Gian Lorenzo Bernini: astrological divinations and professional affairs (1624-1652)

The Bibliothèque nationale de France conserves an “astrological mirror” (a natal astrological chart) of great interest. It indicates the date, hour and place of birth of a certain Giovan L., presumably Gian Lorenzo Bernini, given that this “astrological mirror” is by Pietro Filippo, Bernini’s eldest son, born in Rome on January 23, 1640.

This document is preserved with other consultations on Pietro Filippo’s health, and was completed by a doctor to confirm the transits of the planets that were considered carriers of diseases. Galileo Galilei himself had to teach Paduan doctors how to construct patients’ astrological charts.

As in the case with current family medical histories, the “astrological mirror” of a father was then used to tackle possible hereditary diseases, since mothers were regarded as mere incubators.

For this reason, the document holds Bernini’s birth details, yet the day and month of his birth are brought forward two months. Is it a substantive error? Perhaps it is, but appropriate responses from planets were obtained through the actual data of childbirths, in the case of family medical histories.

Is it possible that Bernini’s date of Baptism – when he was welcomed by name into the Catholic Church – was used as his date of birth? The answer may be found in the Naples archives, yet this detail does not affect Bernini’s reputation, whose story has been recently more realistically rewritten by scholars with respect to the sweetened image offered by his official biographies. In particular, research regarding Bernini’s alleged “lack of competence” seems to play a key role, along with a criticism levelled at him by his rivals concerning some of his architectural and sculptural work.

With this in mind, this talk aims to retrace some episodes of Bernini’s activity in the years from the completion of the Baldachin of St. Peter’s to the commission for the Four Rivers Fountain.