Bernini’s St. Theresa in Ecstasy
Before I head out for the night, one final post. I visited the church of Santa Maria della Vittoria this after to take in a sculpture group by one of my favorite artists, Gianlorenzo Bernini. As a freshman in college, when I was still a biology major!, I took an art history class on the Italian Baroque. His work, and my love for it, certainly had a large role in showing me I needed to change the path I was on. I haven’t visited the church for a few years, but wanted to photograph it so I could share it with you.
As the most powerful artist during 17th century Rome (known as the Baroque period), Rome is littered with Bernini’s works. While many know him mainly for his works inside St. Peter’s, I actually prefer his sculpture. In fact, he’s actually my favorite sculptor and I marvel at how he was able to make marble seem so tactic, a quality he strove for. Located in a side chapel near the altar, St. Theresa in Ecstasy shows St. Teresa being pierced by the arrow of an angel, her face welling up with religious ecstasy. And yes, it’s always mentioned that it looks almost like another type of ecstasy, but this depiction was seen as falling within the realm of decorum.
The work is based off a passage from Theresa of Avila’s biography. Once you read the passage, you will see how well Bernini has captured the mood:
I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the iron’s point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it. The soul is satisfied now with nothing less than God. The pain is not bodily, but spiritual; though the body has its share in it.
Bernini is really a genius and while, when I was in the church, the chapel was illuminated by artificial light, he actually puts a hidden window panel at the top of the chapel, so that the natural light shines down, imitating the “light of god” that is hitting her. Absolutely spectacular, and free to see!
And there is my art history lesson for the evening. Has any piece of art or artist ever meant something special to you? I’d love to hear about it.