Monument Ecstasy Of Saint Teresa

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Created by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the Ecstasy of Saint Teresa (1645-1652) is a powerful life-sized sculpture built from white marble and gilt bronze. The sculpture stands in the Cornaro Chapel in Chiesa di Santa Maria Della Vittoria. Bernini’s sculpture blends with the surrounding architecture and fresco painting to produce a dramatic religious scene. The fusion of Bernini’s technical brilliance in these three visual disciplines affirms the intensity of its Baroque style – bringing to life the miraculous event of the Spanish mystic, Saint Theresa’s vision. As mentioned in the tutorial, combining painting, sculpture and architecture challenged the Classical and Renaissance concept of the paragon which had excluded each medium. The effect of this challenging the viewer to recall their expectations when observing art and to question their place within an architectural space. Bernini’s sculpture clearly displays the Baroque style of emphasising the drama and intensity to generate an emotional response from the viewer.

Ecstasy of Saint Teresa serves the Catholic church’s aims to resurge the faith of worshippers, in response to the Reformation and the rise of Protestantism. Bernini depicts the miraculous religious event of Saint Teresa’s encounter with an angel in the Cornaro church. This particular mysterious event of religious ecstasy and spiritual awakening could also relate to the aims of the Counter-Reformation, to secure the faith of Catholic worshippers – thus Bernini places emphasis on attempting to immerse the viewer into an atmosphere of worship. It is evident that Bernini has aimed to deeply impact the viewer’s senses and emotions in his dramatic sculpture. This is evident in the dramatic interplay between the two figures which are captured in a suspended moment in time – Saint Teresa’s body sinks under her own clothing as the angel is about to plunge a golden arrow into her heart. The shift from the more stagnant figures in Renaissance art to the dynamism and movement exhibited in Bernini’s sculpture, reveals how Baroque art is aware of how persuading art can be. The sensual qualities seen in the ecstasy of Saint Teresa’s face and the curvaceous movement of the fabrics could have enabled a viewer from the Baroque period to perceive the superior religious experience with heightened interest. Her overpowering trance arising from the euphoric religious vision may also serve as a means of evoking a similar religious experience in the viewer – when they view the sculpture. Bernini is able to make the viewer feel as though they are involved in the miraculous scene through illusionistic qualities which encourage a deeper, more active religious experience. This is evident in the fresco painting of angels and billowing clouds positioned above the sculpture. The physical boundaries of the room are indistinct due to the fact that the wall curves so that the intersection of roof to wall disappears into the fresco sky. To heighten the emotional impression experienced by the viewer, Bernini utilises a hidden window to shine light down onto the two figures and illuminate the sculpture. The light appears to be coming from the heavens and is embodied by the stream of gilded rays behind Saint Teresa and the angel – provoking the sense of divine intervention from the sculpture. Bernini may have been attempting to immerse the viewer and inspire faith in the miraculous? This light source also casts shadows onto the sculpture. Bernini could have attempted to emulate the Chiaroscuro technique utilised by Baroque painters in order to dramatize his sculpture with dramatic light and therefore generate more intensity. As discussed in the tutorial, the majority of the population in the Baroque period were illiterate yet had the ability to understand the composition of religious art – therefore the powerful, emotional impact of Bernini’s Baroque sculpture would have been welcomed by the Catholic church and acted as a kind of propaganda responding to the rise of Protestantism.

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The extravagant and theatrical qualities of Ecstasy of Saint Teresa depicts how there was an emphasis placed on expressing power in the Baroque period. As discussed in the lecture, the Baroque style began to drift away from using visual culture as a means of stimulating personal morality – as in the Renaissance – and began to focus on asserting opulence and wealth. The materials used to construct Bernini’s sculpture contribute to its grandeur. The combined use of white marble, coloured marble and gilded bronze suggests that no expense has been spared for the artwork. Therefore, depicting the fortune of the Cornaro family – It was Cardinal Federico Cornaro who commissioned Bernini to decorate their entire Cornaro chapel. Bernini reveals his refined skills in manipulating such materials, displayed in his ability to differentiate the soft, flowing cloth of the angel from the tougher and heavier folds of Teresa’s cloak. The hyper-realistic figures and Bernini’s ability to crave the soft textures of flesh and cloth reveals the preoccupation with refined skill and emphasis on illusionism in the Baroque period. Considering that he was familiar with designing sets and scenery for multiple theatre productions, Bernini has incorporated his knowledge to create a miniature theatre for which Saint Teresa and the angel are center stage. To display their high status and wealth, Bernini has positioned the relief sculptures of the Cornaro family in the ‘box seats’, where they have the superior view over the miraculous event. The sumptuous qualities of the sculpture are also revealed in the curved pediment above Saint Teresa and the ornate detailing throughout the composition, describing how the Baroque period had less concern for rationality and order of the Renaissance but rather complexity.

Through Bernini’s intense sculpture, it is evident that the Baroque style emphasized combining visual disciplines in order to stimulate powerful emotions and the impression of grandeur from the audience. Focusing on the religious miracle of Saint Teresa’s vision, the sculpture could be encouraging a similar religious devotion from Catholic worshipers through the dramatic use of illusionism and theatrical qualities. 


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