Damned Soul 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 Damned Soul is a sculpture made by Gian Lorenzo Bernini in 1619 when he was only 20 years old. It portrays a human soul that is damned to hell. The sculpture is made of marble and is carved from the neck up.

The Italian sculptor created this work of art as a personal challenge to himself. He set out to find out whether it was possible to portray a soul damned to hell and another bound for heaven. So the sculpture is part of a pair, the Blessed Soul and the Damned Soul. The sculpture, preserved since the 17th century, is currently at the Palazzo di Spagna (currently Palazzo Monaldeschi) found in Rome. The story of its creation is quite interesting. It is said that Bernini experimented on his own body by inflicting pain on himself in various ways, all in a bid to guarantee originality of the expression on the sculpture. He wanted to make it appear as real as possible.

The damned soul is an individual male sculpture that has very clear features. A few features that stand out include a ridged forehead, thick brow, a thin and twisted moustache and a head full of wavy hair. The damned soul has a wild expression, twisted in agony, shock and horror. He is horrified at what he is seeing. The torture and agony of hell are clearly more than he can handle. The expression makes it possible to see his full set teeth and his tongue, exposed in a wild scream. The eyes are wide open, with hollow irises that reflect the flames in hell. This is illustrated by the white marble that's found at the centre of each eye. Generally, the sculpture gives an indication of what a soul that is damned to hell gets to see once it arrives there.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini may have used Ignatius Loyola's Spiritual Exercises to make his sculpture more imaginative and to bring out what the damned soul was seeing and feeling. In Loyola's Spiritual Exercises, hell appeared on the 5th day. This was, preceded by four other days where on the first day, the damned soul sees with his eyes the souls burning in the great fires, the second day, he hears with his ears the cries and wailings. The third day, the soul smells the smoke and the fourth day, he tastes the bitter tears and sadness with his tongue. The fifth day is the damnation day itself when hell appeared and he feels it.

Bernini's Damned Soul's marble head appeals to the 5 earthy senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste and feel. It does this by sounding the depths of damnation. Loyola's Spiritual Exercises does the same. Massimiliano Soldani-Benzi completed his own version of this sculpture but in bronze. He did this between the years 1705 to 1707. This version is found in the Liechtenstein Collection.