In the early 17th century Rome was a city of exceptional and revolutionary artistic fervor that welcomed artists from all over Europe, including Caravaggio, Annibale Carracci and Peter Paul Rubens.
In Rome, young Bernini was able to admire the works of famous artists: the frescoes on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and the great dome of St. Peter's Basilica, both works of Michelangelo. He also met Annibale Carracci, who was painting, on the ceilings of the Pope's rooms, bright and colorful scenes inspired by the legends of ancient Rome. He saw Caravaggio's paintings, with dark, sad and often frightening tones, whose characters seemed to breathe and feel pain. At age 20 Gian Lorenzo was a sculptor; he had learned the technique from his father, from Carracci and Michelangelo the storytelling skills, from Caravaggio how to give life to characters.
An important figure in the Roman Catholic Church, Cardinal Scipione Borghese, saw his work and became his patron, paying Bernini to make many beautiful sculptures for him and his family. Soon the Cardinal's uncle, Pope Urban VIII, the most powerful man in Italy, heard of Bernini and asked him to work in the Basilica of St. Peter. To this task Bernini devoted the rest of his life, realizing the "Baldacchino" and the four niches, the throne of St. Peter, St. Peter's Square, the Chapel of the Sacrament. The artist died on 29 November 1680 at age 81, after working for St. Peter's for 40 years of his life.
A student of classical sculpture, Bernini possessed a unique ability to capture the essence of a narrative moment with naturalistic realism. He was indeed the heir of Michelangelo, with a talent that exceeded the boundaries of sculpture merging sculpture, painting and architecture into one visual concept, reaching, as defined by art historian Irving Lavin, "the unity of visual arts."
Gian Lorenzo's "coming of age" can be seen in his David, whose face is actually a self-portrait. Scipione Borghese, who is said to have been holding a mirror while Bernini transferred his own features into those of David, was to become a pope soon. From that moment onwards, Bernini was to be the favorite artist of popes, leaving an indelible mark on the city of Rome.