Life is twisted, or at least one might think when viewing Lorenzo Bernini's (1598-1680) sculpture sketches at The Met. Twists in fabric, posture twists, psychological twists, you name it. Come on everybody, let's do the twist! It's impossible to NOT see movement in these sculptures. They are literally writhing with life. I got a bit too close to one and guard suggested I might accidentally touch it but she needn't have feared, the risk was more that I would be the one who was touched. Bernini's sculptures are like an arrow of energy, shooting out into space.
When one speaks of touch, what I find particularly appealing in these models is that you can literally see the finger prints and gouges of the actual artist. There we are suddenly with him, watching him mold the clay like one would run their fingers through sand or water. It is liquid life and he touches it in such a way that we experience it's malleable texture and form. Who knew that a simple piece of fabric could behave like a snake on wind and in space while existing as a solid piece of clay?
It's also fascinating to understand that Bernini did not hollow out his studies, but let them dry solid over time while being covered and kept damp to keep from cracking. There is an immediacy in that decision that is felt in his work. Who has time to hollow out and perfect a study when an image must be torn from the ether and placed in concrete reality? I think this rush to create is what keeps his models fresh and dynamic, which is later translated into his finished work.
His figures keep the same tension with impossible twists and turns showing bulging muscle forms at every turn. (Actually, they're not as impossible as they look. I did try a few just to see if they were physically honest, not that I'm any gymnast. It could have been seeing these attempts on the stairs of the museum that led the docent to think I might be an irresponsible viewer. So be it.)
His lion could easily be a morph of human into beast. At any rate I wouldn't want to be there when it comes to life once the museum doors close. Here Kitty, Kitty... snarl, snap, dinner, done. (Um, you do know that all sculptures come to life when there is no one around to see, right? Ok, well, count yourself informed now, and bring a lot of cat treats, not that they will save you.)
Right, so where was I? Yes, the muscles! Omigosh, the muscles! Pulsing, flexing, twisting, stretching, you name it, they are like live eels! (Starting to sweat.) Only someone who has full knowledge of the science of kinetics could make these muscles do what they do, not to mention anatomical know-how that boggles the mind.
I should probably say something about the faces, but all memory of them fades when I think of "Ludovica". Would it be inappropriate to say, any man who could make a statue look like that... yeah, it probably would. Oh well, I'll let you finish the thought. The actual sculpture was not present but the museum thoughtfully supplied a photo replica nearby the clay model. It was wonderful to see the decisions he made between the study and the finished work. A slight repositioning of the hand on her breast, a lowering of a fold of drapery, small nuances that create a rhythm and harmony that sings out in the final version. (Literally singing, cue to Madeline Kahn after an intimate moment with Frankenstein in "Young Frankenstein"...) No, but seriously, it does sing, I know because I heard it in my heart. I could dance to that rhythm, if I was Salome.
Ok, really serious now. That sculpture rocks! Why? Because you can hear her intake of breath. You can actually see how her diaphragm is depressed. You can witness her trachea opening for that extra pull for oxygen. Actually though, it is all about the hand on the breast, that perfect bend of foreshortening, the contrast of light and shadow (How'd he do that? Magic!) and the way it pulls you in, telling you that there is a real live, breathing human being under all that drapery. There is a woman buried in the marble, of that I am sure.
But you don't have to believe me, just go to The Met. Check it out. The models are on exhibit till the sixth of January. Move. Now. Go.
Fade out to, "Let's twist again, like we did last summer..."