Bust of Cardinal Scipione Borghese

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Bernini, Bust of Cardinal Scipione Borghese, 163
By ETHAN DOSKEY

The typical story of a commission we are all familiar with by now: rich and/or powerful person wants his/her portrait done, finds the most notable artist in the area, and has the artist complete their portrait by an agreed date. Bernini's commission to do Cardinal Borghese's portrait was no different at first until what seemed like an absolute disaster occurred two weeks before he would present it before the patron.

Having become arguably the most notable sculptor in all of Rome, Bernini soon became a favorite of the clergy, thus opening his career to the most sought-after commissions, including portraits of the most powerful people in Rome at the time. When Bernini was hired to sculpt a bust of Scipione Borghese, Bernini observed the Cardinal in his day-to-day activities and made a handful of quick sketches to reference later when chipping away at the marble. Unlike most portrait artists, Bernini did not use a live model for this commission, but rather used his sketches to get a grasp for the Cardinal's demeanor and filled in the gaps with his memory. This quality drastically increased the desirability of hiring Bernini because of the amount of time saved by not having to stand still for the sculptor.  

According to one of his biographers, Filippo Baldinucci, Bernini was putting the final touches on the bust when he saw that a noticeable fault had appeared on the marble Cardinal's forehead that ran around the circumference of it's head with fifteen days before the piece was due. Bernini weighed the few options he had - he could present the piece as it was or he could ask for an extension, both resulting in the loss of the reputation he had vigorously slaved over. Instead, Bernini dealt with this issue unconventionally. Instead of telling the Cardinal about the serious problem, or anyone else, he kept the secret to himself and with two weeks left, (or three days according to Domenico, Bernini's son) Bernini began a completely new bust of Borghese. 

On the much anticipated day Bernini would present his sculpture, he unveiled the bust before the Cardinal, receiving praise for the likeness between Borghese and his marble counterpart. However, Bernini knew that his patron would be disappointed, so he wheeled in the second bust before Borghese, immediately resulting in the Cardinal's astonishment and endless compliments. 

Bernini twisted the challenge he faced into a benefit that left him with ten times the amount of scudi originally offered and enough credit to last him a lifetime, proving how charisma can exponentially better an artist's career. 

Additionally, it was not just Bernini's showmanship that woo'd his patrons, but the evidence that his work was far superior to what any other artist was doing then. The representation of Scipione Borghese shows the Cardinal making a face as if beginning or finishing a sentence. This technique was intentionally crafted and perfected by Bernini, which results in a sculpture filled with suspense and leaves the viewer curious and entranced. Furthermore, Bernini believed that the ideal way to capture the essence of person is to capture them in an unposed and natural fashion. While Bernini won over the Roman clergy with his witticism and cleverness, it is his remarkable pieces that are remembered hundreds of years later. 


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