Bernini-Bonarelli love affair

Il busto - ritratto barocco

I marmi vivi

Busto di Costanza Bonarelli - 1636 circa

Museo del Bargello, Firenze

Grazie a Bernini, tra il 1615 ed il 1640 l’idea di busto-ritratto si rinnovò radicalmente passando da immagini severe e compassate, di carattere ancora schiettamente manierista, a figure che se pure scolpite nel marmo, sembrano però respirare, vivere e addirittura “colloquiare” con lo spettatore.

Il busto di Costanza Bonarelli rappresenta indubbiamente la testimonianza più emozionante e più celebre della svolta determinata dal Bernini nella ritrattistica scultorea.

Presentazione della mostra "I Marmi Vivi" al Museo del Bargello di Firenze

This bust invites anachronistic descriptions: impressionist, romantic, rococo. It is as light as air. Or desire. Bernini has made more than a "speaking likeness". He has made an intimate monument to secret moments, a sculpted memento of his lover, whose marble reality dissolves, when you chance on her among the stony dead, into breath, life. Bernini's genius for motion is dedicated to make his lover live for ever. Her wild hair and loose clothes speak of energy and passion. Sex is at the heart of his aesthetic.

Bernini expressed the pleasure of the collective, the sensuality of the pious, the ecstasy of obedience. The individual's desires are not subsumed, but are at one with those of the social order.

The one time Bernini went off the rails, the Pope himself intervened. It was about Costanza Bonarelli, with whom he fell in love when her husband was working as Bernini's assistant in 1636. Bernini, normally so polite, openly insulted the cuckolded husband. Pope Urban VIII stepped in before anyone got killed, advising Bernini to get married. He did, in 1639, to Caterina Tezio.

Jonathan Jones, The Guardian

Bernini - Bonarelli love affair (the anecdote):

Gian Lorenzo Bernini was not an entirely nice man, and neither was his little brother, Luigi. One morning in 1638 Bernini saw Luigi leaving the house of his, Bernini’s, mistress, who accompanied him to the door, Charles Avery tells us, “in a suggestively dishevelled state.” Bernini, like most sculptors, was a strong man. He chased his little brother to their work place at St. Peter’s, and went at him with a crowbar, breaking a couple of his ribs. Then he pursued him home, sword in hand. When his mother closed the door against him, Bernini broke it down. Meanwhile Luigi had taken refuge in Santa Maria Maggiore. Once again Bernini pursued him, but finally gave up beating on the door.

While all this was going on, Bernini had sent a servant to the house of his mistress, the beautiful Costanza Bonarelli, with instructions to disfigure her. The servant found Costanza in bed and slashed her with a razor. Bernini, who had painted a double portrait of himself and his mistress, went home and cut her face out of the painting. He had been, we are told, fiercely in love with her (she was the wife of one of his employees), and one can well believe this from the beautiful bust he had carved of her, which he proceeded to send into exile (it is now in the Bargello). Bernini was fined 3,000 scudi, the price of one of his busts, for disfiguring Costanza, but the Pope waived the fine; the servant took the rap, and went into exile.

James Fenton, How Great Art Was Made


-Link to Sarah McPhee studies about Costanza Bonarelli-

Il ritratto barocco ha le sue manifestazioni più caratteristiche nei busti, di larga e dinamica impostazione, di Gian Lorenzo Bernini e in quelli più freddamente realistici di A. Algardi; il Bernini riassume l'ideale classico del Barocco romano: per il quale, infatti, il classicismo non è scolastico esempio ma modo d'intendere la realtà nella sua pienezza e universalità.

Enciclopedia Treccani

If there’s a single work of art one wishes everyone could see this season, it is Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s Costanza Bonarelli (1636– 1638). A marble bust of the artist’s mistress, it is one of the high points of “Bernini and the Birth of Baroque Portrait Sculpture,” which began a two-city North American tour at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles this summer. A fleeting instant captured in stone, it shows the young woman with her head turned and her mouth open, as if about to address someone who has just entered her orbit. Her eyes blaze from the center of a broad, fleshy face, and her chemise has fallen open to reveal part of one breast. Costanza Bonarelli is one of the most psychologically charged and sexually confrontational portraits ever produced.

Eric Gibson, "Bernini & Houdon", The New Criterion

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