the ecstacy of st. teresa

The ecstacy of st. teresa
To formalize and “authenticate” the scene as a genuine spiritual experience approved by the Catholic Church, Bernini added two groups of “witnesses” carved in life-size relief sculpture to either side of Tereasa. The first group, composed of four male members of the Cornaro family, is located to the left of the altar as if in a box at the theatre. A second group, consisting of male representatives of church and state are located to the right.
To represent the true intensity of Teresa’s experience, Bernini shows her swooning in near-erotic rapture, with eyes closed and mouth open, and both her visible limbs hanging limp. The ruffled, heavy drapery of her clothing adds to the movement and drama of the scene, and the texture of the fabric contrasts with the purity of her face. The childlike angel looks lovingly at Teresa as he prepares to pierce her heart with his spear of divine love, completing her mystical union with God.

The ecstacy of st. teresa
Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker provide a description, historical perspective, and analysis of Bernini’s Ecstasy of St. Teresa.
When we look at the Ecstasy of Saint Teresa by Bernini we have to consider the entire space of the chapel. The chapel is called the Cornaro Chapel, after the Cornaro family who controlled it and commissioned Bernini to sculpt Saint Teresa.

The ecstacy of st. teresa
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).
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 ecstacy of st. teresa
A complete understanding of the aesthetic impact and spiritual significance of the Ecstasy can only be gained in the context of the larger space of the chapel. The work is, in fact, not an independent piece, but the crucial center of a more complex composition that brings together not only sculpture, but also painting and architecture—all designed by Bernini. The dark, patterned marble columns and convex niche in which the Ecstasyis framed, for example, enhance the brightness and dynamism of the scene, while giving the sense that the wall has opened up to reveal St. Teresa’s vision. We are, in a way, looking at a vision of a vision, one that Bernini has created for the faithful who worship at the altar and for the Cornaro family in particular. On each wall perpendicular to the altar wall, an illusionistic window contains sculptural likenesses of family members, some of whom lean over the parapet in the direction of Bernini’s work, rapt witnesses to the miracle.
Harris, Ann S. Art and Architecture of the Seventeenth Century Art. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2004.

The ecstacy of st. teresa
Peers, E. Allison. Studies of the Spanish Mystics. London, 1927.
The marriage between the human soul and the divine lover represents a creative union of the human self with its transpersonal counterpart. The soul symbolizes the subjective capacity to feel and experience reality–the capacity for consciousness. By uniting with the god of love, the soul gains a permanent connection with the abiding source of all life and love. In the infant, there is not yet the separation that gives rise to a subjective self. In the symbolism of the sacred marriage, a return to the original wholeness is achieved without a regression to the infantile unconsciousness.

References:

http://courses.lumenlearning.com/zeliart102/chapter/berninis-ecstasy-of-st-teresa/
http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecstasy_of_Saint_Teresa
http://www.learner.org/series/art-through-time-a-global-view/dreams-and-visions/the-ecstasy-of-st-teresa/
http://aras.org/selection_ecstasy.aspx
http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecstasy_of_Saint_Teresa

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