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Nov 16, 2014

When Bernini worked for free.

Almost 25 years after the famous Ecstasy of Saint Theresa, Bernini dealt with a similar subject for the Cardinal Paluzzo Paluzzi degli Albertoni who wished to commemorate his great great grandmother Ludovica, beatified in 1671, 138 years after her death (the cause for canonization still pending).

Ludovica was a noble woman who, resigned to her parents' wish, married the wealthy and noble Giacomo della Cetera. They lived in Trastevere and raised three daughters together.  When she remained widow at the age of 33, she decided to enter the tertiary order of the Franciscans at the Church of San Francesco a Ripa, devoting herself to the care of sick and poor, in a very difficult period, during the Sack of Rome (1527) and the bubonic plague (1528). Died at the age of 60 she was immensely popular.  She was known for her religious ecstasies, including levitation, several miracles were attributed to her.  Buried in the family chapel in San Francesco a Ripa, her tomb soon became a venerated site of pilgrimage.

The cardinal Paluzzo descendant of the 'saint' was the most powerful man in the Curia.  His nephew had married the niece of the pope.
The pope Clement X Altieri was aged and weak: he soon adopted Paluzzi as his nephew. No wonder the powerful cardinal, the right-hand man of the pope, chose the greatest artist of the time for a monument celebrating his venerated ancestor.

Bernini presumably sculpted the statue almost for free: surprising considering who the sponsor was. The artist was a smart 'businessman' well aware of his talent.

In 1959 a scandal related to the project was discovered by Valentino Martinelli.  The incident was reconstructed investigating in the Vatican archives. 

In 1670 Bernini's brother and assistant Luigi fled to Naples. Guilty of raping a young boy in the vicinity of the statue of Constantine, in St. Peter's.
The news spread, money was offered to the boy's family while the queen Christine of Sweden, friend of Bernini, tried to intercede with the pope.

The people of Rome could not forgive: the artist was blamed also for the tremendous amount of money made at the papal court.
He was in his seventies, old, ill and frail, committed also to other projects.  He proceeded slowlier than usual.  The statue was completed in 2 years (1674), sculpted by him and not by pupils. 

In the Holy Year of 1675 his brother was supposedly released from exile. 

The scandal is not mentioned by Bernini's biographers although probably the artist worked for no compensation in reparation for his brother's crime.
The episode sheds a different light on Bernini:  a more humanized artist who cared deeply for his family and that facing frustration and humiliation carved his masterpiece as an act of love. A commitment that must have been unprecedented.

References:  Bernini and the Idealization of Death: The Blessed Ludovica Albertoni and the Altieri Chapel. Perlove, Shelley Karen (1990). The Pennsylvania State University Press.


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