Figure 1. Bernini, Truth Unveiled by Time, 1645. Marble. Source: Borghese Gallery.

Truth Unveiled: Bernini’s Bell Towers and the Allegory of Truth: Introduction
–Chelsea Neal

Truth Unveiled by Time has long been revered as one of Gianlorenzo Bernini’s most introspective and personal works (Fig. 1). Certainly it stands out as one of the most autobiographical. The sculpture depicts the personification of Truth as a voluptuous female figure seated on a rocky outcrop. Her left hand is raised in a gesture of astonishment while in her right she holds up the image of the sun. One of her feet rests on the globe of the earth as she leans back against a beautifully rendered drape, joyfully gazing towards the unseen force that is lifting the cloth away from her body. Had the sculpture been finished, Truth’s ecstatic expression would have been directed towards the winged personification of Father Time. This second figure was unfortunately never carved; however, one can get an idea of Bernini’s original intent from a surviving preparatory sketch  depicting the artist’s original concept. In this image Father Time, identified by scythe that stands as a symbol of his destructive qualities, pulls aside a piece of drapery to reveal Truth, more helpless here than in the final work (Fig. 2).

Figure 2. Bernini, Sketch of Truth Unveiled by Time, 17th century. Chalk on Paper. Source: ARTstor

 

 

An account written by the French collector Paul Fréart Chantelou also describes in detail what the artist had in mind for the finished ensemble, and his writing stands as evidence that Bernini still intended to finish the work as late as 1665:

…his idea is to represent Time bearing Truth aloft, and to show by the same means the effects of time which in the end ruins or consumes everything; for in the model he had made columns, obelisks, and tombs which appear to be overturned and destroyed by Time…[1]

 

The sculpture was begun in the wake of the infamous bell tower fiasco at St. Peter’s Basilica and has most often been interpreted as Bernini’s response to the accusations of inexperience, arrogance, and ambition brought on by those who held him solely responsible for it. Indeed, the situation was far more complex than any of Bernini’s critics cared to admit, and in reality the failure of the towers appears to have been driven largely by Vatican politics and the interference of Bernini’s rivals rather than hubris of one man.

This section will consider Truth Unveiled by Time in relation to the various political factors that contributed to the failure of the towers, among them the machinations of an ambitious patron, Innocent X’s new regime, and the interference of Bernini’s rivals. The purpose of this is not to exonerate Bernini of any guilt in the matter of the towers, but rather to draw attention to rivalries and biases that came into play during one of the most trying periods in the artist’s entire career.

 

 


[1] Paul Fréart de Chantelou, Diary of the Cavaliere Bernini’s Visit to France. Trans. Margery Corbett. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985), 171.