Bust of Pope Gregory XV Gian Lorenzo Bernini Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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The bust of Pope Gregory XV portrays an elderly yet robust man in the role of a Pope who appears to be in his 60s. This incredible piece of art was made by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, a well-known and respected artist at the time.

Bernini was a young sculptor who managed to give an amazing impression of the leader of the Catholic Church. He did it by capturing his mood, uprightness, character, and dignity coupled with his sensitivity and humility. Soon after he executed this piece of art, he received the award of papal knighthood from the pope which was accompanied by a lifetime salary. In addition, he was elected as the principal of the artists' society in Rome called Academia di San Luca.

Immediately after the election of Pope Gregory in February 1621, Gian Lorenzo Bernini began executing his work on the marble bust. In September, the same year, he completed the bust of Pope Gregory XV. Bernini used the same pattern and arrangement of the alb, amice and cope that he used in 1618 to create the Bust of Pope Paul V. While working on the bust of Pope Gregory XV he made a few changes to the bordering images of Saint Paul and Saint Peter. In addition, he made adjustments on the morse details. In the end, these two pieces of art closely resembled one another. Both artworks created a triangular silhouette as a result of the head appearing low into the cope collar.

Bernini's technique was exceptional and enabled him to excel more than other artists of his time. Before he made the bust of Pope Gregory XV, he took the time to observe his subject. He looked at his daily routine over time while making sketches that focused on his features, natural poses and characteristic expressions. He then built preliminary model clays from these sketches with moist clay. After that, he would use the models to carve the subject's marble portrait.

Finally, Bernini would take the subject to formal sittings. His decision to work with marble was considered innovative. The reason behind this was that he believed that the material disrupted natural vision allowing him to use many distortions, exaggerations and tricks to create an image that captures light. The bust of Pope Gregory XV clearly portrays this technique through wrinkles at the eye corners, the pupils, the shadows around the eyes and the sinuses.

It was only until the 1980s that the bust of Pope Gregory XV was rediscovered as Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s authentic work. It was previously possessed by an English nobleman and later a dealer in antiques. Nicholas Meinertzhagen an antiquarian books dealer is the one who recognized it as Bernini’s work. Meinertzhagen purchased the bust of Pope Gregory XV at 240 pounds and sold it at 132,000 pounds. Norman Leitman was the buyer and managed to sell it at 2.78 million pounds to Joey and Toby Tanenbaum who were Canadian collectors. Later on, the Tanenbaums tried sell the piece of art at a Christie’s auction in 1990 for more than $7million because the bidding was set to begin at $6million. However, the sale was withdrawn because the auction failed to reach the target.