The Uffizi Gallery in Florence has made use of its unique collection to contextualize the portraits of people who have been subjected to horrific acid attacks that have often left them disfigured. The series of portraits, taken by the Italian photographer Ilaria Sagaria, portray women who have suffered facial injuries with their heads and faces bandaged up. The exhibition is running at the Uffizi alongside one of its Baroque masterpieces, a sculpture by Bernini, an artist who disfigured his own lover in a spite of jealous rage.
According to the gallery, the exhibition has been curated to attempt to show the full horror of this sort of violence, particularly insofar as it affects women. By using the work of one of the world’s greatest ever sculptors as a starting point, it is hoped that the issue will be seen in a longer historical context of facial violence towards women rather than being something that is simply a product of the modern era. After all, it was back in 1638 when Bernini, who had become jealous after discovering that his brother was conducting an affair with the noted beauty, Costanza Piccolomini Bonarelli, paid one of his servants to disfigure her. Perhaps indicative of male power at the time, Bernini was fined for the act while his former lover was shut away for months on end.
Eike Schmidt, the Uffizi Gallery’s director, said that he thought the idea of the exhibition would be to raise awareness about ethics. “We want to make all visitors who come [here]… in search of beauty aware that aesthetic beauty without ethical values is meaningless,” he said. Schmidt added that he hopes the temporary exhibition would mean the current ‘system’ changed. He said that the mentality some people have ‘all too easily makes excuses’ for the perpetrators of disfigurement crimes.
For her part, Sagaria said that she had been collating testimonies from women who were victims of their jealous partners and husbands as well as taking photos. She used those stories of real-life victims to then stage them in her portraits using bandaged models to represent them. She referred to the women in her art as having ‘non-faces’, ones that were covered with strips of white fabric or hidden by veils. Many of her portraits are notable for the simple backgrounds she has used in her compositions. Sagaria said there were certain commonalities in all the testimonies she gathered, something she has tried to put across in her portrait work.
About the author – Manuel Charr
Manuel Charr is a journalist working in the arts and cultural sectors. With a background in marketing, Manuel is drawn to arts organizations which are prepared to try inventive ways to reach new audiences.