AENEAS AND ANCHISES – Bernini 1619
The first sculptural group executed by Bernini for Cardinal Scipione, it may be dated, at least approximately, by a payment made on 14 October 1619. In the 17th century doubts were raised as to its authorship: German artist and writer von sandart assigned the sculpture to Pietro Bernini and his two sons, while Domenico attributed it to his father, Gian Lorenzo as did Bernini’s biographer. Art historians debated the matter from the end of the 19th century to the mid 20th century, until the discovery of an archive document established that it is indeed the work of Gian Lorenzo who was only 21 years old when it was made.
The theme of Aenea’s flight from Troy, with his father Anchises on his back and accompanied by his son Ascanius and his wife Creusa – the latter is not represented in this a sculptural group – is drawn from the second book of Virgil’s Aeneid. In the figures of the father, son and grandson, there is an evident reference of the theme often treated in painting of the three ages of man. The legend of Aeneas’ escape from Troy and, after many adventures, his arrival in Latium, where he became the progenitor of the Roman people, had an important historical-theological significance. The imperium, supreme power, now transferred to Rome, was to become that of the papacy and the Church, and it is perhaps no coincidence that Bernini’s sculptural group was displayed in the part of the Villa Borghese open to the public.