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Gian Lorenzo Bernini

BY THE TIME OF HIS DEATH, Gian Lorenzo Bernini had produced more portraits than any sculptor since antiquity. In an oeuvre that ran from semiautonomous marble gallery sculptures to multimedia installations, portraits were a rare constant. It was the one genre in which the artist worked from the beginning to the end of his career—from the Bishop Giovanni Battista Santoni he carved for Santa Prassede in Rome, probably at around the age of twelve, to the central figure of the tomb he designed for Pope Alexander VII in Saint Peter’s Basilica, nearly seven decades later.

Bernini had been told since his youth that he was destined to be “the Michelangelo of his time,” and a number of his early statues show him working systematically through themes closely associated with his Florentine predecessor. Portraiture, though, was one area where even the young Bernini went entirely his own way:

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