Leading Ladies: Death of the Blessed Ludovica Albertoni

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Leading Ladies
Strong Women in Art
Curated by Katie Sloan


Lorenzo Bernini, Death of the Blessed Ludovica Albertoni, 1671-74

In Bernini's last full figure sculpture, everything he is famous for comes to life. This sculpture of Ludovica Albertoni, placed in the Church of San Francesco a Ripa, embodies the idealization of death. The emotion on her face, an expression seen in other sculptures carved by Bernini, captures her feelings during her death. The way she clutches her chest shows her pain and the way her head is tilted back shows her taking her last breaths. 

Ludovica Albertoni was known as a Mother Teresa of her time. Raised in Roman nobility and wealth,  she wanted to lead a religious life. Ludovica wanted to dedicate her life to God and remain a virgin. However, her parents arranged for her to get married to Giacomo de Citara, a nobleman. She obeyed, and they were married and Ludovica gave birth to three daughters. Her husband unexpectedly passed away when Ludovica was only 33 years old. After this she joined Franciscan convent, where she devoted her life to prayer. Ludovica sacrificed her health in order to help the poor. She provided them with food and cared for them. She became known as a miracle worker and was also known for her religious ecstasies (she once levitated). She was in her sixties when she died from a painful fever. However, she had received the eucharist the day before, and her death was one of pain and joy. 

Bernini sought to capture all of these qualities in Ludovica's sculpture. He captures the pain of her death from fever with her hand clutching at her chest. He also captures her religious ecstasy in her face, a similar expression seen in his other works like Saint Teresa in Ecstasy, demonstrating the same sensual feeling of religious ecstasy. The folds in the marble are done with the skill and precision Bernini was famous for. The natural way the fabric flows is beautiful. There is no mistaking Bernini's talent as a sculptor. 

Ludovica's life shows her as a woman who had taken charge of herself and made herself.  She is truly a leading lady in art. Her importance in history gives her a place in the art world, her story ready to be told and listened to. Ludovica was a selfless woman whose independence would gain her a place in heaven and in art. 

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