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84. Bernini, History and Religion in small details

Updated: Mar 22, 2020

By Giulio D'Ercole -

Art Masterpieces are such because they are perfect, and perfectly conceived, in all their parts, from their "macrostructure" to the smallest details. There is nothing left to chance. On the contrary, everything has its own space, its own role and its duty of delivering a specific message. It is as if the whole work had one "general" meaning of immediate comprehension, and then every detail added something more to that meaning. Like in a movie, or in a novel, we have a main plot and then other subplots that provide depth to the story.

If this is true for Art across centuries, it is somehow more true for Renaissance and Baroque paintings, sculptures, churches. Those are so incredibly full of details that those looking at them can do nothing but abandon themselves to a feast of beauty.

In the photo here below the arm is lifted against the sky, while the hand, opened as if wanting to protect itself from a sky just about to collapse, communicates a fear so tangible, that even the marble of which it is made of, looks almost trembling. These are the hand and the arm of the statue representing the river "Rio de la Plata" (The River of Gold), in Bernini's fountain of the Four Rivers in Piazza Navona in Rome, a fountain that symbolizes the huge religious and cultural impact of Christianity and Papacy in the world of the seventeenth century.

All this has nothing to do with the fake legend sold to tourists, where the hand is afraid that the opposite church of Sant'Agnese, designed by Bernini's rival Borromini, could crumble down.

In reality the Rio del la Plata sits on a pile of coins, a symbol of the riches America could offer to Europe (the word plata means "silver" in Spanish). Therefor the sculpture symbolizes the river (or better yet the south American continent which was invaded by the Spanish and the Portuguese) looking scared by a snake, metaphor for the dangerous greed represented by the invaders.

Quite a lot of history in a "simple detail".

Book the photo tour and workshop Rome by Day, History and Beauty, and you'll photograph the eternal city with different eyes.

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