bernini the ecstasy of saint teresa
The Ecstasy of St. Teresa
Artist / Origin: Gian Lorenzo Bernini (Italian, 1598–1680)
Period: 1400 CE – 1800 CE
Material: Marble, stucco, and gilt bronze
Dimensions: H: 11 ft. 6 in. (3.5 m.)
Location: Cornaro Chapel, Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome, Italy
Credit: Courtesy of SCALA/Art Resource, NY
Careri, Giovanni, and Linda Lappin. Bernini: Flights of Love, the Art of Devotion. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995.
Following the death of Innocent and the accession of Alexander VII (1655-67) to the papacy, Bernini was restored to prominence. It enabled him to focus on Baroque architecture – notably on his famous project to rebuild the square in front of Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome, where pilgrims gathered to receive the Pope’s blessing – and on the construction of his two finest churches – S. Andrea al Quirinale, and S. Maria dell’Assunzione, Ariccia, in Rome. All of which greatly enhanced his reputation as one of the top Baroque architects in the city.
Meaning of Ecstasy of Saint Teresa
The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa (alternatively Saint Teresa in Ecstasy or Transverberation of Saint Teresa; in Italian: L’Estasi di Santa Teresa or Santa Teresa in estasi) is the central sculptural group in white marble set in an elevated aedicule in the Cornaro Chapel, Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome. It was designed and completed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the leading sculptor of his day, who also designed the setting of the Chapel in marble, stucco and paint. It is generally considered to be one of the sculptural masterpieces of the High Roman Baroque. It depicts Teresa of Ávila.
Cornaro had chosen the hitherto unremarkable church of the Discalced Carmelites for his burial chapel. [a] The selected site for the chapel was the left transept that had previously held an image of ‘St. Paul in Ecstasy’, which was replaced by Bernini’s dramatization of a religious experience undergone and related by the first Discalced Carmelite saint, who had been canonised not long before, in 1622.  It was completed in 1652 for the then princely sum of 12,000 scudi. [b]
When we look at the Ecstasy of Saint Teresa by Bernini we have to consider the entire space of the chapel. The chapel is called the Cornaro Chapel, after the Cornaro family who controlled it and commissioned Bernini to sculpt Saint Teresa.
When we walk toward the chapel (figure 2) we see that on either side of us, on the side walls, there are what look like theater boxes. In these boxes, seated figures in appear to be talking and gesturing to each other. Perhaps they are kneeling in prayer as they watch and discuss the scene of the Ecstasy of Saint Teresa.
Although some art historians insist that Bernini could not possibly have intended to imbue this subject with an erotic energy, as that would have been inconceivably heretical for that time, in reality the concupiscent implications of this work are unmistakable: the beautiful, bare-chested young angle gently opens Theresa’s dress, preparing to penetrate her with his arrow, while the saint throws back her head with an expression of ecstasy.
Cardinal Federico Cornaro