Bernini’s bust of woman he abused is on display alongside photographs of survivors

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Gian Lorenzo Bernini, “Bust of Costanza Buonarelli” (1636-67) alongside photographs of Ilaria Sagaria in the Uffizi Galleries. (image courtesy of the Uffizi)

Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s marble bust of Costanza Buonarelli is considered one of the artist’s most accomplished portrait-sculptures. The surprisingly realistic likeness of the Baroque artist’s lover gazes solemnly in front of her, a serious expression on her forehead, strands pushed back, lips slightly parted. What its pristine stone surface doesn’t reveal, however, is the violence inflicted on Buonarelli when Bernini had his face slashed.

The bust is the centerpiece of a new and perhaps unexpected exhibition at the Uffizi Galleries in Florence. Best known for its unrivaled collection of Italian Renaissance masterpieces, the museum has chosen to pair Bernini’s bust of Buonarelli with a group of contemporary photographs by Ilaria Sagaria that speak to the timeless scourge of violence in the world. towards women. The images of Sagaria, part of her series entitled Pain is not a privilege (2018), depict women victims of acid attacks in the aftermath of the terrible assaults, with their faces blindfolded and blindfolded.

Title Lo sfregio (“The Scar”) and curated by Chiara Toti, the exhibition opened this month ahead of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, celebrated on November 25. It will be visible until December 19.

A work from the 2018 photographic series by Ilaria Sagaria, Pain is not a privilege. (Image courtesy of the artist)

Today Bernini is revered in art history books for his architectural and sculptural prowess, and he is often credited with the invention of the Baroque style. But Sagaria’s visuals serve as a haunting backdrop to the lesser-known story of Buonarelli, a nobleman and merchant who was Bernini’s lover. When he learned that she was having an affair with her younger brother Luigi, Bernini had Buonarelli attacked, leaving a scar on the left side of his face. She was branded a courtesan or a prostitute and imprisoned in a monastery for four months, while Bernini’s act of violence went unpunished.

The exhibition educates viewers about the prevalence of gender-based violence. (image courtesy of the Uffizi)

Despite her fate, Bonarelli persevered, helping to advance the sculpture business with her husband, artist Matteo Bonarelli; like the subjects of Sagaria’s photographs, she was a survivor.

“Acid violence is a worldwide phenomenon that does not depend on race, religion, beliefs and even social and geographic position,” Sagaria said in a statement on the photographic series.

Although there have been reported cases against men, she says, acid attacks are a common form of gender-based violence. There are around 1,500 incidents per year, but the crime is noticeably underreported because its victims – mostly women and girls – fear reprisals from the perpetrators.

“The victims are forced to tolerate inconceivable torture: they are struck by jets of corrosive acid on the skin of the face, they are blinded, deafened, devastated,” says Sagaria. In addition to their often permanent physical scars, “there is a psychological trauma developed by the inability to recognize themselves, depression and isolation.” The protagonists of his images are always represented alone, in sparsely decorated rooms which symbolize their isolation and marginalization from society.

From the 2018 photographic series by Ilaria Sagaria, Pain is not a privilege. Its protagonists are often represented alone. (Image courtesy of the artist)

The bust is on loan from the Museo Nazionale del Bargello, housed in the former headquarters of Florence’s chief police, a building that later served as a prison in the 18th century. On the occasion of its exhibition, the sculpture was the subject of a restoration undertaken by the Uffizi Galleries.

The Uffizi installation elucidates an episode in Bernini’s life that is rarely exhibited while educating viewers about the prevalence of gender-based violence. In 2012, art historian Sarah McPhee published a comprehensive biography of Buonarelli, Bernini’s beloved, which includes an account of Bernini’s crime. But other discussions of the bust fail to mention the incident, instead focusing on the formal qualities of the work and praising Bernini’s ability to convey passion and emotion.

“In the display we see [the bust] not only as a masterpiece by one of the greatest Baroque sculptors, but we are invited to reflect on the brutal violence of the strong against the weak, ”said Uffizi Director Eike Schmidt in a statement from hurry. “And meditate on the unspeakable pain of survival.”

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