Long before he became the most famous artist associated with the Baroque movement of the 17th century, a 13-year-old Gian Lorenzo Bernini stunned Italy when he created a bust of the surgeon Antonio Coppola. It was among Bernini’s earliest psychologically piercing busts—and, if you believe everything the artist’s own words, it was hardly the first he’d done. He claimed to have initially tried his hand at creating “speaking likenesses” when he was eight, but there’s good reason to doubt that—Bernini was quite a fabulist. Whatever the case may be, audiences were floored by the Coppola sculpture.
In the decades that followed, Bernini would prove again and again that he was a master sculptor. Working at a time when painting was still regarded as the most important artistic medium, Bernini showed his adeptness at imbuing bronze and marble with liveliness. His skill made him a favorite among Rome’s elite, and the creations he produced for them have endured the test of time, ranking among some of the most important artworks on view in the city.
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Below, a look at five of Bernini’s most famous works.