Il Salvator Mundi, 1679-1680
The greatest sculptor and architect of 17th-century Italy, Bernini was a major founder of the High Baroque style, and a devout Catholic. The Bust of the Savior was his last work, carved by his own hand at the age of 80 in spiritual preparation for his imminent death. He willed it to his friend and patron, Christina, Queen of Sweden, Rome’s preeminent Catholic convert.
Bernini created a majestic Christ, his head turned heavenward to intercede between God and humankind: The Salvador Mundi (Savior of the World) raises his right hand in eternal blessing. The gesture also alludes to Christ’s metamorphosis from mortal to divine being. After Christ’s resurrection and before his ascension into heaven he took care that his body remain undefiled. “Noli Me Tangere,” he commanded, with his right hand raised. “Do not touch me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father” (John 20:17).
Bernini designed an elaborate seven-foot-high pedestal to support the sculpture’s base. Viewed from below and at a distance, Christ’s elongated and exaggerated features would have appeared slightly foreshortened and softened. Sculpted kneeling angels were to support the marble Christ. Roman Catholics would have associated this elevated image of the Saviour with the priest’s Elevation of the Host during Mass (the celebration of the Eucharist, or Holy Communion).