Baroque and Beyond C. 1600–1850

Baroque Italy and France

What is The Ecstasy of St. Teresa?

The Ecstasy of St. Teresa is a central sculpture in the Cornaro Chapel in the church of Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome. It is considered to be a masterpiece of baroque sculpture and was made by Gianlorenzo Bernini between 1645 and 1652. The sculpture depicts Saint Teresa of Avila, who in life experienced powerful visions. In her writing, Saint Teresa describes an encounter with an angel who stabbed her in the 138 heart with a golden spear. She believed the experience was an encounter with God. Bernini’s complex sculpture, which dominates the chapel space, depicts this vision. Within an elevated niche, St. Teresa seems to float amidst her undulating robes. Her toes peek out from underneath the mass of fabric, curling in a combination of pain and pleasure during this divine encounter. Her mouth is open and her head tilts back as a small angel gingerly grasps at her clothes with one hand and grips a golden spear in the other; the spear points directly at her breast. The figures appear to float because they are supported by a hidden cantilevered mass of marble. Mirroring the spear, bronze beams of light descend upon the pair from above, helping to frame the scene from within the niche and emphasize the presence of the divine. In other parts of the chapel, marble bystanders watch from theater boxes, in awe. The sculpture is like a frozen theater piece. It is a highly illusionistic depiction of the pleasure and pain of Saint Teresa, and a surprisingly sensual representation of the divine.


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