Bernini was the best sculptor of his time in Italy and in all of Europe, as well as a great architect and painter. During his lifetime, Bernini enjoyed the favour and protection of seven popes, for whom he produced numerous works. However, there were three who commissioned significant works.
In 1629, Bernini was appointed architect of Saint Peter’s Basilica by Pope Urban VIII. From then until his death, he worked uninterruptedly for the supreme pontiffs. He was the creator of the Baroque sculptural style. His work was so spectacular that he came to be considered a successor to Michelangelo. And it is that he managed to synthesize sculpture with painting and architecture.
What was one of his hidden abilities?
This artist knew how to use light to his advantage. He considered lighting a symbolic resource, meaning that it intensified religious worship towards them depending on where he placed the light in his works. Likewise, he managed to amplify the drama of his sculptures.
Who was this sculpture of “The Ecstasy of Santa Teresa” created for?
There was a dynasty called the Cornaro Dynasty, who were the patrons of the austere order of nuns, the Discalced Carmelites. They presented the petition to Bernini. The Venetian Cardinal, Federico Cornaro, had chosen the church of Santa Maria Della Vittoria de las Carmelitas as his burial chapel. In this way, it would be the focal point of the chapel’s renovation, and he worked on it between 1647 and 1651. This sculpture is one of the most important sculptures of the Italian Baroque and a true masterpiece of all time. Bernini himself described this work as the most beautiful created by his hands.
Do you know who Saint Teresa of Jesus was?
Her full name is Teresa Sánchez de Cepeda y Ahumada, later known as Santa Teresa de Jesús or Avila. She was one of the most prolific religious writers in Spanish literature. She is a significant and unique figure in the history of Catholicism. She was a mystical writer, reformer of the 16th century and the first Carmelite Saint. Her literary work transcended time and space. She was beatified in 1614 by Pope Paul V and canonized in 1622. She was a person to whom many devote special devotion. She was famous for her extraordinary mystical visions, which she claimed came from God. She made her mysticism pure poetry of hers. She suffered from some rare cases of epilepsy whose origin nobody could explain.
By what other name is this work known?
The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa is also known as the Transverberation of Saint Teresa. Here we can see how the image of Saint Teresa of Ávila is portrayed during the supernatural gift of transverberation. Transverberation is a mystical experience that, according to the Catholic Church, has been described as a phenomenon in which the person who achieves an intimate union with God feels his heart pierced by a supernatural fire.
What was the transverberation that Saint Teresa suffered?
Saint Teresa received the apparition of a gorgeous angel she identified as a cherub. Said angel carried a long golden sword whose tip seemed to be on fire. She, religious, felt that the angel plunged his sword into her heart and pierced her entrails. Bernini represents this mystical ecstasy in said transverberation that fills her with happiness and love.
As it is written in the prologue of the Book of Life that the Saint herself wrote…..
“I saw an angel fit me to the left side in bodily form… He was not big, but small, very beautiful, his face so lit up that it seemed like one of the angels very high, that it seems they all embrace… I saw in the I held a long gold dart in my hands, and at the end of the iron it seemed to have a little fire. It seemed to me to put it through my heart sometimes and that it reached my entrails: when I took it out, it seemed to me that it carried them with it, and it left me all on fire. in great love of God. The pain that made me give those moans was so great, and the softness that this great pain puts me in was so excessive that there is no wishing it to go away, nor is the soul content with less than God. It is not pain bodily, but spiritual, although the body does not fail to participate somewhat, and even to a great extent. It is such a gentle courtship that passes between the soul and God, that I beg your goodness to please whoever thinks I am lying… days that this lasted I was like dumbfounded, I didn’t want to see or talk, but hug me with my pe na, that for me was greater glory, than those who have taken the created”.
How did Bernini try to represent this theme?
For Bernini, he understood that when Saint Teresa referred to her soul’s yearning for a consummate union with God, the such collaboration made it appear as if her soul and her body were the same.
All of Bernini’s greatest body dramas had had figures gyrating upwards. Now was the time to levitate Teresa. This time it wasn’t the escape from penetration but the longing for it. In this way, the artist had to reveal what he knew about bodily ecstasy—a woman’s face at the height of sexual euphoria.
It is as if she is turning her intimate knowledge of carnal sin into a carnal blessing.
The woman is represented as a woman of unforgettable beauty, comparable to the exquisite seraph, angel lover. In her fashion, they are a couple, with smiling faces, pointing her arrow, not at her chest, but lower down her torso.
How does Bernini express all this in his sculpture?
Santa Teresa appears lying down, suspended in a cloud that merges with her clothing with its great folds.
These folds convey the swoon and sensual body hidden beneath her, even though we can only see Teresa’s face, hands, and bare feet. They express submission and total surrender with their mouth half open and their eyes half closed.
The angel, hovering over the Saint’s body, is about to plunge her love dart into her heart and gaze at her with his head tilted to one side with an expression of joy and tenderness.
Behind the figure, there are like a backdrop, the rays of divine light made in gilt bronze on which there is a window that filters the exterior light and illuminates them in a blur that enhances the divinity of the love act.
The anatomical proportions, postures, and folds of the clothes are highly realistic and natural and are treated with admirable technical perfection.
The artist intended to turn the viewer of the work into an active participant in Saint’s religious fervour and to do so. He invites him in the foreground to attend a performance, simulating an authentic theatre with a stage in front and side boxes with spectators. These spectators were the members of the Cornaro family, who contemplated and commented on the ecstasy from their respective balconies.
This is how Bernini emotionally captures his viewer through dramatic tension and the expressive power of the characters. Here we can observe a true union of space, sculpture and painting.
What did Bernini want to express in the way he treated marble?
Observe how Bernini turns the body inside out so that what covers the Saint, that is, her habit, a symbol of purity and restraint, now becomes a representation of what she is feeling within herself. . You are seeing the climax itself, the visualization of pure ecstasy, a storm surge of churning sensation, rising and falling as if a marble had been melted. And these waves pour from the smiling angel directly into Teresa’s habit, where they join an ocean of rising and falling tides, folding into gaps and crevices like waves in the surf.
Did you know…
With this sculpture, Bernini restored his reputation by giving a coup de grâce to all those critics who said he could not do architecture. When he finished his statue, he said, “Okay, get over that.” No one ever could.
But also, with this work, he earned the harshest criticism from those who believed that more than a religious ecstasy, the mystic seemed to be experiencing the most sweeping of orgasms. Indeed the face of the Saint in bliss is the human face of pleasure, the half-open mouth emitting the groans that Teresa herself tells us about in her Book of Life, the gesture of fainting from a flushed face, the Saint’s robes waving at the compass of his pierced heart and his uncontrollably flaccid body that faints.
Whatever the interpretation of the entire staging, be it religious, artistic, psychoanalytic or standard, we must know more about the life of this Saint to give our final interpretation. This is a masterpiece with a fine line between the rational and the spiritual.
Legend has it that when Saint Teresa died, she was found to have a puncture wound in her heart.