ecstasy of saint teresa bernini location
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
The two central sculptural figures of the swooning nun and the angel with the spear derive from an episode described by Teresa of Avila, a mystical cloistered Discalced Carmelite reformer and nun, in her autobiography, The Life of Teresa of Jesus (1515–1582). Her experience of religious ecstasy in her encounter with the angel is described as follows:
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).
Careri, Giovanni, and Linda Lappin. Bernini: Flights of Love, the Art of Devotion. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995.
Bernini’s sculptural group shows a cupid-like angel holding an arrow. His delicate touch and lithe figure give him an air of grace. With her head thrown back and eyes closed, Teresa herself collapses, overcome with the feeling of God’s love. Her physical body seems to have dematerialized beneath the heavy drapery of her robe. Twisting folds of fabric energize the scene and bronze rays, emanating from an unseen source, seem to rain down divine light. The combined effect is one of intense drama, the ethereality of which denies the true nature of the work of art. Despite being made of heavy marble, saint and angel—set upon a cloud—appear to float weightlessly.
Rome is famous for the Colosseum, for the Roman Forum, for hosting within its perimeter the small but powerful state of Vatican City with the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel. Rome is a city renowned world-wide for the splendid monuments of the City Center such as, to just name a few, Piazza Navona or the Pantheon: ancient monuments make Rome one of the most rich-in-history and admired cities in the world; but Rome has also been the capital of and art movement that has shocked rules of artistic expression that had been established and followed for centuries—the Baroque—and has produced artists of the caliber of Borromini, Bernini and Caravaggio. Baroque artists loved massive and detailed decorations, curved lines, flowery curls and stucco. Their works often contain an idea of movement and motion that was directed to confuse and surprise—actually, astonish!—the viewers; Bernini’s statues, for example, literally seem to come to life and can be looked at from multiple perspective points. The facades of Borromini’ buildings stretch and bend in a way that make them seem to be on the verge of coming to life. Caravaggio’s original use of light is still studied today by photographers and movie directors for the dramatic effects that it is able to produce.
One of Bernini’s most impressive works is the Statue of Saint Teresa of Avila that can be found in the Cornaro Chapel inside the famous Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria—in English, Our Lady of Victory—located not far from the Termini station in Rome and Piazza della Repubblica, a site easily reachable during any of your tour of Rome. Our Lady of Victory was built in the beginning of the seventeenth century by Carlo Maderno a baroque architect who in the same years also completed the facade of St Peter’s Basilica! Years later, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, who had been as well working at the Basilica of St Peter (building the colonnade of the piazza and the famous baldachin) started a project to build a campanile, a very tall bell tower that had to be demolished even before being finished, because of its excessive weight. After this humiliation, Bernini’s brilliant career took an unexpected turn and he fell in disgrace. In the mid-1640’s, Gian Lorenzo Bernini was going through a tough time. After a few years of living in reclusive misery, he was commissioned by Cardinal Federico Cornaro to do a sculpture for the cardinal’s family chapel. He wanted was a statue of Saint Teresa, a Spanish mystic canonized just 20 or so years before. Bernini jumped at the opportunity, seeing it as a last shot at resurrecting his career.
By the time she reached her forties, Theresa had settled down to her new spiritual life, when one day, while praying and singing the hymn “Veni Creator Spiritus,” she experienced the first of the episodes that would accompany her for the rest of her life: a rapture.
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.