Bernini – The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa

Bernini, Gian Lorenzo
born Dec. 7, 1598, Naples, Kingdom of Naples [Italy]
died Nov. 28, 1680, Rome, Papal States
 
Italian artist who was perhaps the greatest sculptor of the 17th century and an outstanding architect as well. Bernini created the Baroque style of sculpture and developed it to such an extent that other artists are of only minor importance in a discussion of that style.
 
The greatest single example of Bernini’s mature art is the Cornaro Chapel in Santa Maria della Vittoria, in Rome, which completes the evolution begun early in his career. The chapel, commissioned by Cardinal Federigo Cornaro, is in a shallow transept in the small church. Its focal point is his sculpture of “The Ecstasy of St. Teresa” (1645–52), a depiction of a mystical experience of the great Spanish Carmelite reformer Teresa of Ávila. In representing Teresa’s vision, during which an angel pierced her heart with a fiery arrow of divine, although it has also been described as sexual, love, Bernini followed Teresa’s own description of the event. The sculptured group, showing the transported saint swooning in the void, covered by cascading drapery, is revealed in celestial light within a niche over the altar, where the architectural and decorative elements are richly joined and articulated. At left and right, in spaces resembling opera boxes, numerous members of the Cornaro family are found in spirited postures of conversation, reading, or prayer. The Cornaro Chapel carries Bernini’s ideal of a three-dimensional picture to its apex. The figures of St. Teresa and the angel are sculptured in white marble, but the viewer cannot tell whether they are in the round or merely in high relief. The natural daylight that falls on the figures from a hidden source above and behind them is part of the group, as are the gilt rays behind. “The Ecstasy of St. Teresa” is not sculpture in the conventional sense. Instead, it is a framed pictorial scene made up of sculpture, painting, and light that also includes the worshiper in a religious drama.
 

 
 
 
 
 

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