Love triangles and promiscuity seldom flourished so exquisitely than at the Papal Court in Rome up to about 3-400 years ago. As some “The Borgias” fans might’ve already noticed, Vatican city was quite a den of lavish sins back in the days of Michelangelo and didn’t stop being one until long after Bernini’s days, which is why the following episode of his life should not come as a surprise.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the preeminent protege of the Popes Urban VIII and Alexander VII, like all reputed artists, had some apprentices to do his less important commissions in exchange for advice and guidance. And these anonymous apprentices, emphasizing one in particular, had wives. Female presences to whose charms the great sculptor could not frequently resist.

One such ravishing woman by law reserved for a single husband, was Constanza Piccolomini Bonarelli, spouse of Matteo Bonarelli and licentious lover of Bernini.

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So much was he enamored with her that, to fully convey his passionate sentiments, Gian Lorenzo produces the above bust, a Constanza he could caress in marble, the immortal, unwithering variant of his beloved. It was the zenith of their affection.

And soon they’d reach their nadir… one terrible way too.

Since Constanza was unfaithful to her hubby, cheating came natural to her and not long after her storming affair with Bernini commenced, she found herself involved with a second paramour, none other than Gian Lorenzo’s younger brother, Luigi.

Alas, a naturally suspicious Bernini soon felt her betrayal and thought a most basic scheme to catch the two in flagrant delicto: he simply announced his going to the countryside to tend to some business, insidiously expecting the couple to make a wrong move… which didn’t let itself waited.

Luigi, unconscious of any danger, immediately visited a lonely Constanza yearning for consolation to be “welcomed” by a furious Bernini who almost beat him to death.

Amusingly (or tragically, depending on your point of view), this telenovela-like story didn’t stop here, but to continue it and learn the climax of the whole affair, I recommend the following documentary:

Lunardi’s flying Folly

October 10, 2012

Shallow as it may sound, the ‘beauty comes first’ criteria to which my visual senses respond made me stop at this man’s intriguing story only after dropping an eye on  his rather handsome portrait preceding it. One inexorably desires more information about charming characters; it tends to enhance their attractiveness and draw them to spheres of humanity easier to empathize with, still stressing the physical gorgeousness first to catch one’s attention. But I’m missing the point (thing I’m terribly good at).

The lad depicted above, a very flamboyant Italian named Vincenzo Lunardi,  makes this very October 225 years since he first flew over Edinburgh in a hydrogen-filled balloon, stunning the curious mob gathered on the grounds of George Heriot’s School to watch the big event which The Scots Magazine  later described with appreciatory words:

‘The beauty and grandeur of the spectacle could only be exceeded by the cool, intrepid manner in which the adventurer conducted himself; and indeed he seemed infinitely more at ease than the greater part of his spectators.’

A day to remember, really.

But the charismatic Vincezo had orchestrated numerous such occasions to leave his contemporaries in utter awe long before that October 1785 and could, at the mere age of 26, boast with the several aeronautic adventures alongside the famous James Tytler, whom he had met around the 1780’s during a diplomatic voyage. Because yes, the courageous Lunardi started up as a minor Neapolitan nobleman engaged in diplomatic missions to France and, elected Secretary to Prince Caramanico (a well respected Ambassador), to England. Let us not forget envoys in the Revolutionary epoch were people characterized by the most acute sense of action, having traveled enough to discover different habits and mentalities. Not to mention their varied education. In all sort of ways.

In London, Lunardi’s appetite for fame and the dandy allure so appealing to the English public facilitated his ascension as a ‘Daredevil Aeronaut’, the first to successfully experience the perilous balloon flight after de Morel’s failure in a time when the conquest of air was a hot topic. The novelty was there, waiting for a valiant one to affirm it, and the world stared impatiently. Easy times to become hero for audacious hearts.

So, eager to conquer a certain prestige, Vincenzo, native showman, immediately planned an ascension with a balloon designed by his partner, George Biggin, over the 200,000 heads of riveted Londoners among whom stood aristocratic figures such as the Prince of Wales. To make thing even more peculiar, Lunardi decided to give a cat, a dog and a pigeon the honor of traveling alongside himself, although with the cat’s airsickness one could contest it was indeed a good idea.

Setting off from the Artillery Ground to a northerly direction towards Hertfordshire, without poor Biggin, he eventually put the balloon to rest in Standon Green End which, to this day, bears the name of ‘Balloon Corner’ to commemorate the historical event.

This first balloon flight in Great Britain turned Lunardi into the hero of the hour, his main desire, and brought him before the ‘Mad King’ George III.

“At his command, a monument was erected on the spot where Lunardi landed for the second time; its popular name is Long Mead, and it is still there. Lunardi went on to build larger and better balloons and ascended once more from Moorfields. On this occasion his balloon was decorated with a huge Union Jack, in which manner he ‘wished to express his respects and devotion to everything which the word ‘British’ stands for’. His faithful friend Biggin and a Mrs Letitia Sage, an actress, were to have accompanied him on this trip, but once more the lifting capacity of the balloon was poor, so Lunardi started alone on 13 May 1785. Soon afterwards he had to come down again, near Tottenham Court Road, because the envelope turned out to be leaking. The well-tried patience of Biggin was finally rewarded later that year when, on 29 June, he was able to ascend himself, accompanied by Mrs Sage.’

”This trip lasted an hour and had the distinction of being the first time ‘a British female air travelers’ had gone aloft. This was the term by which Mrs Sage henceforth liked to be described. She was a beautiful lady, but from a ballooning point of view she unfortunately tipped the scales at 2001b. Lunardi made several more balloon ascents in Great Britain during 1785, but in August 1786 one of his young assistants lost his life in a tragic accident. During the preparations for an ascent at Newcastle upon Tyne, Ralph Heron was pulled aloft as one arm got entangled in the anchor rope when the balloon took off prematurely. The rope broke and the hapless youngster plunged to his death. Lunardi was not to blame, yet, after the incident, everywhere he went in Great Britain he was now persecuted as intensely as he had previously been acclaimed. He left the country for good, but continued his balloon ascents in Italy, Spain and Portugal. His health later failed, and he died in Portugal on 31 July 1806.”

I think him quite a curious human specimen. And Sir Laurence Olivier thought him so too when playing Lunardi in the 1936 film ‘Conquest of the Air’.

Any other opinions?

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