Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Photo by Lynn Imanaka
The Musei Capitolini in Rome are lending San Francisco one of their greatest treasures, the Baroque masterpiece The Medusa by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, one of history’s finest sculptors and a leading figure in 17th-century Italian art and architecture. This loan is part of The Dream of Rome, a project initiated by the mayor of Rome to exhibit timeless masterpieces in the United States from 2011 through 2013. The Medusa represents the inaugural object loaned as part of a joint venture signed recently between the Musei Capitolini and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco designed to share exhibitions, collections, curatorial and conservation knowledge and to collaborate on educational programs. The loan of Medusa is the first time that the sculpture has ever traveled to the United States and is only the third time it has left Rome in nearly 400 years.
MEDUSA. Gian Lorenzo Bernini
Recent conservation efforts have restored the Medusa to its full glory and revealed previously hidden polish and patina. Believed to date from between 1638 and 1648, this extraordinary work takes its subject from classical mythology, as cited in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. It shows the beautiful Medusa, one of the Gorgon sisters, caught in the terrible process of transformation into a monster. Her hair is turning into writhing snakes, which, according to Ovid, was a punishment from Minerva for having had an affair with Neptune, god of the sea. The punishment also made Medusa an instrument of death by turning anyone who looked upon her to stone. Famously, Perseus overcame Medusa’s curse by looking at her reflection in a shield to behead her.
Bernini’s depiction does not describe this incident but rather the agony of Medusa’s initial dramatic transformation. Her face is contorted with pain and anxiety and her mouth is open as if crying out.
What is remarkable about Bernini’s interpretation of this ancient mythological creature is that it conveys passion, emotion and the humanity of the moment, rather than the monstrous and horrific aspects of Medusa treated by artists and sculptors hitherto. Created during a bleak period when the artist was out of favor at the papal court, the figure is thought to represent for Bernini the power of sculpture and the value of the sculptor.
The Medusa is displayed in the Legion of Honor’s Baroque gallery where it can be seen in context with the Museums’ great collections of paintings and sculpture from the era of Bernini.
SELF PORTRAIT, Gian Lorenzo Bernini. c. 1635
Oil on canvas, 24.4 in. x 18.1 in.
Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598–1680) was a virtuosic genius of the Roman Baroque in the 17th century. Not only the greatest sculptor of the age, he was also an internationally renowned architect, painter, playwright and theatrical designer. Living and working mainly in Rome until his death, he was the leader of that city’s artistic scene for more than 50 years, far outshining his contemporaries as the major exponent of the Italian Baroque. Serving six popes, he left a permanent mark on the city of Rome with his designs for the colonnade and interior of Saint Peter’s Basilica and with his famous public fountains. His ability to synthesize sculpture, architecture and painting into a conceptual entity was recognized by scholar Irving Lavin as a “unity of the visual arts.”
Born the son of a Tuscan sculptor in Naples in 1598, Bernini was a child prodigy and learned sculpting skills from his father, who worked for the great families in Rome starting in 1605. Even in his first works, the artist attempted to represent subjects and moods never before attempted, such as portraying the human soul.
THE MUSEI CAPITOLINI
The Musei Capitolini (Capitoline Museums) are a complex of buildings located on the Capitoline Hill, one of the traditional Seven Hills of Rome. In antiquity the hill was the religious and political heart of the city, the site of many temples, including the massive Temple of Capitoline Jupiter, which overlooked the Forum. During the Middle Ages, the ancient buildings fell into disrepair. Rising from their ruins were new municipal structures: the Palace of the Senators, which was built largely in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries and which turned away from the Forum, toward Papal Rome and the Old Saint Peter’s Basilica; and the Palace of the Conservators (magistrates), constructed in the 15th century beside the Palace of the Senators.
A donation made in 1471 marked the beginning of a new function for the buildings on the Capitoline Hill, reflecting a rising interest in the artistic legacy of Roman antiquity. In that year Pope Sixtus IV transferred to the Capitoline four ancient bronze sculptures from the Lateran Palace, then the principal papal residence. In 1537 Pope Paul III commissioned Michelangelo to relocate another sculpture from the Lateran to the plaza in front of the Palace of the Senators: the monumental bronze equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius, which had escaped destruction during the Middle Ages only because it was then believed to represent Constantine, the first Christian emperor.
