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The Timeless Art of Seduction

March 29, 2017








Remember George Costanza and the timeless art of seduction? This post is about the art of seduction, but it involves a different Costanza.


The Museo Nazionale del Bargello is better than a dozen American museums, yet in Florence, Italy, it’s considered so second rate that many of its rooms are often locked, including the room housing a sculpture many consider one of the greatest works ever conceived.


The sculpture is a marble bust of a woman carved by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680), a towering figure of Baroque art. You might remember my post on Bernini’s astonishing Apollo and Daphne (Check it out here). Thanks to his copious sculptures, fountains, interiors (notably that of St. Peters) and the Vatican’s famous colonnade, Bernini’s impact on the look of modern Rome is equaled only by that of Michelangelo.


Although a favorite of popes and kings, the piece in the Museo Nazionale del Bargello was not designed for public consumption. Instead of showing a religious or mythological subject; it reveals a flesh and blood woman—Costanza Bonarelli, who drove Bernini wild with passion and inspired him to conjure flesh from stone in one of his most breathtaking lifelike marble portraits.


This following description by Joshua Galernter from The Weekly Standard describes it wonderfully:




Bernini's Costanza Bonarelli (1636-37)








“Costanza, carved by Bernini in 1636-37, is one of the most extraordinary statues in the world—the most naturalistic, lifelike, animated, energetic portrait that's ever been chiseled from marble. Costanza's lips hang open as if she's been captured not just mid-sentence, but in the middle of a word. Her nostrils flare slightly, as if she's just started to take a breath. Her eyes look like they've just alighted on something off to her left, something that's caught her off guard. The leftward turn of her head gives her a somewhat unflattering double chin and creased neck. Her hair, carved roughly and left unpolished, is a mess, as if it has been pushed back, up and off her forehead, casually, with one hand. Her blouse hangs low on her shoulders, and hangs partly unbuttoned in front, exposing her bust. She was too racy for public display in mid-17th century Italy (which was itself pretty racy), but that didn't matter—she wasn't a normal commission; she was sculpted by Bernini for his own personal collection, a bust of his lover Costanza Bonarelli, who was also the wife of one of his assistants, Matteo Bonarelli.


Unfortunately, Costanza was not a two-man woman. Bernini started to suspect her of having a third lover, so he hid outside her house to see if he was right. A third lover did in fact appear—it was Gian Lorenzo Bernini's younger brother, Luigi. Gian Lorenzo chased Luigi through the streets of Rome, into St. Peters, where he tried to beat Luigi to death with an iron bar. (He didn't succeed.) Then Gian Lorenzo sent a servant to Costanza's house, threatening to slice up her face with a razor.”


Broken hearted, Bernini couldn't stand to look at his Costanza bust anymore, and came close to smashing it. Instead he sold it, which is how it ended up in Florence.


It’s easy to imagine Bernini being driven crazy by the powerful sensuality of this woman, who looks like she’s just had or is about to have sex. I suspect he was already feeling tormented by this woman while creating a brutally honest account of her.


Had Facebook existed in the seventeenth century, Bernini might have merely blocked or unfriended Costanza instead of creating a masterpiece of art and preserving his former mistress forever.   


I’ve yet to pay Costanza my respects, but she’s on my bucket list.



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A beautiful sculpture of a not so beautiful person. Much prettier than that other Costanza.
By: PT Dilloway on March 29, 2017
Yes I couldn't help focussing on the double chin. It is an amazing sculpture and enjoyed the story behind it.
By: LL Cool Joe on March 29, 2017
By: The Broad on March 29, 2017
So life-like - that's what I love about this! Thank you for the mini-art history lesson. It's always been a subject I enjoy.
By: Kelly on March 29, 2017
He'd obviously been with her enough to remember the woman in such detail.
By: Alex J. Cavanaugh on March 29, 2017
She's beautiful. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on March 29, 2017
This is breathtakingly beautiful. So animated. So expressive. I've never seen it. Thanks so much!!!
By: Mitchell is Moving on March 29, 2017
That wild woman just couldn't get enough could she? He loved her lips, that's for sure and showing a bit of her bust tells of the lust he had for her. There are some relationships that are sexy, passionate, vibrant and all together wrong for the 2 people involved. Usually the one knows how to play all the cards
By: Birgit on March 29, 2017
Good stuff!
By: cranky on March 29, 2017
She could join my heavenly bodies quest :)
By: Sage on March 29, 2017
I seem to be in the minority here, but - I don't see the beauty. I see the fine artistry, because it can't be easy to create such a lifelike figure from rock. A chaucun ses gouts!
By: jenny_o on March 29, 2017
oops - should be "chacun"
By: jenny_o on March 29, 2017
Not every piece of art has such a raunchy story behind it.
By: red Kline on March 29, 2017
She's amazing!
By: messymimi on March 29, 2017
Not all models were stick thin, thank goodness. Men liked women with meat on them back them. Love this beautiful sculpture and the story behind it. Something I would never have known if I hadn't come to your blog.
By: Kate on March 29, 2017
Thank goodness she's made of marble, which stands the test of time better than a Fusilli Jerry made from pasta.
By: Val on March 29, 2017
Marvelous sculpture and "back story." Another excellent and fascinating post.
By: Tom Cochrun on March 29, 2017
Yes, she is beautiful. So detailed. Love it#
By: Linda on March 30, 2017
The title to your post was the hook that created my initial interest. I read through your post and realized just how ignorant I am about sculpture and Bernini himself; I didn't realize they created models of their work before the work of chiselling began. Nor did I know much of the initial work was done by his assistants. Anyhow... I love his artistic vision and ... YES... her beauty too. :)
By: Daniel LaFrance on March 30, 2017
Really enjoyed the back story. She was quite the temptress I guess. There is quite a novel in that story.
By: Arkansas Patti on March 30, 2017
I always like when you share something I would have never known and having the art interpreted by an artist is always good!
By: Tabor on March 30, 2017
wowee- she is quite the babe! I don't think I've ever seen such a gorgeous sculpture before. Thanks!
By: Kathe W. on March 30, 2017
A lovely lady of a certain age, it appears.
By: Catalyst on March 30, 2017
What a remarkable piece of art history. R
By: Rick Watson on March 30, 2017
BTW, as an artist, I wonder what your take is on this
By: PT Dilloway on March 30, 2017
What a story behind this sculpture!
By: Pixel Peeper on April 1, 2017

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