Bernini in Paris

In modern times France is the land of good taste. The world listens to French pontifications on food and dress and even wit.
But that’s not how it used to be.

For a long time taste came from Italy and France had to call in Italian artists to get its beauty and even its judgments on beauty.
When the Louvre, now the famous museum in Paris, needed a facade, King Louis XIV asked Gianlorenzo Bernini to send a design and then come and direct construction. He even sent a nobleman named Chantelou to Italy to fetch the great artist and to accompany him to Paris.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini by Baciccio,1665 (public domain photo)

Chantelou kept a diary that makes very good reading. He was fascinated by Bernini and fills his diary with details of their trip and Bernini’s eccentric ways, his remarks on what he saw, the reception he got, and so on.

Map of Paris 5189-1643 (public domain photo)

Bernini turned up his nose at everything. When the King asked him what he thought of the Tuilleries Palace he said it “seemed a big little thing” and that it was like a “great squadron of tiny children”.

Tuileries Palace, an engraving, 1861 (public domain photo)

The dome of the Val-de-Grâce was like “a little cap on a big head”. Paris seen from the height of Meudon was ugly. “All those chimneys! It looks like a carding comb,” he told his guide.  Desperate to find something that would please him, Chantelou showed him a painting by an Italian. That did the trick.

Annunciation by Guido Reni, 1621 (public domain photo)

“This Annunciation by Guido Reni is worth half of your Paris,” Bernini told him; but he immediately corrected: “No, it’s worth more.”

But the biggest thrill for Bernini were the paintings by Poussin in Chantelou’s private collection.


Scipio’s Noble Deed by Poussin , 164o (public domain photo)

Poussin was a Frenchman but he had been living in Italy for years. Bernini spent an hour on the paintings, exclaiming “What devotion! What silence!”. When the prime minister Colbert heard about this he said: “I’m so glad the Master has found something in France that pleased him.”

Portrait of Jean-Baptiste Colbert by Philippe de Champaigne , 1655 (public domain photo)

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7 Responses to Bernini in Paris

  1. wrjones says:

    Did not Bernini get his comeuppance with a failed structure he designed?

  2. 100swallows says:

    I don’t know which structure you mean, Bill.

  3. Miki says:

    Hi you with the wonderful name of 100 swallows!
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  4. wrjones says:

    I thought he designed a whole or part of a building that collapsed or had to be removed due to structural failure. I, of course, did not come by this information in a scholarly fashion, saw it on an art series on TV.

  5. 100swallows says:

    Thanks, Bill: I don’t know that story about Bernini but I will check into it. I wish I had seen that TV program. Condivi, the Michelangelo biographer, has Mike say similar nasty things about his old enemy, the architect Bramante.
    I’ll let you know if I find out anything.

  6. pleasenez says:

    @wrjones: Yes, you are right. Bernini designed two bell towers for the facade of St. Peter’s, which were to mark his accession into the ranks of the St. Peter architects, Bramante, Raphael, Michelangelo, della Porta, Maderno, et al. The first of the pair was completed around 1646, but was then demolished due to the unstable foundations that Bernini did not take into consideration. The pope at the time, Innocent X, was not a great fan of his to begin with, and the episode really constituted his fall from grace and great public shaming. But he came back as strong as ever when he swindled his way into winning the commission for the fountain in the Piazza Navona with what went down in history as “the Ludovisi ruse”. Eventually, Bernini also made his mark on St. Peter’s with the great piazza.

  7. Agostino says:

    The belltowers failure was not his fault though. It was the fault of Bramante who built the previous foundations on unstable ground. Borromini was to assist Bernini in the architectural side of things and knew about it( he was bramante’s protege) buts because they had a rivalry with bernini( and were bitter that he got the commission) they let him take the fall and public ally tried to destroy him. They blamed him for cracks in the facade as well which were already there, as well as damage to the cupola that was from wear and tear that was never his fault. Baroque Rome was a fascinating time. It was like a movie. Everyone trying to screw over each other.

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