Michelangelo was also charged with reorganizing the area, known as the Piazza del Campidoglio. For the Palaces of the Senators and Conservators he designed new facades, which were completed after his death in 1564. To balance the Palace of the Conservators, he conceived a matching building, the New Palace, which was finished in 1667. Together, these buildings constitute the Musei Capitolini. The last element of Michelangelo’s masterpiece of urban planning, the Piazza, was not completed until 1940 under Mussolini. Despite the centuries of construction, most of Michelangelo’s plans for the site were implemented.
In the 16th century the Capitoline collections increased dramatically through the acquisition of newly excavated works and donations such as the ancient works of art given by Pope Pius V with the intention of “purging the Vatican of pagan idols.” The Palace of the Conservators became so crowded with sculpture that the magistrates found it difficult to carry out their official duties. In the late 17th century, many of the works were transferred to the recently completed New Palace. Since then, the Musei Capitolini have continued to expand their holdings, bringing together one of the world’s great collections of Roman antiquities.
The Medusa projected onto the The Legion of Honor
Located at Lincoln Park, 34th Avenue and Clement Street
Open Tuesday — Sunday, 9:30 am–5:15 pm; closed Mondays
Click here for more information: LEGION OF HONOR
SEE RELATED ARTICLES
The Sentinel’s own editor Sean Martinfield is interviewed by David Perry on Comcast. Catch the Action!
“THE ARTIST” – Silents, please! – A masterpiece in B&W, starring Jean Dujardin
THOMAS JANE – An interview with the star of HBO’s “Hung” and 3D Thriller “Dark Country”
THE TEMPERAMENTALS – A Must-See at New Conservatory Theatre Center
MICHAEL CORBETT – SF historian to speak at The Presidio, “The Creation of the Port and the Development of the City
CIRQUE DU SOLEIL – Best Show In Town, Now Through December 18th at AT&T Park
CARMEN – Closing the season at San Francisco Opera
PISSARRO’S PEOPLE – Stunning exhibit now at the Legion of Honor, through 1/22
THE PRESIDIO’S HIDDEN PAST – SF’s Oldest Building Reveals Original Adobe Walls
MAHARAJA – The Splendor of India’s Royal Courts, at the Asian Art Museum
KYLE KETELSEN and JANE ARCHIBALD – Featured Soloists in SF Symphony’s Presentation of the Brahms Requiem
XERXES – A Royally Entertaining Production at SF Opera
BEVAN DUFTY – A Conversation with The City’s Most Effective Candidate for Mayor
“REAL STEEL” – Reels of money-making crap starring Hugh Jackman
DAVID LOMELI – Performs at Día de los Muertos Community Concert with SF Symphony, Saturday, 11/5
“XERXES” – At San Francisco Opera
RICHARD SERRA DRAWING – At the SF Museum of Modern Art through January 16th
CD Release: “Feels Like Home”, The Celtic Tenors ★★★★
DON GIOVANNI – It’s smart and new at San Francisco Opera
“HOUDINI: Art and Magic” – At the Contemporary Jewish Museum
LEANNE BORGHESI – SF Bay Area Star on the Rise
“REAL STEEL” – Reels of money-making crap starring Hugh Jackman
LUCAS MEACHEM – Former Adler Fellow to sing “Don Giovanni” at San Francisco Opera
CAMERON CARPENTER – International Superstar Organist plays “Phantom of the Opera” at Davies Symphony Hall, Friday, October 30th
“THE MILL & THE CROSS” – Film director Lech Majewski brings 16th Century masterpiece to life
“ONCE IN A LIFETIME” – A Charming Comedy at A.C.T.
“LUCREZIA BORGIA” – A Hard Act To Swallow at San Francisco Opera
THE “DOUBLE PLATINUM” GOES TO: The California Academy of Sciences!
