Golden Ages: The Goat Amalthea and the Young Bernini

The Galleria Borghese’s Goat Amalthea with the Infant Jupiter and a Faun is universally accepted as a work by the young Bernini, but when he produced it and who exactly he made it for remain open questions. It was acquired by the Borghese by 1615, and set on display at the family’s villa on the Pincian hill. It has been interpreted as a record of Bernini’s youthful ambitions to establish his fame as a sculptor and, perhaps more tenuously, as an expression of the Cardinal Scipione Borghese’s relationship to his uncle, Pope Paul V. This talk will reconsider the question of the Amalthea’s patronage and early display by way of overlooked documentary and iconographic evidence that suggests a possible alternative location for the statue’s initial installation, namely Scipione’s casino on the Quirinal hill. Coupled with the casino’s famed Aurora, the Amalthea’s significance becomes more firmly tied to the arrival of a new Golden Age under the virtuous Borghese. The context of the Amalthea’s display at the Quirinal and the Pincian villas suggests moreover that the work was presented as an artistic ‘curiosity,’ a work of prodigious modern human skill that rivalled the marvels of the natural world as well as the arts of the past. Reexamining the Amalthea’s genesis, finally, calls for a reconsideration of Bernini’s precocious emergence not just as an artist, but as a savvy courtier in tune with his patron’s desires.

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