda di catalogo 12/ 01008679, Russo L., 1981; aggiornamento Felici S., 2020.