© Soprintendenza Speciale PSAE Roma

Name of Object:

Mature Self-portrait


Rome, Italy

Holding Museum:

Borghese Gallery


c. 1638–40

Type of object:



Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598, Naples-1680, Rome )

Museum Inventory Number:


Material(s) / Technique(s):

Oil on canvas


h: 55 cm; w: 44.5 cm


Collection of Baron Messinger


The exact date of the self-portrait is unknown, but the slightly greying temples suggest that the artist was about forty. This hypothesis is consistent with the style of the period, which many scholars have likened to the emotional sensitivity of his contemporary, Velázquez.
Bernini painted only for himself, creating portraits, and in particular self-portraits, in private. He did not seek physiognomic detail or self-aggrandisement, focusing instead on researching psychology and the reality of the human condition. These features give painting back that immediacy which makes his paintings a precursor of the modern Borghese portrait.
The brush strokes are fast and spontaneous, the shaking effects helping to humanise the subject. The background of the painting appears not to be finished, concentrating our attention on the expression of the face, whose features are rendered by deep chiaroscuro and colouring attributable to Annibale Carracci.
The head is turned slightly away from the profiled bust. This arrangement suggests a slight movement of the face toward the viewer, accentuated by subtle movement of the hair caused by the twisting.
Bernini uses strong combinations of light and shadow to add intensity to the eyes, which are almost sculptural in form.
No documentation has ever been found to confirm the hypothesis that this canvas was taken from a diptych, whose pendant was the portrait of Costanza Bonarelli, the woman Bernini loved. The right-hand side of the canvas is frayed, hence the assumption that this is indeed part of that split work.
The painting was donated to the Galleria Borghese in 1911 by Baron Otto Messinger, who owned a substantial body of works from the Chigi collection. It is, therefore, assumed that this famous self portrait came from the same place.

View Short Description

Current Owner:

Italian State

Original Owner:

Chigi collection (?)

How Object was obtained:

Gift of Baron Messinger, 1911.

Selected bibliography:

Della Pergola, P., Galleria Borghese. I Dipinti, II, Rome, 1959, n.109, pp. 73–74.
Herrmann Fiore, K., in Invisibilia. Rivedere i capolavori, vedere i progetti, catalogo della mostra, Rome, 1992, p. 40.
Herrmann Fiore, K., “Tre ritratti dipinti da Gian Lorenzo Bernini nella Galleria Borghese”, in Bernini Scultore, La nascita del Barocco in Casa Borghese, exhibition catalogue, Rome, 1998, pp. 233–239.
Montanari, T., Bernini pittore, exhibition catalogue (Rome), Milan, 2007, cat. 4, pp. 94–95.

Additional Copyright Information:

Copyright image: Archivio fotografico Soprintendenza Speciale PSAE e Polo Museale della Città di Roma.

Citation of this web page:

Sofia Barchiesi, Maria Assunta  Sorrentino "Mature Self-portrait" in Discover Baroque Art , Museum With No Frontiers, 2019. http://www.museumwnf.org/thematicgallery/thg_galleries/database_item.php?itemId=objects;BAR;it;Mus11;2;en&id=portraits

Prepared by: Sofia BarchiesiSofia Barchiesi

SURNAME: Barchiesi
NAME: Sofia

TITLE: Author and Researcher

Sofia Barchiesi, a graduate and specialist in Art History and recipient of a scholarship from the School of Mediaeval and Modern Art History at Lumsa University, has been working with the Superintendency for Historical Artistic Heritage and the Museums of Rome since the late 1980s. She was responsible for cataloguing the art of the region and museums of Rome, studying the period of the Counter-Reformation particularly closely. She works with journals and writes essays, alternating her research and teaching work.
, Maria Assunta SorrentinoMaria Assunta Sorrentino

SURNAME: Sorrentino
NAME: Maria Assunta

AFFILIATION: Borghese Gallery, Rome

TITLE: Conservation Department Co-ordinator

Maria Assunta Sorrentino, holder a of a Diploma in Painting and Fresco Restoration and a degree in the Science of Cultural Heritage (historical-artistic), has worked at the Borghese Gallery since 1993, where she manages the Conservation Department and is in charge of the technical and organisational co-ordination of temporary exhibitions. She is currently working on the Ten Great Exhibitions project underway at the Borghese Gallery. She has published several papers on conservation and history in relation to the exhibition, with particular reference to artists such as Bernini, Domenichino, Canova and Caravaggio.

Translation by: Laurence Nunny
Translation copyedited by: Mandi Gomez

MWNF Working Number: IT1 03

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