Letters and comments by Ernani Costantini on the Women of the Bible  
    Among the documents written about the pictorial cycle Women of the Bible left by Ernani, there are also some of his letters about the execution of his work and other subsequent commentary.
Various passages taken from a selection of interesting texts are included, which are particularly indicative of the artist’s complex approach to his painting, a product of his wide-ranging cultural experiences articulated and matured in conjunction with literary, pictorial, musical, and emotional associations, to create a compendium of multiform experiences, which, as Ernani himself wished, may lend itself to infinite interpretation.
From a letter to the critics Guido Perocco and Paolo Rizzi*        
    My dear gentlemen, I hope you will not be shocked that I am addressing this letter to both of you. As I had the same purpose, and needed to say the same things to both and considering our friendship, I thought that it would be acceptable to do so. […] Following several years of doubt and hesitation I have decided to tackle an artistic task of the stature of those typical of past times: a cycle of paintings (12 to be precise) on a single theme; like one great narrative […]
I am among the few people in the world who still paint in the belief that painting is still a means of telling stories which are comprehensible to all, in order to express feeling and thoughts, and to create poetry. […] They are inspired by characters from the Bible even though they are not intended for a church but only for display and to be “read” with the aid of the accompanying extracts taken from the Holy Scriptures. […]
It is the story of Salvation seen and interpreted from a personal viewpoint, through these figures of women whom God placed along the journey of mankind. Some of them have shaped history; all have shaped our conscience […].
drawing study of Delilah and Samson scene   Study of Delilah and Samson
    * Typewritten draft by E. Costantini, November 1984            
From two letters to Don Antonio Tarzia at the Pia Società San Paolo in Milan*        
sketcesh of Salome dancing
Preliminary sketches for the dance of Salome
  Now, after the completion of a long series of works for the churches of Venice and the Veneto, I have begun – in fact I am almost at the end of – a pictorial cycle which I had been pondering over for years. It is dedicated to “The women of the Bible from Eve to Mary” […] I have chosen twelve of them but there could have been fifty. I chose them for their congeniality or perhaps because they are the ones that over the long course of my reading appeared more alive before me, or because they had stuck in my memories […]. I don’t know. I should have drawn up a plan of work in accordance with my strength ( or should I say weakness?) […].

My paintings […] Despite being – I suppose – easily interpretable, are non merely illustrative. On the contrary ! The combination of inventions, colours, and rhythms tends to lead to a personal interpretation – both emotionally and symbolically – of the stories and characters in question. […] It is therefore a matter of a culmination of cultural experiences from different periods since the emotions resulting from the Bible readings are associated with literary memories […] from memories of the great pictorial tradition to “ethnic ”, geographical and even musical sensations. It is like a compendium of different kinds of experiences […] all in all a work which lends itself – I hope – to infinite interpretation […]
drawing sketch of the Delilah and Samson’s scene   Study of the composition of Delilah and Samson
drawing stdy of Herod’ guests
Study for Salome: the banquet guests

* Typewritten draft by E. Costantini, January and February 1985.
During that time Ernani Costantini had taken part in a collective exhibition held in Milan on the theme of Saint Paul in contemporary art with his Triptych of Charity

From a letter to Giorgio Segato *            
Composition framework of Bathsheba’s scene, drawing   This morning I traced onto thin paper some reproductions of my women with the intention of analysing their composite structure and rhythms. I must also thank you for this because your phrase “[…] the scene takes place in the late afternoon with a blurred atmosphere and theatrical gestures […]” regarding Rebecca, made me think of that musical rhythm “largo maestoso” which was going over in my mind as I composed the painting.
To move from that point to thinking about the geometric plan of the content and order which I always include in my preliminary studies for the decoration of churches and indeed for all my paintings including the biblical cycle was not hard. I started to check, to analyse what I had done and no longer remembered. Some concepts came to mind which I had mentioned during a series of conversations about drawing (and signs) many years ago, (part now of my indestructible cultural baggage ) about suggestions, the psychological impact of symbols on the observer: the peace, and the infinite sense of the horizontal; ascesis, the tension in the vertical; torment, the nightmare of broken lines, […] and so on. And I realised much to my amusement that almost without my knowledge these ideas are present in my paintings of the women […]”
  Composition framework of Judith’s scene, drawing   Two from the schemes drawn by the painter and mentioned in the letter to Giorgio Segato.
On th left Bathsheba, on the right Judith.
    * Typewritten draft by E. Costantini, April 1987            
From Why I painted “the women” *            
    […] if on one hand the theme reflects connotations of a distinctly Catholic extraction, the resulting work reveals certain aspects which may well cause some puzzlement […] in so far as, at first sight, viewed as a whole it may give the impression of a distinct laicism, or at least, of a subtle avoidance of religious significances present in the Book. This is not true. Because it is to those exact meanings that I intended to refer by painting these twelve pictures. Except that, as a result of my prolonged contact with this theme, I have been led to consider those women, real women in flesh and blood at last, as they were in reality, alive, rebounding out of the biblical narration […].
[…] I wanted therefore, as far as possible, to remove from them that burnt out halo of fake holiness in order to plunge them into their existential condition, their destiny, which was a spiritual destiny but also consisted of flesh and blood. Therefore to make them become, as far as was permitted me by the moral implications of the theme and my abilities as a painter, real living people, and not static figures frozen in a not always enlightened traditional iconography […].
[…] In almost a year of work, face to face with the large white surfaces of the canvases which were gradually filling up with shapes and colours, I received confirmation, for myself first and I hope also for those who will come across this work, the great gift that God granted to and for Adam, and to all of us in this great story of the Man whom He created “male and female“.
drawing study of Holophernes’ torso   Study for Judith: Olofernes
drawing study of the drapery of Judith’s scene   Study for Judith: drapery of Olofernes
    * Typewritten draft by E. Costantini, (notes for a conference?) October 1985            
  © Famiglia Costantini