In Praise of Power
- Bernini: His Life and His Rome by Franco Mormando
Chicago, 429 pp, £22.50, December 2011, ISBN 978 0 226 53852 5
Franco Mormando has a lot to tell us about Gian Lorenzo Bernini and the Rome of his day, but one lasting lesson is that just about everyone who knew him hated him. The harshest criticism came from his mother, who in 1638 wrote an exasperated letter to Pope Urban VIII’s nephew, Cardinal Francesco Barberini. Bernini had got into a murderous rage when he discovered that his lover Costanza Bonarelli had been having an affair with his brother Luigi. After chasing Luigi into St Peter’s and breaking a couple of his ribs, Bernini resumed the chase, sword in hand, to Santa Maria Maggiore, where Luigi found refuge. A henchman was dispatched to slash Costanza’s face. Mormando’s translation of the letter stiffens somewhat the heated formality of the Italian: ‘His sense of power, it seems, has today reached such a degree whereby he has no fear whatsoever of the law. Indeed, he goes about his affairs with an air of complete impunity, to the great sorrow of his mother and the marvel of all Rome.’
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[*] They posted these statements on Pasquino, the ‘speaking statue’, a torso of an ancient sculpture close to Piazza Navona, and still today the mouthpiece for anonymous political critiques and satires, called pasquinades, usually written in doggerel and appended to the statue.