ecstasy of st teresa bernini
The art historian Rudolf Wittkower wrote:
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).
Note: In creating his Ecstasy of Saint Teresa it is almost certain that Bernini made use of styles initiated by certain Mannerist artists. For example, we can see the basis for Bernini’s masterpiece in the simple piety, floating drapery and heavenward gaze of the Beata Michelina (1606, Pinacoteca Vaticana, Rome), a painting by the influential Mannerist religious painter Federico Barocci (1526-1612).
Sculptures by Bernini can be seen in some of the best art museums and sculpture gardens around the world.
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.
This is her description of the event that Bernini depicts:
Located above the altar of the Cornaro Chapel in Rome’s Santa Maria della Vittoria, Bernini’s The Ecstasy of St. Teresa represents an episode from the life of the saint as recorded in her spiritual autobiography. Teresa describes an angel carrying a fire-tipped spear with which he pierces her heart repeatedly, an act that sends her into a state of spiritual rapture. “The pain,” she writes, “was so 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 then content with anything but God.” (The Life of Saint Teresa of Ávila by herself, Chapter 29)
Harris, Ann S. Art and Architecture of the Seventeenth Century Art. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2004.
Bernini’s St. Theresa is often described as a gesamtkunstwerk (a German word meaning “total work of art”) for the artist’s incorporation of a variety of elements: sculpture, painting, and lighting effects all presented in a theatrical setting.
The Ecstasy of Saint Theresa