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Bernini’s St. Theresa in Ecstasy

Posted on Nov 29, 2008 | 13 comments

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!

For some further reading about Bernini, check out Howard Hibbard‘s classic book, as well as Jake Morrissey‘s very readable and informative account on the rivalry between Bernini and Borromini.

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.


  1. The first photo is spectacular. A must for your show. You know the statue I love at the Borghesi museum.

  2. Those photos which has different angles are so fasinating.
    I love both of them.
    You took photos just like it was alive.

  3. Nonna – Unfortunately I can’t photograph in the Borghese, but those are probably my favorite Bernini’s. Don’t think these photos fit in with the “theme” of my show, but you never know.

    Nobu – Thank you. I try to take things in a way that is a bit different, since it is so easy to find great full length shots of this sculpture. It’s easy to make it seem alive when Bernini does such an incredible job with the marble. That is his genius, not mine!

  4. The 1st shot is so amazing! Wow! Fantastic perspective!

  5. Well I’m a Bernini groupie, so I will def. check out those books. Is it easy to find them in English here?

    I love his works in the Borghese. I saw them during my first trip to Rome and they floored me.

  6. You could try the Anglo American bookstore on via delle Vite (by the Spanish Steps). They supply a lot of the study abroad programs here and have a good selection. I also own the Morrissey book and would be happy to lend it to you.

  7. i remember when you were a biology major…wow!
    i saw that you started an imagekind account…it looks awesome 🙂 how did the meeting go???

  8. goldie! I know, it seems like so long ago! I guess it was at this point. I did start an account, thanks for the tip. So far my mom is the only one to buy something, but it’s a start. I’ve gotta go on there and label everything properly. Meeting went well! Will be having the show on January 23. I need to write a post about it actually.

  9. i love this statue. i saw it on an art history field trip when i was studying in florence in ’04.

    on our last trip to rome this past may we planned to make another trip to the small church but never did.

    i too love his works in the borghese!

    p.s. love your photo blog!!!!

  10. Hi Eryn, thanks for commenting! I’m glad you are enjoying the blog. His sculptures in the Borghese are my favorite sculptures period (tie for Pluto and Persephone and Apollo and Daphne), but they don’t allow photography in the museums. Hope you make it to some of the churches the next time you are here!

  11. Oh I love this one too. The expression and the angle you used.

  12. this is good, but the Beata Ludovica in San Francesco a Ripa is even sexier.

  13. I can agree with that. At some point I’ll make my way down there and photograph it for comparison.

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