BERNINI, Gian Lorenzo
(b. 1598, Napoli, d. 1680, Roma)

Emperor Constantine

Marble with painted stucco drapery
Scala Regia, Vatican Palace, Rome

Bernini's statue represents the Roman emperor who first recognized the cross as the sign by which he would conquer, and accepted the Christian faith. Only natural, the, that Pope Alexander VII should wish it to stand at the entrance of the Vatican Palace, beside the grand staircase or Scala Regia. Here merge the two basic motives of the Baroque church: temporal power and spiritual sovereignty.

The emperor on horseback is set on a pedestal, with a drapery behind him fluttering in the wind: one cannot help being reminded of a stage curtain, for its quality is purely scenographic. In this it is rather like another of Bernini's equestrian statues, that of Louis XIV, which found no favour at the French court precisely because of the theatrical feature.

The ancient typology of the man on horseback, revived by the humanists of the Quattrocento, assumes in Bernini the triumphal assertiveness of a Late Antique monument. Then in its placing there is a subtle psychological tension, since the prancing horse expresses its own pent-up dynamism, while the curtain behind is shaken by the wind, in a representation which, in a sacred-profane setting, displays the quickening energy of nature.