17th century sculpture turns up after more than a century

Bernini_Paul V

As supreme pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church, Paul V was a run-of-the-mill pope. But as a posthumous subject for Italian sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Paul was sublime.

Born Camillo Borghese of the noted Borghese family of Siena, Paul V reigned from 1605-1621. He is noted for canonizing Charles Borromeo, financing the completion of St. Peter’s Basilica and for pushing for ecclesiastical jurisdiction in foreign nations that led to numerous squabbles between the Church and secular governments.

After his death, Paul’s nephew, the powerful Cardinal Scipione Borghese, commissioned a sculpture of his uncle by Bernini, a multifaceted artisan who is credited with creating the Baroque style of sculpture.

The work remained in the family for approximately 275 years until 1893, when, after the family was forced to auction it off, it disappeared from the art world’s radar.

Now, 122 years later, the work is on display at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. The Getty recently bought the sculpture privately through Sotheby’s, according to The Economist.

While it’s not entire clear what happened to the sculpture after its sale in 1893, in 1916 art historian Antonio Muñoz claimed it was in a private collection in Vienna. Still, no one knew for certain where it was until 2014, and many art historians believed the marble bust no longer existed.

According to The Economist, the work ultimately ended up in the home of a Slovakian artist, Ernest Zemtak, Bratislava, approximately an hour from Vienna.

In 2014, a decade after Zemtak’s death, his heirs sold it at auction in Bratislava, although they were unaware that it was a Bernini. It was then bought by a private collector who had a connection to Sotheby’s. With a short time, a deal between Sotheby’s and the Getty had been negotiated, though no details have been released.

“Bernini was the master of the ‘speaking likeness’,” said Timothy Potts, the director of the Getty. “He found a way of breathing life into marble, of capturing the essence of a person. Not just the physical likeness of the pope, but his personality and stature, his benevolent seriousness and living presence. It makes you go weak at the knees when you see it, even if you know nothing of the artist.”

(Top: Sculpture of Pope Paul V, by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, now in the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.)

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