EDDIE MULLER and “Fear Over Frisco” – An Interview with the Czar of Noir
LEAH CROCETTO – An Interview with “Liu” in SF Opera’s TURANDOT
CD Release – Jacques Loussier Trio – “Schumann: Kinderszenen”
HENRY PHIPPS – A Conversation with Featured Boy Soprano in SF Opera’s “Heart of a Soldier”
HBO Premieres “The Strange History of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” – Midnight, 9/20
“HEART OF A SOLDIER” – A Rapturous World Premiere At San Francisco Opera
MEET MAESTRO NICOLA LUISOTTI – San Francisco Opera opens 2011/12 season with Puccini’s “Turandot”
“The Glory of Love” – A Salute to Jacqueline Fontaine
“MOZART’S SISTER” – Third string cinema
SHN Presents – STOMP and How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Musical
“HEART OF A SOLDIER” – SFOpera Presents World Premiere September 10th
THE MOURNERS: Tomb Sculptures from the Court of Burgundy
MEROLA OPERA’S GRAND FINALE – Meet Daniel Curran and Mark Diamond
100th BIRTHDAY – San Francisco Symphony throws free concert bash in Civic Center Plaza, September 8th
“CASABLANCA” – The SF Symphony accompanies screening tonight, 7/22
“HE WHO GETS SLAPPED” – A conversation with composer and pianist Matti Bye
ABEL GANCE’S “NAPOLEON” – San Francisco Silent Film Festival to present complete restoration by Kevin Brownlow in 2012
“BILLY ELLIOT” – A high flying hit at the Orpheum
HEIDI MELTON – An Interview with “Sieglinde” in San Francisco Opera’s DIE WALKÜRE
MARY GIBBONEY – An Interview with the star of “ABSOLUTELY SAN FRANCISCO”
“DAS RHEINGOLD” – The slippery steps to Valhalla
SONDHEIM’S “ASSASSINS” – Ray of Light Theatre is right-on target
“TALES OF THE CITY” – Totally Sensational, Totally San Francisco
TIIT HELIMETS – An Interview with “Prince Edvard” of SF Ballet’s THE LITTLE MERMAID
NEW CENTURY CHAMBER ORCHESTRA – Presents “Mastery of Schubert”, Featuring Soprano Melody Moore, 3/24–27
ZHENG CAO – A Conversation with A Miracle Artist
MELODY MOORE – Soprano shines in SF Ballet’s “Nanna’s Lied”
MARNIE BRECKENRIDGE – An Interview with “La Princesse” of Philip Glass’ Orphée
EDITORIAL – A confession about ballerina Lorena Feijóo
GISELLE – And the Legend of the Wilis
A Conversation with Elza van den Heever
CLUB FOOT ORCHESTRA – A Conversation with Richard Marriot
WEST SIDE STORY – Most of it, anyway
PLÁCIDO DOMINGO – An Interview with the Tenor turned Baritone for “Cyrano”
Dr. ELISA STEPHENS – A Visit with the President of the Academy of Art University
CUBAN BALLET – An Interview with Octavio Roca
A Look At “Giselle” with Ballerina Lorena Feijóo
SABINA ALLEMANN – Former SF Ballet Ballerina Returns In A.C.T.’s “The Tosca Project”
AMANDA McBROOM – A conversation on her recording of songs by Jacques Brel
CAMERON CARPENTER – An interview with Grammy-nominated organist
HANDEL’S “ORLANDO” – An Interview with Conductor Nicholas McGagen
PIANIST MISHA DICHTER – A Conversation
ZUILL BAILEY – A Conversation
DAVID PERRY – On the “Dos and Don’ts of Social Media”
NATHAN GUNN – Sings Schubert’s Die Schöne Müllerin
CAMINOS FLAMENCOS – A Conversation with Yaelisa
JANE MONHEIT – An Interview
DIANE BAKER – Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK
CAMERON CARPENTER – An Interview with Seán Martinfield
AT LAST! – ANN HAMPTON CALLAWAY – An Interview with Seán Martinfield
A Conversation with Ruben Martin Cintas, Principal Dancer with SF Ballet
THIS GUN FOR HIRE, 1942 – Looking at “Now you see it, now you don’t” sung by Veronica Lake
“My Silver Dollar Man” – from MARKED WOMAN (starring Bette Davis, 1937)
“Would You Like A Souvenir?” – Sean Martinfield and Janet Roitz explore a song from Film Noir classic NORA PRENTISS (1947)