The Cornaro Chapel
As a reaction to the Manneristic style that consumed the Late Renaissance in Europe, Baroque art began to surface around 1600. The Baroque style has many distinguishing characteristics, such as the use of different colors, materials, and irregular shapes; however, the hallmark of Baroque art is that it depicts the most climactic point in a story. The Ecstasy of St. Theresa, created between 1645-1652, is housed inside of the Cornaro Chapel, and is heralded as "one of Bernini's most brilliant and suggestive sculptural and architectural compositions" (The New York Times, 42).
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In terms of its form, the sculpture is made of different materials and puts a spin on classicism. The iconography of The Ecstasy of St. Theresa is very Baroque because it depicts the most dramatic point in the saint's life and caters to the notion that God equals light. In terms of context, The Ecstasy of St. Theresa is one of Gianlorenzo Bernini's most controversial and beautiful works of art. Gianlorenzo Bernini's stunning masterpiece, The Ecstasy of St. Theresa, epitomizes the high drama of 17th century Baroque art. The form of The Ecstasy of St. Theresa typifies Baroque art because the sculpture is made of different materials and the artist uses classicism irregularly. Gianlorenzo Bernini uses several different materials to create an awe-inspiring focal point within the Cornaro Chapel. The wall that houses The Ecstasy of St. Theresa is laden with colored marble. Like many other works of Baroque sculpture, this piece is "set within an elaborate architectural setting, and seems to be spilling out of its assigned niche or floating upward toward heaven" (The Columbia Encyclopedia). The Saint and angel are cut from the same mass of solid marble, yet Gianlorenzo Bernini is able to replicate different textures and colors. The angel's drapery clings to the body, giving it a silk-like quality; however, St. Theresa appears to be clothed in a woolen robe. Gianlorenzo Bernini also puts a spin on classicism by using irregular shapes and non-traditional architecture. Framing the sculpture are double columns, which serve as adornment rather than architectural support. The pediment above, typically flat, protrudes and indents, and is supported by marble pilasters. Gianlorenzo Bernini uses different materials and irregular classicism to create the epitome of Baroque art.
The iconography of The Ecstasy of St. Theresa embodies the Baroque style of art because the sculpture depicts the most dramatic point in the saint's life and caters to the notion that God equals light. In her autobiography, St. Theresa describes a dream where an angel appears before her in a halo of light. The angel takes a fiery arrow and stabs her repeatedly in the breast, filling her with the love of God. "To quote St. Theresa herself, "The pain was so great that I screamed aloud, but simultaneously I felt such infinite sweetness that I wished the pain to last eternally." This was interpreted at the time and ever since as a spiritual transport sexually expressed" (The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer). Gianlorenzo Bernini portrays St. Theresa's dream in this sculpture at the moment when her body has been consumed with the love of God, the climax of her life. "Wrapped in swirling draperies, her passionate gaze directed to heaven, [Gianlorenzo] Bernini's Saint epitomizes the age of the Baroque" (Christian Science Monitor, 12). The Ecstasy of St. Theresa also feeds into the notion that God equals light. Gianlorenzo Bernini capitalized on this notion that God and light were one in the same by placing the angel and the saint on a billowy cloud with bronze beams of light cascading down behind them. These beams of light reveal that God, himself, has pierced the heart of St. Theresa. "The sculptor's floating image of St. Teresa and the angel places the saint midway between earthly and heavenly existence" (Wilkins, 383). To give these heavenly beams a more dramatic impact, Gianlorenzo Bernini placed a hidden skylight above the sculpture. Gianlorenzo Bernini depicts the most dramatic point in St. Theresa's life and caters to the notion that God equals light to create the quintessence of Baroque art.
The context of The Ecstasy of St. Theresa exemplifies Baroque art because it is considered to be Gianlorenzo Bernini's most controversial and beautiful sculptures. The Baroque movement "was encouraged by the Catholic Church, the most important patron of the arts at that time, as a return to tradition and spirituality" (Artcylcopedia.com); however, Gianlorenzo Bernini depicts St. Theresa in the state of spiritual and sexual ecstasy. Her neck is flung back, eyes are closed, mouth partially open, telling of her elation. Although only her face, hands, and bare feet are visible, the bends and folds of her garment reveal a passionate body beneath in her moment of climax. Never before had a Saint been depicted in the state of sexual ecstasy, yet St. Theresa's autobiography allowed Gianlorenzo Bernini to create such a controversial piece of work. Looking now at the other figure in this sculpture, the angel's face is thought, by many, to be the most beautiful face ever created. The face is perfectly symmetrical; each feature is perfectly positioned. The eyes are aligned, the nose has a perfect slant, and the lips are just the right fullness. Gianlorenzo Bernini balances perfect beauty and sexual ecstasy to achieve the spirit of Baroque art.
Created between 1645-1652, Gianlorenzo Bernini's The Ecstasy of St. Theresa is one of the most talked about sculptures in history. "The religious sculptures he did from the 1640s on were perhaps the last flourish of great Christian art" (Economist, 87). In terms of its form, The Ecstasy of St. Theresa is made of different materials and puts a spin on classicism. The iconography of The Ecstasy of St. Theresa is very Baroque because it depicts the most dramatic point in the saint's life and caters to the notion that God equals light. In terms of context, the sculpture is one of Gianlorenzo Bernini's most controversial and beautiful works of art. Gianlorenzo Bernini's stunning masterpiece, The Ecstasy of St. Theresa, epitomizes the high drama of 17th century Baroque art.
"Artists by Movement: The Baroque Era." Artcyclopedia.com.
Baroque, in art and architecture. The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition.
Economist. 09/06/98, Vol. 349 Issue 8087, p87, 2/3p, 1bw.
The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer Transcript. "FURY OF CREATION" April 30, 1998.
The New York Times. April 26, 1998, Sunday, Late Edition - Final, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Art, Section 2; Page 42; Column 3.
Wilkins, Ann Thomas. "Bernini and Ovid: Expanding the Concept of Metamorphosis." International Journal of the Classical Tradition Winter2000, Vol. 6, Issue 3, p383, 26p, 4bw.
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