I had heard about Bernini's Ecstasy of St. Teresa, but was under the impression that it was in one of the churches in Trastevere, the church of San Francesco a Ripa. In fact what is in Trastevere is Bernini's funerary monument to Blessed Ludovica Albertoni, which we had gone to see but were unable to, as the chapel where the sculpture was, was under restoration at the time. Because there were too many places to visit, too many "masterpieces" to see, I failed to properly research where I could find the Ecstacy..
Gian Lorenzo Bernini, another of those "Renaissance" men, like Da Vinci, and Michelangelo, may have created or more definitely was one of the dominant figures of Baroque style sculpture. His work is seen in parks, piazzas and churches all over Rome, some of which I saw and took pictures of. He was also an architect, a playwrite and a set designer par excellence!
A perfect example of the latter is the Cornaro Chapel in the Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria, which was designed and built by Bernini as the perfect setting for his Ecstasy of St. Teresa of Avila.
The chapel looks like a mini theater, with the Ecstasy on center stage, light from the skylight above dramatically enhanced by gilded rays behind the statue, and on the sides as if in the box seats are "the witnesses". On the left side are 4 members of the Cornaro family and on the right side are 4 representatives of the church. And in the orchestra area, would be us. Interestingly, as my husband thought or strangely, as I did, all the "witnesses" were male! With this theatrical setting, and the powerful representation of the ecstasy, critics are divided as to whether Teresa is depicted as being in the throes of experiencing an intense state of divine joy or a more human-like physical orgasm.
The sculpture is a direct representation by Bernini of an account of religious ecstasy as described by St. Teresa of Avila in her autobiography. The passage:
The intensity of the experienced ecstasy is mirrored in her face.
Her limp hand and languid fingers:
Her limp feet but surprisingly taut toes:
The ruffled folds of her habit:
The Angel seems to be smiling as he readies himself to pierce her with his arrow:
After spending a considerable amount of time contemplating the Ecstasy, I came to a personal understanding and appreciation of the erotic, yet spiritual character of Bernini's St. Teresa. I think my strict Catholic upbringing and the presence of the angel, are in large part responsible for this understanding. Then there is his sculpture of Blessed Ludovica Albertoni, which I was able to see on this return to Rome. This representation is definitely more erotic!
It may also be that we, being human, can express encounters with the divine, only in human emotional terms. The more intense the encounter, the more intense the emotional response, bringing with it a purely physical reaction....What do you think?