Bernini’s Tombs for Pope Urban VIII and Alexander VII In his lifetime Bernini was commissioned to create several memorials a few of them being the Memorial of Maria Raggi which is located in the Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome which was a small and intimate memorial for a nun (Bernstock, 1980) and the Bust of Monsignor Pedro de Foix Montoya which is in situ at the Santa Maria di Monserrato and also in Rome and started a revelation of people wanting Bernini to design busts for them so they would be more recognizable in society and among their peers have a more successful appearance(Rinehart, 1967), but none quite reach the level of exuberance that the tombs of Pope Urban VIII in 1627 and of Pope Alexander VII in 1671. Bernini uses his talent to carve marble and meld the different media of bronze, marble and gilded gold to create these lavish tombs for the once prosperous popes in Saint Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. His use of symbolism and allegorical figures in these two papal tombs is astounding as he recreates them to perfectly fit into the scene atop the tombs is only bettered by the material with which each figure is made. The papal tomb of Urban is located in St Peter’s Basilica where Pope Alexander’s tomb is also located. Urban’s papal tomb was started in 1627 and finished in 1647 three years after Urban himself died. The tomb is detailed with ornate sculptures of the personified figures of Truth and Charity as well as Death and the lavish figure of Pope Urban on top of his sarcophagus who is shown as a figure made of bronze and in a position of power and authority with one hand outstretched over his people and the other hand resting on his leg or chair. The figures of Truth and Charity are shown surrounded by small children and in states of interaction with them which helps to identify them as their specific ideal. The character of death is shown as a hooded skeleton of gilded bronze, its wings curled in close to it, and writing the name of the Barberini pope in the Book of the Dead to instill a sense of immortality among the congregation. Bernini creates this tomb for Pope Urban originally Maffeo Barberini who came from a Florentine family and was born in 1568 and did not start his reign as pope until the year 1623 in August. Urban died in 1644 so he never saw his finished tomb. The tomb was certainly not the first thing that Urban had commissioned by Bernini as the artist was under strict rule of the pope and was a favorite of Urban’s and created several pieces of art for the pope over the course of the popes reign.
b The second papal tomb Bernini created was for Pope Alexander VII, who was born in February of 1599 in Tuscany as Fabio Chigi, and the tomb was started in 1671 and then finished in 1678, eleven years after Alexander died in 1667 however, it only took 7 years to complete. While it did not take long to create it was Bernini’s last major piece because of the fact that he was at the older age of 80 at the time. Alexander had thought about having Bernini create his tomb as early as August 9 of 1656 when he wrote about the amazingly talented artist in his papal diary (Della Dora, 2005). Just like in Urban’s tomb, Bernini uses a wide variety of richly colored marbles and different alloys of bronze and sometimes gilded bronze to detail certain figures and to show the difference between two figures or the importance of one in the structure of the scene on the tomb. Because the Vatican kept such detailed account books we know that Bernini was paid one thousand scudi and received his final payment in April of 1672 and that he ordered the marble from the quarry and made sure it was of the best quality in July of the same year. Bernini uses that same marble to carve the four figures that would become personifications of the virtues practiced by the Pontiff that would be placed on Alexander’s tomb. In front is Charity is shown holding a