Artworks
Truth Unveiled by Time

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Bernini created Truth Unveiled by Time as a form of self-care.

The 1640s were rough for our favorite Italian Baroque sculptor. Pope Urban VIII had assigned Bernini as the head architect for the St. Peters’ towers. Bernini’s towers displayed cracks due to faulty foundations built decades earlier, and Urban ordered the towers destroyed. Like any successful artist, Bernini had enemies and his enemies wasted no time destroying his reputation by sensationalizing the event to the public. Bernini was left humiliated, but not hopeless. He began Truth Unveiled by Time to console himself, firmly believing he would one day be rightfully vindicated.

The incomplete Truth Unveiled by Time is baffling at first glance since it’s missing an entire character in its allegory. The naked figure of Truth was supposed to be accompanied by a scythe-wielding Father Time suspended in mid-air by broken columns, but instead the sculpture ended up being a lone Truth watching her drapery fly toward the heavens. Bernini never began construction of Father Time, probably because he had regained public favor before having the chance to, but he hadn’t completely abandoned the project in his head. He still expressed a desire to complete it as late as 1665 and even left the sculpture in his will to the Bernini family as a reminder to future generations that, “truth is the most beautiful virtue in the world inasmuch as it is revealed by time.”

Truth may have been beautiful in Bernini’s eyes, but his sculpture of Truth was the first instance in which Bernini turned his back on classical ideals of female beauty in his work. By 17th-century standards our girl Truth had elongated legs, bulging eyes, an oversized nose, and a manly chin. It’s possible these characteristics were inspired by Bernini’s devoted patron Queen Christina of Sweden. Another “unattractive” quality of were her spread-open legs, which in traditional iconography meant the communication of sexual messages to the viewer. Add that to the fact that the sensually fleshy Truth looks a little too delighted to have her clothing stripped off, plus Father Time looking extremely predatory in Bernini’s preliminary sketch, and suddenly this sculpture doesn’t seem so family-friendly anymore. These subtle suggestive details indicate Truth Unveiled by Time could also be an example of immoral male voyeuristic desires in the style of stories like Susanna and the Elders and Diana at her bath.

Despite being unfinished and weirdly sexual, Truth Unveiled By Time was well-liked enough for a popular saying to be going around claiming “truth could only be found in Bernini’s house.” But not everybody liked the statue. Bernini attempted to gift the sculpture to a French minister in return for his good will, but was rejected for being too obvious in wanting political protection and for not deciding to move to Paris upon the minister's invitation. Well, you can’t win them all, and that’s the truth, Ruth.

Sources

Sources

  1. Franco Mormando, Domenico Bernini: The Life of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, (University Park: Penn State University Press, 2011), 139, 154-155.
  2. Robert Wallace, The World of Bernini (New York: Time Life Books, 1970), 86.
  3. Francisco Mormando, Bernini; His Life in Rome (Chicago:University of Chicago Press, 2011), 156, 158, 224.
  4. Rudolf Wittkower, Bernini: The Sculptor of the Roman Baroque (London: Phaidon Press, 1997), 185, 193.

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Here is what Wikipedia says about Truth Unveiled by Time (Bernini)

Truth Unveiled by Time is a marble sculpture by Italian artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Executed between 1646 and 1652, Bernini intended to show Truth allegorically as a naked young woman being unveiled by a figure of Time above her, but the figure of Time was never executed. Bernini still expressed a wish to add the figure as late as 1665.

Bernini's rationale for creating the work was, according to his son Domenico, as a sculptural retort to attacks from opponents criticising his failed project to build two towers onto the front of St. Peter's Basilica. Cracks had appeared in the facade due to the inability of the foundations to support the towers and Bernini's architectural expansion received the blame, although historians are unsure as to the validity of this legend.

Bernini began the preparatory work for Truth Unveiled by Time in 1645, during the critical period after the death of his main patron pope Urban VIII, and the figure of Truth was largely complete by 1652. Despite never completing the figure of Time, Bernini left the sculpture in his will in perpetuity to the first-born of the Bernini family; although in fact Bernini tried to sell the work to Cardinal Mazarin of France. It remained in the family (displayed on a tilted stucco block during the 19th century) until 1924, when it was purchased by the Italian government and transferred to its current home on a plinth in room VIII of the Galleria Borghese. Its plinth there was originally tilted but it is now on a flat plinth after a recent restoration, leaving Truth more upright as it was originally displayed.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about Truth Unveiled by Time (Bernini).