Even Bernini is Limited by Marble

by kbarulich

Response to Michael Cole’s “Bernini’s Struts” (http://www.columbia.edu/cu/arthistory/faculty/Cole/Bernini-Struts.pdf)

G. Bernini, Apollo and Daphne (Detail) Bernini, Apollo and Daphne, 1622-25, Villa Borghese, Rome

Michael Cole investigates the presence of the struts, or pieces of the sculpture that bridge together delicate parts of the design. The struts kept the stone in place and removing them was one of the last things to do before the completion of the piece. You can see them in between Daphne’s finger; the struts are more visible in Apollo and Daphne than in any other of Bernini’s works, according to Colivia, Rockwell, and their collaborators. The struts on Daphne’s fingers look like branches of stone when seen in a particular light, though they remain to be pieces of stone that support the shape of her fingers.

The area around her fingers is the most unfinished part of the sculpture, drawing attention to Bernini’s hand in the painting. The files marks of the chisel are visible and the thumb is roughly sketched. Bernini seemed to have followed a more classical carving technique, though his work is not noticeable at first. He makes the scructural necessities a part of the aesthetic.  When a viewer looks at the piece, he or she can see that someone carved it. This is not a flaw in the execution of the piece, but an attribute that makes this sculpture more beautiful. Bernini makes the scructural supports that are necessary for the sculpture to exist to add beauty and he disguises it well by also adding branches on parts of the sculpture that do not need extra support.

The branches that support and beautify Apollo and Daphne draw attention to the very thing that artists are trying to distract the viewer from in the first place: the fact that the piece of art is a block of marble that has been chiseled. Bernini’s early piece is different from the Florentine works of his time because it moves beyond the limits of sculpture, even while drawing attention to them.