The Sickness Unto Death Pt. VII: Bust of Costanza Bonarelli

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The Sickness Unto Death 
A Musically Guided Exploration of Artist's Struggle with Mortality
Curated by Aaron Dupuis

Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Bust of Costanza Bonarelli, 1636-37

"And when I have my childhood back
I'll tear every page out of my bookPlace them in an urn
And strike a match and watch them burn
And then i'll hold the front cover
Against the back cover and look
You see
Eternity will smile on me"
"The Sickness Unto Death," Typhoon


Leave it to Gian Lorenzo Bernini to stand out from the crowd. While the other artists in my gallery accepted death as the inevitable fact of life - the only sure thing about existing - Bernini rejects the notion. Perhaps, it was not his intention. Perhaps, I am giving the piece more meaning than the sculptor intended. However, this is largely what art history is about: applying meaning where they may be none. Indeed, that is what the reception of any art form is about. And so I posit that by creating the Bust of Costanza Bonarelli, Bernini not only paid homage to his mistress, but conquered death itself in the name of love.

Costanza Bonarelli was the wife of one of Bernini's assistants, and a participant in a heated affair behind said assistant's back. Bernini and Bonarelli's affair never came to the attention of her husband, but it did come to the attention of his younger brother, Luigi, who quickly made the love triangle a square. In response, Bernini beat his little brother near to death, and had Costanza's face cut up by an assassin. Yes, these events are horrific. Yes, they are based deeply in obsession. Yes, this is a story of love gone wrong. But it makes the Bust of Costanza Bonarelli all the more beautiful.

Bernini must have known that his affair must eventually come to and end. Either the husband would find out, or Costanza would lose interest. These things never worked. More over, beauty is fleeting. Costanza's looks would wilt with the passage of time, and the youthful face that Bernini so loved would be no more. And so, he sculpted her a love song, freezing her in time, forever young, forever beautiful. Age could not take her beauty away. Her mutilation could not either. Not even death could rob her of her looks now.


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