Bernini’s Angels

As we were telling you last week, Rome’s Ponte Sant’Angelo is a bridge dramatically lined with sculpted angels, each holding an object connected to the sufferings and death of Christ. Various artists carved the different angels, but they all shared one thing in common: they were pupils of the great Gianlorenzo Bernini (1598-1680).


Bernini himself actually carved two angels for the bridge project … but they’re not there today. What happened to them? Bernini angel 1The story is rather straightforward: Bernini’s angels were beautiful–so beautiful, in fact, that they were deemed “too beautiful for the bridge.” You be the judge: take a look at his “Angel with the Crown of Thorns,” finished in 1669. We’re sure you’ll agree that nobody could carve drapery like Bernini! The exquisite swirls of seemingly lightweight fabric are a tell-tale sign that this statue was not sculpted by one of Bernini’s students, but was the work of the master himself.

And Pope Clement IX, who was ultimately responsible for the bridge-project, decided that it would be a travesty to expose the delicate details of this angel to the elements. Keep in mind that the angels that do stand on the bridge have been subjected to wind, rain, and millions of birds for over three centuries now; and in a few cases the angels are, to be frank, starting to look a little worn out. You’ll see two angels that look like these, but they are copies, made by members of Bernini’s studio … and once you’ve seen the originals, you’ll agree that the copies are decidedly inferior to the real thing.

Bernini angel 2Here’s the other angel created by Bernini in the same year as the first, the “Angel with the Title.” The title, referred to sometimes as the “superscription,” is the plaque hand-written by Pontius Pilate and affixed to the cross over Our Lord’s head, stating that His offense, which led to His crucifixion, was that He was the King of the Jews (John 19:20). And once again, the fabulous curls of the angel’s wispy clothing were considered too lovely, and too dainty, for a statue that would be standing out of doors. Note also the fluffy wings of this angel, who seems to be floating effortlessly on the clouds under his feet. Does this look to you like a statue made of stone?

Instead of being placed outside on the Ponte Sant’Angelo, these two angels were put inside a church that is tucked away on a side street. We know exactly where it is, of course, and are happy to take our clients there! Ironically, these angels receive little attention these days, as nearly everyone who visits this quiet church is focused on a miraculous image of the Madonna hanging in a side-chapel. That’s why it’s a very simple matter to walk right up to these magnificent works of art, and spend as much time as you like, admiring Bernini’s artistry and contemplating the sufferings of Christ, the King of the Jews, Who was crucified for our sins.