From Eve to Mary: the Women of the Bible  
drawing study of the Angel as appearing to Hagar   Studiy for the angel of Hagar
drawing study of the drapery of Bathsheba   Study of drapery for Bathsheba
drawing studies of Bathsheba body and feet   Study for Bathsheba
Pictorial Cycle by Ernani Costantini  
drawing study of hagar and the angel
Composition study for Hagar
  During 1984 Ernani Costantini completed the pictorial cycle called From Eve to Mary – The Women of the Bible – consisting of twelve large canvases, all two metres tall, but with different sized bases, measuring either one, two or three metres.
The twelve female figures were chosen by the painter, from among the many women of the Bible, “ … By allowing himself to be guided by the suggestions of the Scriptures, and by the capacity of the narrative events to evoke in his mind images, vivid atmospheres, new evaluations, and also personal re-interpretations, on the one hand as an undertaking to re-read the texts, on the other hand as another expression of their communicative and narrative tension, while exploring a territory where almost all connotations are of a moral nature…”(1)
The practical process of producing of the canvases was the result of years of reading, reflection, and practice, which gradually led the painter to express, using his now mature artistic technique, a complex narrative rich in artistic references not only biblical but also based on a rich culture, assimilated over a lifetime of the detailed interpretation of poetic and literary texts and pictorial works.
“The cycle of women from the Bible ran parallel with Costantini's work as a creator of large wall paintings , especially in churches. In this new undertaking … Ernani cultivated and nurtured his narrative vein and his ability to synthises using large clear pictorial gestures, spacious, clearly visible and comprehensible from a distance, marked, underlined, loaded with masterfully enlightened atmospheric vibrations, syncopated and modulated as a token of emotional and moral comprehension and participation.” (2)
    The twelve women are:            
Eve’s head, painting detail     Hagar’s head, painting detail     Rebekah’s head, painting detail     Potiphr’s Wife’s head, painting detail     Delilah’s head, painting detail     Bathsheba’s head, painting detail  
… very modern, hair toufled … she is the first woman…
… masterpiece of the visible creation
… the Egyptian, mother of Ishmail...
… Abraham’s servant …
… in her modesty, as evening approaches, she covers her face from Isaac’s view.
  Potiphar's Wife
… woman without a name, seductress of Joseph, who resists her advances.
… the deceitful one, in a greenish dusky light.
… statuesque figure object of David’s desire …
Judith’s head, painting detail     Shulamit’s head, painting detail     Susannah’s head, painting detail     Salome’s head, painting detail     Mary of Magdala’s head, painting detail     Mary of Nazaret and th Child’s heads, painting detail  
… faithful to the law of Moses, victorious over Holofernes.
… the bride of the Song of Songs, she sleeps while her beloved one spies from the window …
… symbol of virtue who resists violence, to reveal the malice of he who observes her in secret …
… she dances in a dark and somber place, while Herodias places the head of John the Baptist on a tray.
  Mary of Magdala
… penitent, she emerges from the shadows and renounces her earthly goods, broken at her feet.
  Mary of Nazareth
… mother of Christ, young woman and emblem of all motherhood.

