A woman with hair still messy from sleep, shirt still unbuttoned from a night of passion, pronounces the first words of the day. She is Costanza Bonarelli, lover of Gian Lorenzo Bernini and wife of one of the master artist’s students. In 1630s Rome the sculptor was in the prime of his production, and this work is part of the series “speaking likenesses”: the subjects are portrayed with lips parted, caught mid-sentence, creating a natural, spontaneous effect. 

The story of Costanza is one of profound jealousy that ends with the woman betraying Gian Lorenzo with his brother, Luigi Bernini, and the artist ordering for her to be disfigured as punishment. The portrait of Bonarelli is the only one that captures the likeness of a common person, of whom the maestro was so enamored that he chose to sculpt in precious Carrara marble. 

Image courtesy of sailko via Wikimedia Commons