TRAVEL HERE: “BERNINI SCULPTING IN CLAY” AT FT WORTH’S KIMBELL ART MUSEUM
The Kimball Art Museum, over in Fort Worth, is hosting an exhibition called “Bernini, Sculpting in Clay,” but I think, perhaps it should be called, Body by Bernini. Do you remember when our American cars used to be built by Fisher Body Corporation? Each car bore the seal, “Body by Fisher” and that assured the owner of a quality chassis.
Who is Bernini?
Bernini may not be a familiar name to you, but you’ve most likely seen what he did. As the go-to sculptor for the popes, about a century after Michelangelo, his magnificent works are all over Italy. The central focus for all his sculptures are spectacular human specimens and let me tell you, he created some pretty amazing chassis.
Bernini’s finished works are massive works of marble, integrated into fountains, bridges and tombs. There would be no way to transport them to Fort Worth, but this exhibition is not focused on his finished work. In order to plan these triumphs in marble, Bernini thought out loud in clay. It’s these clay models you’ll see at the Kimball and I found them fascinating.
Modeling in Clay
Modeling in clay is a beginning point for most sculpture,whether the finished product will be marble, bronze, gold or granite. There are two types of clay models. One type is the model presented to a client for approval. “See, this is what it will look like when I get through!” There are examples of this type of clay model in the exhibit. But artist usually indulge in a few other practice models before they tackle a block of granite or marble. What was unique about Bernini was the sheer number of models he would create. This is the focus of the Kimball exhibition.
The exhibition follows the creation of works through a series of models, so you can see Bernini’s creative genius in stages. Through the wonders of technology, we can now peek behind the surface of paintings and see what changes an artist made throughout the creation of the work, but that’s impossible to do with marble. Clay tells the whole story. Through the clay of Bernini’s models we have his actual fingerprints, pressed into clay to create feathers on angels and scales on fish. We can see where he picked up clay to add bulk and where he used tool to create a texture.
Bernini a Rock Star
Another reason the Bernini exhibition reminded me of the Fisher Body Corporation was the separation between design and execution. Every car chassis bearing Mr. Fisher’s name was not crafted by Mr. Fisher himself. He was just the designer. And that’s just how Bernini worked. Bernini was the rock star of his age. Everyone wanted a piece of him. It would have been impossible for him to produce all the masterworks attributed to him all by himself. Many artist had people who worked with them, but Bernini was sort of the McDonald’s of art.
Bernini created the ideas behind the works, but he’d ship off his employees with an armload of models to sculpt the actual statues. Art historians have been able to figure out that he’d even turn the creation of the patron’s model over to members of his staff. Bernini would whip out sort of a rough clay sketch of his idea and his best modelers would turn that sketch into a finished piece for the patron’s approval.
Sculpture by Subtraction
One thing which has always baffled me about sculpture by subtraction (i.e. marble and granite) is how they know where to start. In sculpture by addition, they work out from a base, and even I can figure out how to add material to make fingers, toes and hair. But when you’re working with a block of marble, how do they know where to start forming that extended finger or a curl of hair or an elbow?
Bernini’s clay models give us an idea of how that happens, too. Small holes in the models show where pins were placed. Then the craftsmen would use string tied between the pins to guide them as they started chipping away at the marble. I still can’t imagine doing it, but I understand it better.
The Kimball is one of my favorite museums and this may just be the most interesting and informative exhibit they’ve had in a long time. Yes, I think you should go. The models are certainly works of art in their own right, but seeing them adds to the appreciation of the final works, of which there are life-sized photos throughout the exhibit. Besides that. once you see the exhibit, you can pop over to Joe T. Garcia’s for your Tex-Mex fix!