ecstacy of st teresa bernini
Francois Duquesnoy (1594-1643)
Exponent of a restrained form of classical sculpture.
The traditional interpretation of Bernini’s Ecstasy of Saint Teresa is relatively straightforward. The sculpture portrays the Saint’s overpowering sense of spiritual pleasure in serving Christ. Bernini employs imagery which suggests sensual pleasure, but only in order to convey the tangible nature of Teresa’s experience – a manifestation of her love of God and her yearning for spiritual union with him. The work is consistent with the aims of the Catholic Counter-Reformation art campaign, which sought to convey the mysteries of Catholicism as cogently as possible.
Beside me, on the left, appeared an angel in bodily form. . . . He was not tall but short, and very beautiful; and his face was so aflame that he appeared to be one of the highest rank of angels, who seem to be all on fire. . . . In his hands I saw a great golden spear, and at the iron tip there appeared to be a point of fire. This he plunged into my heart several times so that it penetrated to my entrails. When he pulled it out I felt that he took them with it, and left me utterly consumed by the great love of God. The pain wasso severe that it made me utter several moans. The sweetness caused by this intense pain is so extreme that one cannot possibly wish it to cease, nor is one’s soul content with anything but God. This is not a physical but a spiritual pain, though the body has some share in it—even a considerable share.
Saint Teresa was a nun who was canonized (made a Saint by the Church) in part because of the spiritual visions she experienced. She lived during the middle of the sixteenth century in Spain—at the height of the Reformation. Saint Teresa wrote several books in which she described her visions.
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.
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).
Boucher, Bruce. Italian Baroque Sculpture. London: Thames & Hudson, 1998.
Harris, Ann S. Art and Architecture of the Seventeenth Century Art. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2004.
St. Theresa of Avila was a Spanish nun, mystic and writer during the Counter-Reformation. Some sources suggest that as a girl, Theresa was willful and spoiled, and chose to enter the Carmelite sisterhood instead of marrying a wealthy hidalgo based on the mistaken belief that as a nun she would be afforded more freedom.
The Ecstasy of Saint Theresa