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Bernini Gian Lorenzo

(Naples 1598 - Rome 1680)

This Truth was executed by the artist for himself in a difficult period of his career, which culminated in the demolition of one of the belltowers he had designed for St Peter’s Basilica and the election of Innocent X to the papal throne in 1644, who preferred Francesco Borromini to him as lead architect. Depicted as a naked, smiling girl, Truth sits on a large rock holding the sun in her right hand and resting her left leg on the Earth, in line with an iconography that Cesare Ripa had already established in his famous Iconologia (1600).

The work was meant to form part of a sculpture group representing the allegory of Truth Revealed by Time, which was never finished. When the artist died, the large block of marble intended for the execution of Time in flight, the revealer of Truth, was sold by his heirs.

Numerous autograph drawings for the sculptural group are known. In the figure of Truth one can recognize similarities with the unfinished Allegory of Virtue by Correggio (Antonio Allegri), held at the Galleria Doria Pamphilj in Rome.

Object details

Carrara marble
height cm 280

Gian Lorenzo Bernini, 1646; subsequently Bernini’s heirs; Galleria Borghese storerooms, 1924; purchased by Italian state, 1958.

  • 1998 - Roma, Galleria Borghese
  • 2008 - Roma, Galleria Borghese
  • 2017-2018 - Roma, Galleria Borghese
Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1997 - ABACUS s.n.c. di Naldoni N. e Tautschnig G.
  • 1997 - "Il Cenacolo" s.r.l. (diagnostics)


When he sculpted this Truth between 1646 and 1652, Gian Lorenzo Bernini was experiencing a difficult period of his career. Pope Urban VIII had entrusted him with a difficult technical and structural challenge, namely to finish the two bell towers on the sides of St Peter’s Basilica, which Carlo Maderno had begun. Bernini’s project did not meet with success, with the result that the pope ordered the first of the two towers to be disassembled. Later, Innocent X, who came to the papal throne in 1644, not only shelved the project for good but engaged Francesco Borromini to replace Bernini as lead architect.

The sculpture group of Truth Revealed by Time, then, was intended to signify Bernini’s comeback in light of the affronts he received and the tarnishing of his reputation. The second figure meant to complete the group was never realised. After only two years, Bernini was once again in the good graces of the Curia; overwhelmed with commissions, he was not able to continue the work. Upon his death, the great block of marble purchased to sculpt the figure of Time was sold by his heirs. Regarding the completed statue of Truth, Bernini created a fideicommissum stipulating that the work would be passed down to his firstborn male heirs, who were not permitted to sell it.

The sculpture thus came to signify personal redemption and hope for the future rehabilitation of Bernini’s standing. Indeed, the sculptor wished it to become a symbol for the moral guidance of his descendants: time eventually brings justice for past wrongs. Initially conserved at the family residence in Via della Mercede, it was transferred to that in Via del Corso in 1858. Here it remained until 1924, when Bernini’s heirs had it placed in the care of the Galleria Borghese, which purchased the work in 1957 (Bernardini 2015, pp. 35-6).

Naked and wearing a smiling expression, the girl sits on a large rock; a drape covers her genitalia while protecting her body from direct contact with the stone. Her pose is both gracious and dynamic, with her open gaze directed upwards. In her right hand she holds a solar disk with a human face, symbol of the power of truth to shed light on things. Her left leg rests on the Earth, in accordance with the well-known iconography canonised by Cesare Ripa’s Iconologia (1603). The personification of Time was intended to be suspended in the air, supported by the ruins of columns, obelisks and mausoleums, in allusion to the ephemerality of earthly objects and to the definition of her role as discoverer of truth.

The skin of Truth was smoothed and polished with abrasive materials on nearly the entire surface to create the impression that she herself emitted light. Restoration operations conducted in 1997 revealed substantial traces of charcoal pencil drawn by Bernini directly on the stone to indicate the paths to be followed with the chisel (Herrmann Fiore, in Gian Lorenzo Bernini, 1999, p. 30). Traces of the tools used by the artist remain on parts of the sculpture with different degrees of completion, such as the drape, the rock and the globe.

A number of autograph drawings relative to the sculpture group are known (held at the Museum der Bildende Künste in Leipzig and the Louvre in Paris), which attest to different phases of the project. The studies show that both the inclination of the figure of Truth and the surface on which she sits were changed and that Bernini had considered incorporating a larger globe. In addition, the drawings reveal the contours of Time, bearded and holding a sickle. Several terracotta models of the work are likewise extant, some of which have been attributed to Bernini (Russo, in Bernini in Vaticano, 1981, pp. 121-2).

Critics have seen similarities between the figure of Truth and the unfinished Allegory of Virtue by Correggio (Antonio Allegri), held today at the Galleria Doria Pamphilj in Rome (De Marchi, in Correggio e l'antico, 2008, pp. 126-129).

Sonja Felici

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