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

Figure 15. Bernini, Design for a Mirror, 1670. Pen and wash over chalk. Source: Scanned from Zirpolo.[1]

Truth Unveiled by Time stands today as an eternal record of the bell tower affair and as the artist’s ultimate response to the calumnies he faced during that great upset in his career. While Bernini was not as blameless in the matter of the towers as his biographers would have us believe, there were nonetheless an undeniable number of personal and political motivations that factored into their failure, from the lofty ambitions of Urban VIII, to the antagonism of Borromini, to the personal jabs that undoubtedly influenced Innocent X’s decision to have the structures torn down.

As Bernini’s reputation recovered from the debacle and he began to receive papal commissions once more, he was unable to devote much time to finishing the sculpture although, as the earlier description from the Chantelou diary indicates, he still retained an interest in doing so even twenty years later. It is worth noting, however, that while the actual sculpture remains unfinished, the theme was one that Bernini would revisit repeatedly. For example, the Chantelou diary also records an instance in which the Bernini described another of his comedies to the King of France in which he relates the tale of an unfortunate character:

“In order to console him, one of his friends begs him to take courage, saying that the reign of calumny will not endure forever, and that Time will at last reveal Truth: to which the unhappy creature replied, “It is true that Time reveals Truth but he often doesn’t reveal it in time.”

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

The figure of Truth also appears in Bernini’s Tomb of Pope Alexander VII, albeit in a much more modest fashion than his sculpture. The figure of Time can be seen here here as well, his skeletal legs dangling over the door beneath the tomb. Time would also make an appearance in a now lost work commissioned by Bernini’s friend and patron Queen Christina of Sweden, the Mirror of Truth Revealed by Time. Surviving sketches show the figure of Father Time pulling back a drapery, much as he might have done had he been included in Bernini’s original sculpture. Here, however, it is the figure of Truth that is missing. She would have been replaced by the reflection in the mirror–none other than Christina herself.[1]

The theme of Truth Unveiled by Time is one that appears to have grown in importance to Bernini after the bell tower affair, in his work as well as his personal life.  Nowhere is this more apparent than in his will, in which he states that the statue is to remain in the house of his heirs in perpetuity, “‘because, looking at it, all of my descendants will be able to remember that the most beautiful virtue in the world is truth, and that it is necessary to operate with truth because, in the end, it is this that will be revealed by time’.”[2]

 



[1] For a more thorough analysis of this work and Queen Christina’s patronage of Bernini in general, see Lilian H. Zirpolo, “Christina of Sweden’s Patronage of Bernini: The Mirror of Truth Revealed by Time.” Women’s Art Journal. no. 1 (2005): 38-41.

[2] McPhee, Bernini and the Bell Towers, 172.