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

Figure 5. Annibale Carracci, Allegory of Truth and Time, 1585. Oil on Canvas. Source: Royal Collection

The theme of truth revealed by time has a long-standing tradition in the history of Western art. Depictions of this motif will typically portray the personification of Father Time as winged old man who, in some fashion or another, supports the young and idealized allegory of Truth. Such is the case with Annibale Carracci’s Allegory of Truth and Time in which the artist illustrates the figure of Time rescuing Truth from a nearby well (Fig. 5). Together the victorious pair tramples the two-faced figure of deceit. They are cheered on by the personifications of Bonus Eventus, or the Happy Ending, and Felicity, who are situated on the right and left sides of the canvas respectively.[1]


Figure 6. Rubens, Triumph of Truth, 1622. Oil on Canvas. Source: ARTstor

While Carracci’s portrayal of the motif is moralizing in nature, it should come as no surprise that these images often have a strong political bent to them as well. Certainly this was the case with Peter Paul Rubens’ Triumph of Truth, the final and arguably most ambitious painting in his Marie de’ Medici cycle (Fig. 6). Rubens’ painting depicts Father Time, an elderly individual mildly reminiscent of Caravaggio’s St. Jerome, holding the personification of Truth aloft. She hangs from his arm as an extremely passive figure, almost as though she is unable to hold herself up without Time’s support. Truth gestures up towards the figure of Marie de’ Medici who is seen contentedly accepting a wreath that contains the devices of the heart and clasped hands—“symbols of love and concord”—from her son Louis XIII.[2] Father Time’s revelation of Truth has, at least in the image, allowed for a long overdue understanding and reconciliation between mother and son, the division between them having led to Marie’s exile several years prior.

Used in this fashion, the allegory of Truth and Time becomes an opportunity for those who perceive themselves as the wronged party to tell their side of the story. Given the events surrounding the inception of Bernini’s sculpture it seems more than likely that this was also the spirit in which his work was intended. What separates Bernini’s Truth from countless other depictions of the subject, however, is that it was not created on commission but rather it was executed by Bernini for Bernini in what Schama refers to as an act of “bitter self-vindication.”[3]

Exoneration was certainly something that would have been on the artists’ mind at this low point in his career, and clearly Truth is a response to the bell tower fiasco in some form or another, but in what respect exactly? In light of the the damage done to Bernini’s reputation by those who judged him to be solely responsible for the fiasco, it seems a credible interpretation to consider Truth Unveiled Time as Bernini’s response to those charges—his way of stating that were others individuals just as culpable as he was in the failure of the towers, if not more so.  This is not to say that the artist was attempting to pass blame off onto other individuals, but merely to point out the court politics and personal grudges that undoubtedly played a role in the affair. These events were hardly one-sided, nor were they entirely unmotivated, but their existence cannot be denied.  In order to better understand this, the following sections will focus on the key players in this drama and examine their role in bringing about Bernini’s downfall.

[1] The Royal Collection, “Annibale Carracci (1560-1609): An Allegory of Truth and Time.” (Accessed April 2, 2013). .
[2] Zirpolo, Lilian H. “Christina of Sweden’s Patronage of Bernini: The Mirror of Truth Revealed by Time.” Women’s Art Journal. no. 1 (2005): 38-41.
[3] Schama, The Power of Art, 110.