(b. 1562, Sesto Fiorentino, d. 1629, Roma)
Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome
This relief was commissioned for the sacristy of the Santa Maria Maggiore. Inspired by contemporary paintings of the subject (particularly by Ludovico Carracci), Pietro Bernini's relief illustrates his virtuoso marble-carving ability and his exploitation of pictorial affects, more skills that he passed on to his son, the young Gian Lorenzo. At the same time the relief is rooted in an approach to relief sculpture which differs little from the famous scenes of the life of the Virgin by the fourteenth-century Florentine sculpture Andrea Orcagna.
We find in this composition the sharp linear drapery style and the extreme tenseness of the figures that characterize Pietro's art, never entirely freed from the Mannerist limitations of his training. The work, however, is one of the earliest examples of the pictorial relief altarpieces that were to be popular during the 17th century.
In front of the altar with Bernini's relief is a statue of St John the Baptist by Luigi Valadier (1825).