Monthly Archives: April 2013

Sexual Control of Women in Bernini’s Rome

I’ve been inspired by a weekend trip to Rome (Che bella! I would have loved to study abroad there, not that Florence isn’t wonderful!) to finally post a paper on Bernini’s depiction of women in sculpture and how his work reflects Counter-Reformation ideas of sexual control. But first! I’d like to suggest picking up the book, Bernini’s Beloved: a Portrait of Costanza Piccolomini by Sarah McPhee. It’s a very enjoyable read, and not at all difficult to get through. Much of my paper (at least the information on the Portrait of Costanza Piccolomini) grew from McPhee’s research. Enjoy!

As a tool used to promote the Catholic Church’s political power, Counter-Reformation artwork often contained messages condoning the sexual control of women. This is particularly evident in the sculptural work of Gianlorenzo Bernini. By examining the context of Bernini’s Portrait of Costanza Piccolomini and comparing with his bust of Medusa, one can conclude many Roman Baroque artworks not only accepted but enforced male control of female sexuality.

Pope Paul V is tentatively quoted as saying, “Pictoribus, atque Poetis, omnia licent; we must put up with these great men because that excess of spirit which makes them great is the same that leads them to this strange behaviour”.[1] While it is uncertain if the Pope truly spoke these words, it is certainly the attitude the papacy adopted a few decades later in regards to Bernini. A quick summary of events: Bernini—in the height of his career—fell in love or in lust with Costanza Piccolomini, the wife of one of his workers, carried out a passionate affair, then became enraged and slashed her face upon discovering her possible liaison with his own brother. These events, while clearly deplorable, can possibly be understood by today’s historians as the actions of an emotionally and mentally unstable individual. What cannot be explained is the response by the Catholic Church, namely, the forthcoming punishment for Costanza (who shall be referred to by her first name due to uncertainty regarding usage of her last) and the lack of punishment for Bernini.[2]

Bernini, Portrait of Costanza Piccolomini, 1636-37

Bernini, Portrait of Costanza Piccolomini, 1636-37

Costanza was punished for going against contemporary morals—which in Baroque Rome and the Counter Reformation formed the basis of most laws. Seventeenth century Romans followed the concept of honestà, the idea that women were under the surveillance of the community. As a result, following Bernini’s attack, Costanza was incarcerated despite her husband’s (Matteo Bonucelli) seeming indifference toward her behavior. Costanza was likely reported for adultery or some form of impropriety by her neighbors, her surgeon following the attack, or any number of members of the community. She was confined within the Monasterio di Casa Pia, an institution for disgraced or at risk women. For adulterous women like Costanza, it was expected their husband would either excuse their infidelity within two years or abandon them to a nunnery. The Governatore of Rome, Giovanni Battista Spada, was responsible for the sentencing, a fact Costanza was not initially privy to. While she was eventually released to her husband following her personal plea to the Governatore, Costanza had already been subjected to four months of illness due to a lack of food and health care.[3]

It is telling that Costanza’s punishment was the result of a male government official’s disapproval, and that she had been shielded from such punishment for years by the very same affair she was now facing punishment for. It is a testament to Bernini’s pull within the Catholic Church as well as to the selective enforcement of such laws. Costanza and Bernini’s adulterous affair was publically known and possibly encouraged by her husband Matteo for the advancement of his own career (lending wives to a superior was not unheard of). Costanza was only punished once her adultery was no longer beneficial to Bernini. Continue reading

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Félicie de Fauveau’s Memorial to her Mother in the Cloister of Santa Maria del Carmine

Félicie de Fauveau's Memorial to her Mother in the Cloister of Santa Maria del Carmine

A week ago I visited Florence’s Santa Maria del Carmine to visit the beautiful Brancacci Chapel and was excited to see Félicie’s burial monument to her mother, Madame Anne De Fauveau. You can read more about the monument and its restoration here and read more about Félicie de Fauveau’s sculpture here.

