Friday, 2 December 2011

Johnny Depp Resembles Thomas Baker

Gianlorenzo Bernini
Portrait Bust of Thomas Baker (1606–58)
Rome, c. 1638
V&A: A.63-1921
Photo © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Last week I sat down with one of the Gallery’s very experienced volunteer guides to learn about her must see pieces in the Princely Treasures exhibition. Rosita has been a Gallery guide for 12 years and is a very active member of the Gallery team as well as the Friends of the Art Gallery of WA. When I asked Rosita which piece she liked the most and why she was quick to announce that her favourite is the Portrait Bust of Thomas Baker which she affectionately refers to as ‘Johnny Depp’. As soon as the words came out of her mouth, the connection was so apparent – Johnny Depp really has a striking resemblance to the late Thomas Baker.

The stories behind these pieces are so remarkable and hugely fascinating. In my opinion facts are useful but stories are so much more engaging and the story behind this bust certainly doesn’t disappoint. The enthusiasm Rosita exudes is contagious and her description is so detailed and captivating that I found myself picturing the whole event in my mind.

And so the story goes…

The Pope decided he wanted to give Charles I, King of England, a portrait bust as a gift. The dilemma however, was that Charles I was in England and Gianlorenzo Bernini was in Rome. To overcome this problem Charles I instructed his Court artist, Van Dyke, to draw a three dimensional sketch that could be sent to Bernini. Once the portrait was produced Van Dyke tells Thomas Baker, who was the sheriff, that he must hand deliver the sketch to Bernini in Rome.

When Thomas Baker arrived in Rome to give Bernini the portrait he cheekily requested Bernini create a portrait for himself also. Bernini agreed, and because of Bernini’s remarkable ability to see a person only once and reproduce a striking replica he proceeded to carve the Portrait Bust of Thomas Baker you see pictured above. Bernini was fascinated by Thomas Baker face and thus focused all his attention on his bust rather than on Charles’s. When the Pope became aware of this neglect he told Bernini to stop carving Thomas Baker’s bust and to finish Charles’s instead. Bernini conceded and thus Thomas Baker’s bust was finished by one of his assistants instead.

Who’d have thought such controversy surrounded such a piece. Thanks for sharing Rosita, I certainly learnt a lot from our chat.


Rosita with her beloved Bernini Bust

Rosita with Jeanne - Antoinette Poissom, Marquise de Pompadour cut-out - located by the Princely Treasures ticketing desk.

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