ecstasy of st teresa technique
Francois Duquesnoy (1594-1643)
Exponent of a restrained form of classical sculpture.
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.
The group is illuminated by natural light which filters through a hidden window in the dome of the surrounding aedicule, and underscored by gilded stucco rays. Teresa is shown lying on a cloud indicating that this is intended to be a divine apparition we are witnessing. Other witnesses appear on the side walls; life-size high-relief donor portraits of male members of the Cornaro family, e.g. Cardinal Federico Cornaro and Doge Giovanni I Cornaro, are present and shown discussing the event in boxes as if at the theatre. Although the figures are executed in white marble, the aedicule, wall panels and theatre boxes are made from coloured marbles. Above, the vault of the Chapel is frescoed with an illusionistic cherub-filled sky with the descending light of the Holy Ghost allegorized as a dove.
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.
Gian Lorenzo Bernini created The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa (L’Estasi di Santa Teresa) in 1645-1652 using marble, stucco, and gilt bronze. The work was commissioned by the Cornaro family, and resides in Rome in the Cornaro Chapel of the Santa Maria della Vittoria. The sculpture itself is situated above the church altar, positioned so the bronze beams illuminate the marble figures.
The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa is a subtraction sculpture in the round of the Baroque period. Despite this, it is mounted against a wall, preventing the viewer from getting a full, all-around view of the work. The sculpture is dense, yet smooth and intricately detailed, giving the impression of dramatic, flowing fabric.The piece is a depiction of an episode from St. Teresa’s life according to her autobiography, in which she describes having a vision of an angel coming down and stabbing her repeatedly through the heart with an arrow. Her experience was that of spiritual rapture, yet also described in a somewhat sexual nature. Bernini’s sculpture features St. Teresa reclining on a bed of clouds, with a smaller, cupid-like angel hovering over her, delicately holding a golden arrow between his fingertips, aimed at St. Teresa’s heart. The angel smiles looking at St. Teresa’s face, whose features are characterized by closed eyes and parted lips. Most of her body is hidden beneath draped fabric, but her limbs and hands hang limp as she is wholly caught up in the ecstasy of the moment. The sculpture itself measures in at a height of 3.5 meters, but the golden rods reach down towards the figures, extending the scene and giving the work added depth and height. The rods highlight the fiery rapture experienced by St. Teresa, as if coming straight down from the heavens, from God himself. The focal point of the piece is the interaction between the angel and St. Teresa, seen in the invisible line reaching from the angel’s gaze to St. Teresa’s face, displaying the intensely emotional and spiritual nature of the piece.
Saint Teresa describes her intensely spiritual experience in very physical, even sexual terms. Why? We know that an important goal of Baroque art is to involve the viewer. Teresa is describing this in physical terms so that we can understand. After all, being visited by an angel and filled with the love of God is no small experience. How can we, with our ordinary experiences, hope to understand the intensity and passion of her experience except on our own terms?
Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker provide a description, historical perspective, and analysis of Bernini’s Ecstasy of St. Teresa.
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.
Cardinal Federico Cornaro