Costanza Bonarelli

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Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Costanza Bonarelli, 1637

Gian Lorenzo Bernini, a true artist, a man who would take solid marble and grant it life. His sculptures were as if the subject had truly existed before looking into Medusa's face. While he had already achieved a sense of magic through his other busts for Pope Urban and the Cardinal Scipione Borghese, Costanza Boneralli, was a work of its own genre. It was revolutionary for its time as Bernini continued to push the parameters for what the definition of busts was known at the time. While the Borghese bust had already stepped away from the traditionally formal expression, the Costanza was a work of passion. Simon Shama, Professor of Art History at Columbia University, said it was as if Bernini was "reliving his caresses, through his chisel." Just by observing the piece you sense the intimacy. The way her shirt half reveals her breast drives the sense of passion that went into this work. Bernini and Costanza were lovers.

This specific bust holds a four thousand year old soap opera series of events. Costanza was actually the wife to one of Bernini's assistants, but she and Bernini were engaging in an affair. Costanza was also messing around his Bernini's brother. Bernini was known to have "a low boiling point," so when he found all of this out... he wasn't too pleased. He got in a fight with his brother and sent a servant to Costanza's home, who promptly slashes her face, permanently disfiguring her. Bernini who had "cut stone to create beauty, had cut flesh to destroy it." This resulted in the Pope stepping in. The servant and Costanza were sent to prison, Bernini's brother was banished, and Bernini was sentenced to marry one of the most beautiful women in Rome.

What makes this piece so revolutionary is that this was not commissioned, Bernini was not attempting to please anyone. This also means that the work is completely done by himself, which should mean plentyt for someone who would divide the work amongst his assistants. There's been a great debate over what is actually Bernini's part within his work. The bust was entirely from his own visions and expression, something we rarely see up to this point. That's what sets this apart from Bernini's other stunning masterpieces.

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