This topic is actually one of the main reasons I started this blog. I’ve made so many of my friends and coworkers listen to me as I ramble on about Gian Lorenzo Bernini for way longer than they really wanted to. Over time, I stopped when I realized that ultimately they weren’t interested at all, which eventually turned into me rambling on the internet.
Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the indisputable love of my life, was a fiery, passionate man in everything he set his mind to. Known for his charisma and sweet-talk, as well as his fairly short temper; he fell in love with a woman with a similar disposition. However, Costanza Piccolomini was currently married to Matteo Bonarelli- Gian Lorenzo’s assistant. Of course, that didn’t stop him, and they carried on an affair anyway. That is, until he discovered his younger brother was also sleeping with the woman he loved, and as I mentioned before, he had a quick temper which was then magnified by betrayal and intense passion. Upon discovering that the rumors were indeed true, he chased his brother and attempted to murder him by beating him with an iron rod and breaking two ribs (He was pardoned thanks to his political connections). As for his beloved Costanza, he ordered an assistant to slash her face.
The full sculpture
Detail of how incredibly supple the flesh is
Of course, all of this makes it’s way into his artwork as well. You can feel the excitement and sexual energy just looking at the way the marble ripples in all his sculptures. In The Rape of Proserpina, you can feel the desire in the man, and the desperation and despair as the Sabine woman tries with all her might to break away from him.
And then, there’s The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa– a much more pleasant depiction of sexuality. St. Teresa was a nun well known in her time for having an incredible vision from God. However, in depictions of her, she is very clearly orgasmic- a look I’m sure Bernini knew well. It’s a very interesting idea to me, conflating the religious with the sexual, since the two are generally at odds with each other, although with the passion Bernini so obviously poured into his work, it’s not surprising that he would portray Teresa with the same passion.
Where you can argue whether or not Saint Teresa is just in the throes of heavenly contact, there is no denying the sexual nature of the memorial sculpture Bernini created for Blessed Ludovica Albertoni. The, once again, nun, is lying on her back caressing her breasts and torso, with the sheets surrounding her bunched in a suggestive manner, and of course a euphoric look on her face.
Gian Lorenzo Bernini was a man of such intense ardor and energy that you can tangibly feel it when looking at his sculptures, you get the feeling he left a piece of his soul in each one. It’s as if they’re formed out of flesh and emotion, not cold marble. They become a moment frozen in time, no longer a monument to whomever they may be dedicated. Utterly incredible.