Date of Award

Spring 2017

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Art History

First Advisor

Professor Triff


Skilled in a variety of arts, Gian Lorenzo Bernini incorporated his knowledge of theater to perfect the Baroque concept of the bel composto, meaning the beautiful whole or the effortless and harmonious synthesis of the arts of sculpture, architecture and painting. His connections with the Catholic Church and the efforts of several popes to promote the Counter-Reformation provided commissions and thus opportunities for Bernini to develop and perfect an elevated, theatrical application of the bel composto concept in the designs of Catholic chapels in Rome. However, the bel composto was a technique meant not only to portray spatial unity but also to produce a sense of accessible physicality, engaging the viewer. This prompts a question as to the extent to which Bernini effectively used his knowledge of theater to enhance the bel composto illusionism within his chapel commissions and in turn to promote the efforts of the Counter-Reformation. In addition, Bernini’s design approach in his chapels utilizes his experiences with theater and scenography to engage the audience and evoke an emotional response in an intensely charged, illusionistic extension of space. Although there is extensive analysis concerning Bernini’s application of the bel composto, his involvement in the efforts of the Counter-Reformation, and his talent in theater production, this thesis attempts to recognize the extent to which these concepts compound to enhance his work. In the Raimondi, the Cornaro, and the Altieri Chapels, Bernini achieves a fourth-dimensional quality of theatricality and illusionism through his knowledge of scenography and development of the bel composto to further the emotional impact of his chapels in an effort to create a spiritual environment that supports the Counter-Reformation in creating greater piety in many Catholics.


Senior thesis completed at Trinity College, Hartford Connecticut for the degree of Bachelor of Arts in Art History.