The King’s Crooked Nose


“Is my nose crooked?” Louis XIV asked his brother, Duke of Orleans, during a sitting session with Bernini. Bernini of course was known to say that if we dump a sack of flour over our own mother, she will become unrecognizable to us. This statement was to illustrate the idea that no matter how accurately we measure, the portrait in marble has to capture something else to be convincing. This something else Bernini was trying to grasp while the king was playing tennis. During the sitting sessions the genius of baroque preferred to carve directly. He never touched the block with the chisel, the marble being of a rather mediocre quality and too fragile; besides this way it all looked more theatrical and took longer, and everyone in Paris had a chance to come see him work, the show making a big part of baroque. Finally, on 5 October 1665, when all the courtiers gathered around the king, Bernini finished the bust. Guess what he did? The pupils! The moment he incised them, the marble came alive. As for the nose, oh well, I let my reader be the judge.

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