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This 17th-century pope, one of the most prominent cultural patrons in Roman history, understood that great cities are not frozen in time. He loved dreaming up lavish new projects over breakfast with his artistic soul mate, the Baroque sculptor and architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini. When Berninineeded bronze for the baldachin in St. Peter’s, the pope simply ordered it torn out of the Pantheon. Neither was afraid to make his mark on the city.
Since then the architectural scene here has become a lot duller. True, Mussolini commissioned some impressive civic works, most notably for the fascist EUR district. But for most of the last half-century Romans have been content to gaze languidly toward the past. The handful of ambitious new cultural buildings that have appeared, like Renzo Piano’s marvelous Parco della Musica, tend toward the dignified and respectable.
Maxxi, which opens to the public on Saturday for a two-day “architectural preview,” jolts this city back to the present like a thunderclap. Its sensual lines seem to draw the energy of the city right up into its belly, making everything around it look timid. The galleries (which will remain empty of art until the spring, when the museum is scheduled to hold its first exhibition) would probably have sent a shiver of joy up the old pope’s spine. Even Bernini, I suspect, would have appreciated their curves.
Gian Lorenzo Bernini (also spelled Gianlorenzo or Giovanni Lorenzo) (Naples, 7 December 1598 – Rome, 28 November 1680) was an Italian artist and a prominent architect who worked principally in Rome. He was the leading sculptor of his age, credited with creating the Baroque style of sculpture. In addition, he painted, wrote plays, and designed metalwork and stage sets.
By WILLIAM GRIMES
"The Cardboard Bernini" follows the sculptor James Grashow as he spends three years shaping cardboard into an ornate assemblage meant to be destroyed by the elements.
By SARAH MCPHEE
Reviewed by MAXWELL CARTER
The passionate life of Costanza Piccolomini provides a revealing view of Rome in the era of the Baroque.