Bernini's Beloved: A Portrait of Costanza Piccolomini

Bernini's Beloved: A Portrait of Costanza Piccolomini

by Sarah McPhee
     
 

With lips slightly parted and eyes fixed on a point in the distance, a breathtaking marble portrait of Costanza Piccolomini appears alive. Carved by Gianlorenzo Bernini in 1636–37 for his own pleasure, the portrait of Costanza is one of his most captivating works, but until now little has been known about its subject.

For centuries Costanza was identified

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Overview

With lips slightly parted and eyes fixed on a point in the distance, a breathtaking marble portrait of Costanza Piccolomini appears alive. Carved by Gianlorenzo Bernini in 1636–37 for his own pleasure, the portrait of Costanza is one of his most captivating works, but until now little has been known about its subject.

For centuries Costanza was identified only as Bernini's mistress, who later incited his rage by betraying him for his brother. Author Sarah McPhee corrects and expands this story in her remarkable biography of a sculpture and its subject. Bernini's Beloved sets the bust and Costanza's own life—her childhood and noble name, her marriage, affair, fall from grace, and recovery—against the backdrop of Baroque Rome. Beautifully illustrated and written, this fascinating story expands our understanding of the woman whose intelligence and passion served as inspiration for Bernini's celebrated sculpture, and who courageously forged a life for herself in the decades following its creation.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This splendidly illustrated and erudite study tells the life story of Costanza Piccolomini (d. 1560), the wife of baroque sculptor Matteo Bonarelli, mistress of Gianlorenzo Bernini, and the subject of one of Bernini’s most well-known and lifelike sculpture of a private subject. While the details of Bernini’s relationship with Piccolomini are uncertain, he created his famous bust “while passionately in love with her,” an affair which culminated in shocking violence against both Piccolomini and Bernini’s own brother. Art historian McPhee (Bernini and the Bell Towers) describes Piccolomini’s extraordinary life and character: a highly determined woman who learned to read and write; survived sexual assault, detention, and arrest; and successfully ran her husband’s sculpture studio after being widowed at the age of 40. McPhee beautifully interweaves personal history, art history, and the cultural history of baroque Rome to spotlight Piccolomini’s biography and to demonstrate why the power of her image and her story is worth investigating. A highly impressive work of scholarship and a tour de force of interest to art historians, scholars of the baroque with a particular interest in women’s history, and accessible to general readers, the book also includes extensive appendixes of primary sources in Italian and new archival research. Color and b&w illus. Agent: Michael Carlisle, Inkwell Management. (June)
Apollo Magazine
“McPhee…builds up a detailed portrait of Costanza’s life against the backdrop of Baroque Rome, offering along the way a fresh perspective on Bernini’s life and work.”—Apollo Magazine
Renaissance Quarterly

Bernini’s Beloved is a most valuable, enlightening addition to our knowledge of the intriguing Costanza and her fascinating Rome.”—Renaissance Quarterly

Choice

“McPhee's book is a satisfying detective story, reclaiming the context and evidence of events. Much new information informs this meticulously researched and copiously documented tale.”—Choice
Elizabeth Cropper

"Enthralling. . . . McPhee's book is rich in historical detail, and truly an original contribution that will be welcomed by scholars, students, and general readers."—Elizabeth Cropper, Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, National Gallery of Art
Elizabeth Cohen

"A highly original work by an accomplished and enterprising scholar, Bernini's Beloved offers a compelling, untold human story. It shows us the lively 17th-century Roman art world from a novel perspective, that of a woman. . . . It will be welcomed by anyone interested in art, artists, gender, and the social history of Rome during the flourishing of the baroque.."—Elizabeth S. Cohen, York University
Ingrid Rowland

"Bernini's Beloved will definitively change the way people look at Bernini's portrait of a woman who turns out to be the descendant of a Pope. . . Sarah McPhee argues that Bernini used his utmost artistry to convey Costanza's divine dignity as a new Venus, reconciling the background of this remarkable statue with its evident value in artistry and materials. The whole picture, for the first time, makes eminent sense."—Ingrid Rowland, University of Notre Dame
Sixteenth Century Journal - Lisa Weston

"Offering an eminently readable biographical narrative as well as work of careful scholarship, the Arch-Conjuror of England thus entertains as it informs its readers."—Lisa Weston, Sixteenth Century Journal
Observer New Review - William Dalrymple

‘…a brilliantly researched biography of the woman who was mistress not only of the greatest of all roman sculptors, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, but also his younger brother Luigi. This extraordinary biography recreates the life and passions of Renaissance Rome like no other book I have ever read.’—William Dalrymple, Observer New Review.
Library Journal
Baroque master Bernini's relationship to Costanza Piccolomini, the young wife of an assistant sculptor, is one of the pulpiest footnotes to the artist's life: reportedly, he was overcome with passion for her; carved a striking, intimate portrait of her; and, upon learning that she'd taken up with his brother, hired a man to slash her face. (Bernini, meanwhile, chased his younger sibling through St. Peter's with an iron rod, breaking two of his ribs.) In this biography of the woman at its center, McPhee (art & architectural history, Emory Univ.; Bernini and the Bell Towers: Architecture and Politics at the Vatican) peels back the layers of the scandal that most art historians either ignore or sensationalize. Costanza, born into an impoverished branch of a noble family that produced two 15th-century popes, was literate, canny, and ambitious. With her husband, she built a prosperous sculpture business and amassed an enviable collection of art, including a canvas by Poussin (The Plague of Ashdod) now at the Louvre. VERDICT A scrupulously researched and sober biography of a remarkable woman who was both muse and patron. Recommended.—Molly McArdle, Library Journal

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780300175271
Publisher:
Yale University Press
Publication date:
06/12/2012
Edition description:
New Edition
Pages:
280
Sales rank:
669,886
Product dimensions:
7.00(w) x 10.10(h) x 1.00(d)

What People are saying about this

Ingrid Rowland
Bernini's Beloved will definitively change the way people look at Bernini's portrait of a woman who turns out to be the descendant of a Pope. . . Sarah McPhee argues that Bernini used his utmost artistry to convey Costanza's divine dignity as a new Venus, reconciling the background of this remarkable statue with its evident value in artistry and materials. The whole picture, for the first time, makes eminent sense.—Ingrid Rowland, University of Notre Dame
Elizabeth Cohen
A highly original work by an accomplished and enterprising scholar, Bernini's Beloved offers a compelling, untold human story. It shows us the lively 17th-century Roman art world from a novel perspective, that of a woman. . . . It will be welcomed by anyone interested in art, artists, gender, and the social history of Rome during the flourishing of the baroque..—Elizabeth S. Cohen, York University
Elizabeth Cropper
Enthralling. . . . McPhee's book is rich in historical detail, and truly an original contribution that will be welcomed by scholars, students, and general readers.—Elizabeth Cropper, Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, National Gallery of Art

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Meet the Author

Sarah McPhee is professor of art and architectural history at Emory University, and author of Bernini and the Bell Towers: Architecture and Politics at the Vatican (Yale).

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