Bernini's portrait of Costanza Boarelli as a symbol of the violence against women in the photographic exhibition at the Uffizi: Pain is not a priviledge

Everyone knows Gian Lorenzo Bernini as the greatest exponent of Baroque sculpture, author of works of incredible beauty. Certainly a man of great passion, an emotion that he skilfully transmitted through his art. But few know about his darker side, and how this great passion of his led him to commit an act of brutal violence against the woman he loved.


Around 1638 Bernini was having an affair with the wife of his assistant, named her, a beautiful woman named Costanza Bonarelli. He was so madly in love with her that he carved her portrait in marble, which in itself was a remarkable thing. Sculptors did not make portraits of ordinary women and certainly not of their mistresses.
The bust represents Constance with splendid naturalism and shows the level of intimacy of the two lovers: the first button of her blouse is carelessly undone and her hair is tousled, she opens her mouth as if caught in the act of speaking with the person in front of her.

However this sculpture is the only good thing that came out of the relationship between the two.

Bernini discovered that she had fallen in love with his brother with whom he had started an affair, and mad with jealousy he ordered one of his servants to deface her with a blade.

As if she hadn't already been punished enough, the poor woman was convicted of adultery and imprisoned in a monastery for months, while her brother Louis was banished from Rome.

On the other hand, Gian Lorenzo, favored by the Pope, was only given a fine and was ordered to get married as soon as possible, in order to avoid other similar scandals. So Bernini did, he got married and had 11 children, continuing his great career unpunished.

Having served her sentence, Costanza returned to her husband, Matteo Bonarelli, sculptor and art dealer, with whom she was able to start a fruitful business.
Her story was never forgotten because of Costanza there remains the marble sculpture by Bernini, now preserved at the Bargello museum.


These days the portrait of Costanza has temporarily changed house, becoming a symbol of violence against women in the exhibition entitled Pain is not a privilege open at the Uffizi until December 19, 2021.

The sculpture, restored for the occasion, completes the photographic exhibition by Ilaria Sagaria, which reminds us how violence against women is a drama that still takes place today in all parts of the world.

The shots are made thinking of women who have suffered attacks with acid, which, like in the case of Costanza Bonarelli, often aim at scarring the face of the woman who “dared” to betray her man or in some way offend his pride.

Ilaria Sagaria's women are women who never leave the house, who hide mirrors, who refuse to look at themselves and accept themselves for what they have become after they have been disfigured by their own husbands, brothers and fathers.

Through the testimonies of these women, the photographer has reconstructed a timeless tale of violence, of which unfortunately, still today - as at the time of Costanza Bonarelli and Bernini - pages after pager are being written.

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