Nearly 400 years ago, a young Gian Lorenzo Bernini was commissioned by a powerful Cardinal’s family to decorate the first Jesuit church in Rome. Now, Bernini‘s work—a bust of Cardinal Roberto Bellarmino—has left Rome for the first time for an exhibition at Fairfield University Art Museum in Connecticut.
When you step inside the exhibit—THE HOLY NAME Art of the Gesù: Bernini and his Age—it’s like stepping behind the scenes of the creation of one of the most important monuments in Baroque Rome: the Church of the Gesù.
It’s a nearly life-size sculpture of Fairfield University’s patron saint, Cardinal Roberto Bellarmino, from the waist up. Soft white light casts over Bellarmino as he stretches his white marble hands out in prayer.
“It’s the highlight of the exhibition and I don’t mean at all to diminish the other works because to me there are many, many highlights, but it’s the highlight of the highlights.”
Wolk-Simon says most of Bernini’s architectural works at St. Peter’s Basilica are not meant to be moved. But this two-foot tall bust is a portable example of the style Bernini would eventually trademark.
“It’s of exceptional, unparalleled, extraordinary importance, both because Bernini is one of the giants of Western art, one of the greatest sculptors of all times, and this work in particular has never been seen.”
“You can see the stubble of his face. Now why did Bernini do that? This figure was just always up very high, no one would have seen that, but it just like, you know, to him marble was just like the way anyone else would have modeled in clay.”
So Wolk-Simon enlisted her university connections and the help of the top Jesuit scholar living today. They sent a letter to THE leader of the Jesuits in Rome who could convince Italian officials to let the Bernini leave the country.
And Father General Arturo Sosa gave her a response:
“I was happy to help. This bust is not simply an outstanding work of art by an extraordinary sculptor. It also reminds Fairfield of its Jesuit identity and mission.”
“Linda and I went to Rome and met with the rector of the church of the Gesù and people from the…and we climbed up a sort of rickety ladder to get to the top of this niche and get to see the bust close up and it was the first time that either of us, or many other people, have seen it that closely.”
“I’m an expert in this field and I’ve known most of these objects so far…you will never get this again.”
The last day to see the Art of the Gesù is this Saturday, May 19.