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Women in Art: Félicie de Fauveau

A Tuscan-born artist who worked in both Florence and France, Félicie de Fauveau was a sculptor, political activist, and defier of early 19th century social norms. Following financial ruin, the Fauveau family left Tuscany and returned to France where Félicie was to become a high society sculptor. Under the court of the Bourbon Monarchy and, specifically, the salon of the Duchesse de Berry, Félicie was able to thrive in creating work with a neo-Gothic/neo-Renaissance type of style that frequently utilized Catholic iconography. Félicie was a staunch supporter of the Bourbon Monarchy, and was arrested as part of a royalist insurrection led by de Berry. Upon being released from prison in 1832 she entered a voluntary exile in Florence, remaining there for the rest of her life and creating sculpture in the troubadour style.

Félicie de Fauveau

Félicie de Fauveau

Félicie de Fauveau caught my eye in a handy book I picked up just a week ago, Art by Women in Florence: A Guide through Five Hundred Years. I would definitely recommend reading this. Costing €15 and worth every penny, the book includes images and concise explanations of the significance of the work and background on the artist. It’s small enough to carry around in a medium/small purse and includes a fold-out map showing the locations and titles of twenty notable pieces. I’ll definitely be using it throughout my stay in Florence. If you’d like to take a look or order a copy online, check it out here. I’ve also seen copies in various bookstores around the city, Paperback Exchange seems likely to have them (They also carry Invisible Women, which I’ve been eager to take a look at. Apparently another AWA piece).

One of the book’s entries is found in Santa Croce, a late 13th century Franciscan basilica (In which I give weekly tours through Ars et Fides, stop by and maybe I’ll be there to give you a free tour!). Santa Croce is a gorgeously austere Gothic structure and the largest Franciscan basilica in the world. It became Florence’s primary burial church in the 14th and 15th centuries, going through a redesign in the 16th that included the addition of monuments and tombs all along the walls as well as an unfortunate whitewashing of the frescoes in the nave. One of the monuments in the upper loggia of the cloister is de Fauveau’s Burial Monument for Louise Favreau, created in 1854. The piece was commissioned by Louise Favreau’s parents and was originally located inside the basilica in the Medici Chapel before being moved to the church’s subterranean former oratory della Compagnia della Maddalena. Unfortunately, de Fauveau’s monument was badly damaged by the 1966 flood of the Arno, which left Santa Croce sitting under 22 feet of water, mud, and debris.

Felicie de Fauveau, Burial Monument for Louis Favreau, 1854

Felicie de Fauveau, Burial Monument for Louis Favreau, 1854

The piece was cleaned after the flood, and finally placed in the cloister’s upper loggia where it now remains (Directly to the right of the exit from the basilica to the cloister, before you go down the stairs). De Fauveau’s work accumulated grime and became discolored over the next four decades, and has now been fully cleaned and restored by AWA (The Advancing Women Artists Foundation). AWA is the organization which created and published Art by Women in Florence, and is an American non-for-profit aiming to identify and restore works by women artists in Florence’s museum storage.

And this is a piece of incredible timing (For me at least!). AWA in collaboration with The Florentine (Florence’s English publishing house) and the Opera di Santa Croce (As well as with the patronage of the Comune di Firenze and the Polo Museale Fiorentino) will be hosting a lecture series titled, Félicie de Fauveau: the workshop of a French woman artist in nineteenth-century Florence. The series is free to attend and features several art historians discussing the influences upon de Fauveau’s work. I believe the series in only in Italian (Unfortunately for me), but it should still prove to be an interesting crowd and a great opportunity to check out the restored artwork.

For information on the event (And to see/download the event poster) check out the Florentine’s website.

Félicie de Fauveau: the workshop of a French woman artist in nineteenth-century Florence

Thursday, April 4, 2013  – 3.30pm-5.30pm – Santa Maria del Carmine’s Sala della Colonna
Friday, April 5, 2013  – 3.30pm-5.30pm – Santa Croce’s Sala della Colonna

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