A Lasting Friendship: Queen Christina of Sweden and Gian Lorenzo Bernini

Christina of Sweden met Bernini on 23 December 1655, the day of her formal entry into the Rome when, after the procession, Count Raimondo Montecuccoli introduced her to the sculptor. This was the beginning of a friendship that was to last until 1680, the year of Bernini’s death. Evidence indicates that Bernini acted as Christina’s adviser on the display of her impressive ancient art collection in the Palazzo Riario, now Corsini, where she took up permanent residence in 1659. The works were grouped together to create mythological tableaux vivants with iconographic relevance to the queen’s persona and unique position as “queen without realm.” These sculptural installations featured Bernini’s signature style, with emphasis on drama and use of various media, materials, and colors. The artists charged with the restoration of her antiquities and execution of their pedestals were in fact all part of the sculptor’s circle. Bernini himself rendered for the queen an elaborate mirror depicting Truth Revealed by Time and the pedestal of an antique Bacchic altar. Bernini’s last work was a Salvator Mundi he offered to Christina as gift, which she refused because its high artistic value would make it impossible for her to reciprocate the gesture. Bernini instead bequeathed it to Christina and she kept it in her bedroom until her death in 1689, when the work passed on to Pope Innocent XI. The bust, which disappeared at the end of the 18th century and was rediscovered only recently, has been the subject of several studies, most of which deal with issues of authenticity. A few deal with its iconography, yet ignore the bust’s recipient. This paper concentrates on the relationship between Bernini and Christina, with emphasis on the Salvator Mundi as reflective of the queen’s religious and intellectual inclinations.