when was the ecstasy of st teresa made
Freudian interpretations aside, the Catholic church has celebrated the sculpture, which is captioned “Mother of Spirituality” and widely praised as a religious masterpiece. Its presence in the transept of Santa Maria Della Vittoria church in Rome has made the church one of the city’s most popular sites for weddings.
“The pain was so sharp that it made me utter several moans; and so excessive was the sweetness caused me by this intense pain that one can never wish it to cease, nor will one’s soul be content with anything less than God.”
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.
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.
The nuances of the sculpture are also wondrous to behold, as you can almost feel the sharpness of the arrow and the weight of Teresa’s clothing.
The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa depicts a scene that Teresa wrote about in her own autobiography. In it, she described an angel who pierced her heart multiple times with fire-tipped spear. This act sent her into what she described as a spiritual rapture.
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 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:
Figure 2. Bernini, Cornaro Chapel in Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome
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.