Bernini Up Close and Close To Home

Bust of Costanza Bonarelli by Gian Lorenzo Bernini

If you’re not taking a trip to Rome, the former stomping ground and site of many works by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, don’t fret. Approximately 57 of the Baroque artist’s marble sculptures will be on display at the Getty Museum through October 26.

The highlight of the show, according to David Littlejohn in his Wall Street Journal article Living, Breathing Portraits in Marble from Bernini, is the bust of Bernini’s mistress Costanza Bonarelli.

“A sensuous bust of Bernini’s mistress Costanza Bonarelli is the most compelling work on display. The wife of one of his studio assistants, Costanza apparently shared her favors between Gian Lorenzo and his younger brother, driving the sculptor to violent fits of jealousy. But when he carved this instant, breathless image — for his own private devotion — he was clearly in thrall to her charms. Costanza is caught as if unaware, her chemise falling open over a very touchable breast, her eyes staring in shock and desire, her hair in lusty disarray, her ripely curved lips slightly open, revealing a bit of tongue.”

Other “portraits” in the exhibition include busts of Pope Urban VIII (Bernini’s primary papal patron), Pope Clement X, Cardinal Richelieu of France, and other European leaders. While the preview of some of the busts online may not astonish, I can assure you that viewing a Bernini up close will. Consider it homework before your next Roman vacation.

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