drawing study of the drapery of Hagar
Study for Hagar: drapery
  “Costantini strips these twelve female figures of that aura which is a mix of the mythical and the sacred in which history has cloaked them and returns them to us in their human form which remains unchanged through time. Twelve characters, twelve different situations, one common denominator: the 'female dimension' … The artist once again succeeds in his miraculous feat of speaking to us in a universal language…”.(4)
“The pictorial achievement is one of rare consistency and expertise in composing the twelve imposing paintings, with a concentrated effort comparable to that of the great painters of ancient times with the huge areas of the 'canvases' and the task of communicating through painting, to a community which was attentive and spiritually ready to grasp it, the analogical meaning between the image and the literary text… Costantini's bold attempt overcomes every hesitiation and returns to the origins of this discourse”.(5)
Its completion after years of carefully pondered readings and human and artistic reflection, was preceded by numerous studies which were brought together in a sizeable collection of sketches with varying dimensions and graphic techniques, splendid notes of a personal creative process, rich and original, signs of great expertise and technical prowess. Sanguine or charcoal, pastels, black and white chalk, graphite, India ink and mixed-media, on paper of different colours and various textures, deftly outline the images of figures and objects, of faces, of general and detailed scenes, with these details expertly brought together in the great scenes of the final creation on the huge oil painted canvases. The influence of the sketches on the finished version of the work is of such importance that Ernani always accompanied the twelve canvases with a selection of studies presented in their own introductory section of the exhibition itinerary.
drawing studies of camels and of Rebekah’s scene
Preliminary sketches for Rebekah
drawing study of the drapery of Abraham’s Servant, kaftan   Study for Rebekah: Abraham’s servant
drawing study of the drapery of Isaac, large sleeve   Study for Rebekah: Isaac’s sleeve
Preliminary studies for the scene of Rebekah
  drawing studies of camels  
    Completed between the end of 1984 and the first few months of 1985, the twelve canvases were exhibited to the public for the first time in Venice, at the Scuola Grande di San Giovanni Evangelista from February 21st until March 15th 1987.
Later that same year they were exhibited at the Sala della Gran Guardia in Padua from 13th to 31st December 1987.
The following year they arrived in Verona where they were exhibited at the Palazzo della Gran Guardia from 5th to 20th March 1988.
On all these occasions the exhibition was accompanied by events and debates on the subject of women, with the participation of Tina Anselmi, Gigliola Cinquetti, Milena Milani, Claudia Mori, Elisa Tonello, Amelia Casadei, Aloisa Dal Bò, Rossella Palopoli Bontempi, Elena Tuccio, with Antonio Bruni and Giorgio Saviane acting as moderators.
Subsquently the canvases were exhibited at the Oratorio della Croce, Cervarese (Padua) in July and August 1988.
The last time they were displayed in public was the exhibition held at the Carlo dalla Zorza hall in the Carmini Art School in Venice (now the M. Guggenheim Atrs High School) from the 26th September to the 11th of October 2002.
A book was published about the Cycle, with reproductions of the twelve paintings with a prologue including accompanying analytical texts by Pietro Nonis, Giorgio Segato, Giorgio Saviane, Luigina Bortolatto, Sergia Jessi Ferro and Guido Perocco, embellished with poems by Antonio Bruni and passages from the Bible (edited by Multi Media Veneto MMV – Padua– 1987).
The wealth of copy written by critics in response to the cycle of paintings ‘From Eve to Mary’, in newspapers and magazines, included articles by: Paolo Rizzi, Piero Zanotto, Marco Goldin, Alberto di Graci, Giulio Gasparotti, Milena Milani, Enrico Tantucci, Luigi Monti, Enzo Di Martino among others.
Some television reports were also broadcast about the cycle.
In 1997 a full-length documentary was produced by the painter himself and presented to the public at cultural evenings, in answer to some enquiries he had received and provided background information about the inspiration and reflections which motivated him to begin the project.
interior of the hall with Susanna, Salome and Mary
interior of the hall with Shulammite, Potiphar’s Wife and Judith
interior of the hall with Hagar, Rebekah and Judith
Above: the exhibition at the Scuola Grande di San Giovanni Evangelista in Venice.
Study for Salome at Herod’s banquet
  sketch of Salome dancing and Herod’s banquet  
interior of the hall with Magdalene e Rebekah
interior of the hall with Shulammite, Delilah and Mary
Above: the exhibition at Sala della Gran Guardia in Padua.

(1)^ (2)^ Segato, Giorgio, Il ciclo Biblico di Ernani Costantini [The Biblical Cycle by Ernani Costantini], in Da Eva a Maria [From Eve to Mary], MMV, Padua, 1987

(3)^ The short phrases introducing the women are freely adapted from the critiques written by various Authors published in From Eve to Mary op.cit.

(4)^ Jessi Ferro, Sergia, Un messaggio spirituale ed estetico [A spiritual and aesthetic message] , in Da Eva a Maria op.cit.

(5)^ Perocco, Guido, Al di là della figurazione [Beyond Representation], in Da Eva a Maria op.cit.
  © Famiglia Costantini