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Art historians have traditionally offered dualistic interpretations of Bernini's stagings of light, treating the light as the ‘metaphor’, ‘symbol’ or ‘sign’ of an invisible, ‘heavenly’ light. Such interpretations, however, oversimplify a more complex set of relationships. As the biography by Bernini's son Domenico makes clear, the spirit, the bearer of artistic talent or ingenium, is a light-like imponderable; using this ‘inner’ light, Bernini enlivened his media. Thus, visible light appears as an actor in Bernini's work. His sculptures react to it; they are emphatically and ecstatically moved by it. Contemporaries characterized physical light, paradoxically, as both corporeal and incorporeal, and under Bernini's direction, the two levels of interpretation were combined. Bernini's light manifests his ingenium and, at the same time, the divine that penetrates the perceptible world. Better to comprehend the participation of the physical in the spiritual, this article suggests, one should speak of Bernini's light not in terms of ‘metaphor’, but of ‘analogy’.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: University of Basel

Publication date: 2005-02-01

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