AENEAS AND ANCHISES – Bernini 1619
The work, whose historicized title is Enea and Anchise, was commissioned by Cardinal Scipione Borghese and is considered the first modern sculpture exhibited in the Borghese Gallery. According to Domenico Bernini (son of Gian Lorenzo) it was dated to 1613 and so the historian Filippo Baldinucci wrote, but thanks to some archival finds, today we know that the dating is to be postponed around 1619 when Bernini was in his early twenties. Moreover, thanks also to a payment note for his pedestal, the work was not in the hands of his father Pietro, but always by Gian Lorenzo.
The subject resumes Enea’s flight from the burning city of Troy described in the second book of Virgil’s Aeneid. Everything revolves around the figure of Aeneas, whose pose takes up that of Christ carved by Michelangelo in Santa Maria sopra Minerva. He supports his elderly father Anchise holding the urn containing the ashes of their ancestors, while his son Ascanio follows them down, holding the fire of the temple of Vesta (an allusion to Christian charity). It was a real tour de force for the representation of the different ages and also of the epidermis of the characters: strong and energetic for Enea, thanked for Anchises, plump and tender for Ascanio.
Looking at the group from behind, we can see some traces of unfinished on Enea’s back, which makes us understand how the statue was designed to be placed in a wall with a perfectly frontal view.
Bernini had never worked on a single block of marble of that size and it is probable that his father had given him some advice, an element that at first made him believe that the author was Pietro and not Gian Lorenzo. Although the spiral composition is still strongly influenced by Mannerist sculpture, the technical virtuosity of the young sculptor is already evident in the treatment of the complexion, the hair and the ground on which the figures rest and its extraordinary ability to block the action of marble in the marble protagonists. As reported by Manili, the work was originally placed in the third room of Daphne, in the center of the wall opposite the other masterpiece by Bernini, from which the room takes its name, placed between a window and a door that corresponded to the secret garden towards the aviary. Since 1886, the work has been exhibited in the center of the Gladiator’s hall on the ground floor of the Borghese Gallery.