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[Re]considering the male gaze in Italian Baroque sculpture

Alan Flurry

The Lamar Dodd School of Art directs us to this essay written by art history student Gabriela Diaz-Jones published in The Classic Journal, the Franklin College Writing intensive Program's journal of undergraduate writing and research, “Baroque Women in Marble as Intimate or Intricate.” Diaz-Jones explores the objectification of female sitters sculpted in marble during the Italian Baroque era, focusing on two busts, one by Gian Lorenzo Bernini and the other by Alessandro Algardi:

The two artworks are borne from nearly opposite contexts. Algardi created a poised, almost lifeless portrait, befitting of its likely funerary purpose. Bernini, on the other hand, carved a work that is stunningly intimate and energetic, gesturing to his secret sexual relationship with Costanza. Bernini’s invention of the “speaking likeness,” the concept of ownership regarding women’s jewelry and clothing during this period, sexual connotations of women’s hair, the myth and symbolism of Medusa, and the legacy of men’s signing images of women as assertions of ownership all come into play when examining and interrogating these works. The tenor of this paper will be that both busts, while they have entirely opposite approaches to depicting women (formal versus intimate, reserved versus dynamic) are still stunningly alike. In both artworks, male artists used sculpture to construct an idealized version of a woman, either moral or seductive. Ultimately both “constructions” are fictions, not reflective of reality but rather, reflections of the role they wanted these women to play (deceased wife of a patron, or lover.) Bernini and Algardi both brought marble to life in the quintessential Baroque style, but the “life” that they imbued into the rock was, without a doubt, not their subjects’ own.

Read the entire essay.

Image: Algardi, Alessandro. Bust of Maria Cerri Capranica, 1640, marble, 90 x 61.3 x 29.2 cm, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, California (Artstor, ITHAKA).

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