Bernini is one of the most famous and talented artist of the baroque period and indeed of all time. His work was a testament to his skill and genius. One such work that continues to enthrall observes today and was given the spotlight in Dan Brown’s book (and the subsequent movie of the same name) Angels and Demons, is the Ecstasy of St. Teresa (1647-52). What fallow is some background on the artist himself and the real story behind this magnificent sculpture.
About the Artist
Gianlorenzo Bernini was born in Naples December 7th, 1598 and received his first education from his father Pietro, who was a successful Florentine sculptor. From a young age he was a prodigy and chiseled his first bust when he was only 8. He learned by studying the sketching the great masters. It was not easy to follow in the footsteps of such great artists as Michelangelo and Raphael but Bernini did just that. Soon he was getting commissions form nobles and even the pope himself.
Bernini himself was passionate about the theater and an innovative scene designer. He was at his best when he could merge architecture, sculpture and painting. He accomplishes this magnificently in the Ecstasy of St. Teresa.
The statue is set in Cornaro Chapel in the church of Sta. Maria della Vittoria. The sculpture recounts one of her divine experiences; of how an angel pierced her heart with a flaming golden arrow. The statue shows the moment as the angel has pulled the arrow out from her. In her own words Saint Teresa says: “The pain was so great that I screamed aloud; but a the same time I felt such infinite sweetness that I wished the pain to last forever. It was not physical but psychic pain, although it affected the body as well to some degree. It was the sweetest caressing of the soul by God.”
The figure of the angel comes directly from the saints’ account. She describes him as young and beautiful. St. Teresa herself is reclined on a floating cloud, her mouth parted. Both are on a floating cloud as they appear to rise toward heaven. The saints garments are chiseled in such a way as to appear all rippled and disheveled – an outward sign of her turbulent spirit within. The angel’s garments are done in such a way that they make him look like he is wrapped in flames.
They are both lit from above by a window and above that is a fresco by Guidebaldo Abbatini depicting the glory of the heavens. At its center is a brilliant burst of light and clouds of jubilant angels surround it. This celestial “explosion” gives force to the thrusts of the angel’s arrow and make the ecstasy of the saint believable.