ecstacy of st teresa artist
Essentially, Bernini designed the chapel as a theatre for his sculpture. The latter is set in a niche above and behind the altar, flanked by pairs of marble columns. It is theatrically illuminated by beams of natural light from a hidden window overhead. This natural light mingles with and reflects off a sheaf of vertical gilt bronze shafts behind the sculpture, sculpted to resemble the rays of the sun. High above, the ceiling of the Chapel is frescoed with trompe l’oeil images of a sky filled with cherubs.
After Innocent X
I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the iron’s point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it. The soul is satisfied now with nothing less than God. The pain is not bodily, but spiritual; though the body has its share in it. It is a caressing of love so sweet which now takes place between the soul and God, that I pray God of His goodness to make him experience it who may think that I am lying. 
The entire ensemble was overseen and completed by a mature Bernini during the Pamphili papacy of Innocent X. When Innocent acceded to the papal throne, he shunned Bernini’s artistic services; the sculptor had been the favourite artist of the previous and profligate Barberini pope. Without papal patronage, the services of Bernini’s studio were therefore available to a patron such as the Venetian Cardinal Federico Cornaro (1579–1653).
In her writings, Theresa describes how she would feel suddenly consumed by the love of God, feel the bodily presence of Christ or of angels, and be lifted to an exalted state of ecstasy. Although in her own lifetime Theresa was sometimes ridiculed for such claims, or even accused of communing with the devil, she became a prominent figure in the church. Theresa was one of only three female church doctors and was finally canonized in 1622.
Cardinal Federico Cornaro
Harris, Ann S. Art and Architecture of the Seventeenth Century Art. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2004.
Harbison, Robert. Reflections on Baroque. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003.
Born in Naples in 1598, his long and successful artistic career lasted from his teens until his death in 1680. Following his early success in Rome, where he worked for the city’s most powerful families and the popes, his fame spread across the whole of Europe. His royal patrons included King Charles I of England and King Louis XIV of France. A sculptor, architect, painter, stage designer, poet, and dramatist, Bernini created dynamic monuments that combined the arts of painting, sculpture, and architecture in an integrated whole.
The Chair of St. Peter, Bernini, 1657–66, St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome