top of page

The Mariella System

Francesca Pasini


Why are the eyes cut? What’s this grazing light? Where does it start, the next era?

Questions passing from one woman to another. And then they end up in a wood.

It sounds like the plot of a thriller. Instead it is the Mariella System, where everything is needed: needle, thread, paint, photography, transparent paper. Everything is design. Everything is light.

She is a narrator of the next era, which Anna Maria Ortese taught her to look for.

By looking at the women of Leonardo, Raphael, Caravaggio, she decides. 

“I cut their eyes and double them; thus, I add an era. Mine? As a child I wanted to paint and I did, alone, with stubbornness. My mom used to say: do what you want, but be enough for yourself, only in this way will you be free”.


In ‘Dama con ermellino’, in ‘Fornarina’, in ‘Giuditta’, she saw a glance that she wanted for herself. She doubled their eyes, and they were hers too. 

“Mine as well?”


For a year I have scrutinized the feather-boxes, the glass dresses, the embroidery, the actual paintings, the photographs, the books, the countless drawings. They breathe fast: they are engraved, complete, but at the same time they seem about to leave. And the set, doubled eyes, what are they looking at?

“The next era”, Mariella says. 

‘Next’ because it happens in every woman’s eyes. The Mariella System is directed at women and it’s aimed at mixing what one experiences and what one understands, however never completely. This is why it is called an enigma. The eyes, which Mariella gave to the most famous women in the art world, do not increase the enigma. Indeed, they warn that it is finished. Words and images are no longer signed by neutral/male creators, but by women or men.

Leonardo, Raphael, Caravaggio translated their relationship with women into the enigma of divine beauty. While Mariella, with a precise, non-violent cut, introduces an earthly woman.

For hundreds of years brilliant artists have been hiding her, through the spirituality of the pictorial body. But they knew, and they left traces.

The doubled eyes, set in history, from the Mariella System, invite you to discover those traces.


Raphael has given Fornarina a slight squint, with which he captures the flash of her eyes looking at his, and at the same time those of Raphael staring at Fornarina.

The doubling of complicity. Above all, a synchrony that usually occurs through a mirror. There is also the flicker of attraction. Raphael is incomparable in having us imagine it, but you can hardly ever see it, unless, a mirror luckily captures it. Cinema sometimes succeeds in this.

The Mariella System interferes with that squint by overlapping the same, slightly thinner eyes on the eyelid, and it is instinctive to imagine that they belong to the other. Firstly, to the women, who have taken on the task of using their own eyes to read History and Painting, by adding a glare that was not there before: it is never neutral, neither when it is received nor when it is given.

The Mariella System cuts the tale of the One (God-Father-Painter) in two and does it directly on the painting. Photography does not falsify the origin: it is an interpretative system in which the use of black and white is a metaphor for the point zero of memory and drawing, which is where Mariella draws the double gaze of everyone.

The starting point is always a vision for Mariella. In this book she adds tracing paper which becomes a symbol of the primary expressions of living beings: seeing, writing, reading, building.

In this way she takes us into the woods. The grazing light creates blinding voids. They don't have to do with the atmosphere, but with the eyes. They don't tell about climate change, but about the shocks of knowledge.

Sometimes, in a wood, a thin sliver of light seems enormous, not because we don't know how to measure it, but because, between the branches and the sun, we imagine a relationship that we normally attribute to men, women and sometimes to pets. The flora is too often an indistinct mass where we act without consideration. Then that light, even small, expands and - as in Mariella's photograph - takes on the bewitching shape of a vehicle that moves with the air, suddenly thickened by the light. Behind the photograph, printed on Plexiglas, there is a mirror which, reflecting the brightness of the room, literally let us walk in the woods.

“Like the mirror I imagined looking at the Fornarina? A reflection of the next era? Maybe. However, this is how I add my eyes - I always do, in this case, they tell me how to put Mariella and Raphael together”.


Even in a library you can lose the path and then you have to cross the void. Real shocks that the Mariella System turns into a hypnotizing light. Door to the exit? Is it a vision? The mirror behind the photographs sharpens the temporal, emotional mobility which is typical of reading.

In a library there is also the weight of billions of words. As Massimo Troisi used to say:  “Writers are millions, writing: while I read one”. The Mariella System does not forget censorship and inequality through the ages. Thus walls, partitions, shelves, arches, doors annihilated by the light allude to both this inequality and to the cutting of branches and trunks. Not by chance, these terms are used both for trees and for knowledge. This is the thread that links woods and libraries.


The sheets of tracing paper dividing images from words in this book are, however, the sign of opacity interacting with knowledge. In life, thickenings occur that prevent us from distinguishing visions, emotions that have overlapped. When a point of transparency is identified, they become clear again, and at the same time the opacity acquires a sign that can help us retrace them. Just like Mariella Bettineschi's ‘ladies, knights, arms, loves, woods, libraries’.

bottom of page