Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s “The Ecstasy of Saint Theresa”
Gian Lorenzo Bernini was born in 1598 in Naples, Italy and died in 1680 in Rome. He was a painter, a sculptor and an architect of the Baroque era. He combines the techniques of sculpture and architecture to form lavish creations that are amazingly grand, emotional and dramatic. This is all highlighted in The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa. One of Bernini’s most impressive sculptures, it’s located in the Cornaro Chapel in Rome. A structure that Bernini also designed. This is a prime example of how Bernini has combined architecture and sculpture and painting to create drama, involve the viewer, express the religious emotion depicted all in a way that utilizes every aspect of Baroque style.
In The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa the golden rays of light behind her are amplified when the window (which is now a light) directly above her and is open and the light reflects off of it and adds a sort of divine feeling to the image. Galileo has just brought the idea of Heliocentrism back to the table which brings light as a very important motif through a lot of the art in this time. With sculpture, the importance of light generally means the artist used a lot of texture and shadows. This sculpture in particular uses the shadows to help get the idea across. The shadows on the angel’s robe are very light making the angel appear lighter and in comparison to the heaviness that the shadows on Saint Teresa’s robes tend to create make him look more like he’s floating. The absence of strong shadows on Saint Teresa’s face even is noteworthy. Baroque art is about the emotion, and her face is where all the emotion, which is a very strong emotion here, is happening. The light brings attention to her face which emotionally engages the viewer in something as incredible as what she is feeling in that moment. Showing not only his own personal skill, but the style of Baroque era.
The Cornaro Chapel, in Santa Maria della Vittoria which houses “The Ecstasy of Saint Theresa” could be descirbed as “one of those little packages with a big prize inside” (Cornaro Chapel). Which is a very appropriate description for the location of the sculpture. By the heavily ornamented and lavish standards it is indeed a chapel, the more understated exterior gives no indication of the powerful imagery inside. The space inside the chapel that more or less frames the Ecstasy of Saint Theresa is technically an architectural structure but one that combines sculpture and painting along with it to highlight the piece of art. “The dark, patterned marble columns and convex niche in which the Ecstasy is framed, for example, enhance the brightness and dynamism of the scene, while giving the sense that the wall has opened up to reveal St. Teresa’s vision. We are, in a way, looking at a vision of a vision” (Art through time). This sense that the viewer is watching this like it were on a stage is amplified by the relief sculptures along the walls of people in opera like box seats watching this scene along with the viewer.
The Ecstasy of Saint Theresa is an emotional artwork that involves more than just the marble which is its primary medium. It combines architecture and sculpture, using light consciously and very intentionally to heighten the drama, space to make it theatrical, form to involve the entire building in the spectical, and even color in the contrasting to draw your eye. All this is used to his up most advantage. Bernini combines all these things together and involves the viewer as Baroque art tends to, it’s grand and detailed and emotional as Baroque art tends to be it is just so incredibly and beautifully Baroque. It not only completely embodies the Baroque era, it highlights his personal skills as a masterful artist, and captures the very essence of the counter-reformation, which all somehow makes the art transcend time and still be beautiful and moving in today’s culture.
“Art Through Time: A Global View – The Ecstasy of St. Teresa.” Learner.org. Annenberg Foundation, 2011. Web. 13 Nov. 2011.
“Cornaro Chapel, Santa Maria Della Vittoria.” Roman Patina. Web. 14 Nov. 2011.