I don’t teach any nineteen year olds. Mostly the oldest young people who end up in my classroom are sixteen and occasionally seventeen. I like most teachers try to encourage my pupils to try their hardest and to be ambitious in what they are trying to achieve. My role as a teacher is to help them see what might be possible and to aid them in reaching those goals.
Today I have visited the Bernini and Caravaggio exhibition at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. I hadn’t anticipated leaving the exhibition reflecting on what teenagers can achieve. But it was a sculpture of Saint Sebastian that in many ways caught my attention the most. It presents the problem of how a sculptor, carving into marble, has to deal with the technical challenge of including the necessary arrows piercing the young man’s body and that of course on top of representing the human figure.
The sculpture was perhaps about 80 cm tall, in terms of ambition and spectacle very modest in comparison to the large scale sculptures by Bernini that can be found in Italy.
So why did this particular cause me to pause and reflect, you may have guessed the reason already. The sculpture was created when Bernini was just nineteen years old. It was of course a different time. The young Bernini would have already had a several years experience of learning the technical strategies and techniques needed to create such an image.
Sculptors like to point out that the sculpture is simply in the block, be that marble, wood or sandstone. Seeing that and subsequently being able to find and reveal it is a tremendous challenge of insight, technical ability and spatial awareness, and in this case all realised by the hands of a nineteen year old. I may show the image to the pupils I teach. Will I dwell on the fact that it was made by such a young man? To be honest, I’m not sure yet!
Below are further images from the exhibition by Bernini, Caravaggio and others.