Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, the most outstanding piece of work of Bernini
Canonized largely for the spritual visions she experienced, Teresa of Ávila was a Spanish noblewoman who chose a monastic life in the Catholic Church.
The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa is the central sculptural group in white marble set in an elevated aedicule in the Cornaro Chapel, Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome. It was designed and completed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, The Ecstasy of St. Theresa is a total environment: Bernini designed the entire chapel, creating a veritable stage set complete with sculpted audience members.
It is generally considered to be one of the sculptural masterpieces of the High Roman Baroque.
When we look at Bernini’s Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, we must consider the space that surrounds it. The grouping in the centerpiece of the Cornaro Chapel, named for the Cornaro family who commissioned the chapel and hired Bernini to decorate it.
The sensuality of the piece is directly inspired by St. Theresa’s own writings, in which she describes her mystical experiences in overtly erotic terms:
Beside me, on the left hand, appeared an angel in bodily form. He was not tall but short, and very beautiful; and his face was so aflame that he appeared to be one of the highest rank of angels, who seem to be all on fire. In his hands I saw a great golden spear, and at the iron tip there appeared to be a point of fire. This he plunged into my heart several times and left me utterly consumed by the great love of God. The pain was so severe that it made me utter several moans. The sweetness caused by this intense pain is so extreme that one cannot possibly wish it to cease, nor is one’s soul then content with anything but God. This is not a physical, but a spiritual pain, though the body has some share in it-even a considerable share.