The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa by Gian Lorenzo Bernini

Between the years 1647 and 1652, the Italian sculptor, architect and painter, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, created one of his best-known works, «The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa«. This sculpture is located in the famous Cornaro Chapel of the Santa Maria della Vittoria Church, in Rome, Italy. If you want to know a little more about her, do not hesitate to stay and learn with us.


Description and composition

“The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa” or “The Transverberation of Saint Teresa”, as it is called in many places, is a marble sculpture made by the Italian painter, architect and sculptor, Gian Lorenzo Bernini. In order to carry it out, Bernini had to devise a chapel in the Church of Santa Maria Della Vittoria with a rather striking three-dimensional space.

Santa Maria della Vittoria is a basilica built during the XNUMXth century in order to commemorate the victory of Emperor Ferdinand II in the Battle of White Mountain. The realization of "The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa" dates back to the middle of this century, when Cardinal Federico Cornaro commissioned Bernini to be placed in the place where his tomb would go.

The artist accepted due to the prestige and power that the man and his family possessed within the nation. The chapel with the same name, Cornaro, is located in Rome, Italy. The construction of the chapel at that time was a splendid interpretation of altarpieces and columns in which the imposing sculpture was in the center.

The configuration of the space was intended to force the viewer to look directly at the sculpture, which offered an image of superior magnificence. In itself, the work is an excellent portrait made of marble, simply an explosion of colors, metals and details.

On both sides of the central focus, we get two balconies with sculptures of the cardinal and other ecclesiastical members. Each one appears as an observer of the scene presented and they are in charge of representing his full devotion to what he witnessed. That is why it is considered one of the greatest masterpieces of Roman High Baroque.


It has a small window located above Santa Teresa, through which the light filters sublimely, with golden rays made of bronze responsible for underlining it. Its dome has a freshness of a sky made with the trompe l'oeil technique, full of cherubs and a light from which the Holy Spirit descends as is traditional in the Catholic religion, in the form of a dove.

Although many are not aware of it, the main figures of the group are based on an episode that was described by Saint Teresa of Jesus in her autobiographical text, entitled the "Book of Life". It tells how an angel pierces the heart of a Carmelite nun with the help of a gold dart.

With an approximate height of 3,50 meters, the scene captures the moment in which such an angel is going to stick the arrow into him, capturing the impressive expression on his face that reflects his feelings, a sublime mix between pain and pleasure. The Saint can be seen leaning on a rough cloud directing her gaze to the bareness of her feet and the folds of her dress.

Those folds that cover most of her body draw attention because they do not fully correspond to her figure, giving even more a sense of complete irrationality. We could define it as an energetic expressiveness which, together with the disorder of the two figures, clearly denote that it is a baroque style.

In addition to giving us art in the sculptural field, Bernini was in charge of creating an entire architectural and pictorial ensemble for greater realism and mysticism, since he was even the one who painted the chapel. He had such an impressive creativity that the theater boxes located on the sides, these come from his experience to provide that theatrical component.

His style is influenced by various sources that include the talented Michelangelo Buonarroti, Hellenistic art, naturalism, among other currents and cultural movements. For this reason, he is credited with the title of the creator of one of the most beautiful sculptures of the entire Modern Age and one of the forerunners of the Baroque.


History of the Work

On December 7, 1598, a city in southern Italy called Naples sees the birth of the future heir to the sculptural audacity of Michelangelo, genius and main leader of the Baroque architectural model, Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Although his talent was totally innate, he became what he was thanks to his father, a sculptor from the Mannerist area.

Pietro Bernini was responsible for teaching him the rudiments of sculpture in his own workshop. In addition, he was also in charge of putting him in contact with some members of the highest social strata so that he could exploit his talent from a very young age.

Even within his earliest works "Aeneas, Anchises and Ascanius" and "The Abduction of Proserpina", the existing break with the late Renaissance and the taking of a quite radical new conception of sculpture, in which the drama intense, the magnificence and the use of scenographic effects were the protagonists.

Over the years, Bernini becomes a young adult and in 1629 Pope Urban VIII appointed him as the main architect of St. Peter's Basilica. From that moment until his death, he played the role of a tireless worker for the supreme pontiffs, except in the mandate of Innocent X, who preferred other artists over him.

Among all the works he carried out for San Pedro, the precious Baldachin located on the main altar of the impressive sculptural group called "The Fathers of the Church" stands out. This, seen through the various columns of the Baldachin, provides effects with an extraordinary theatrical force in the way that the author wanted from the beginning.

Despite this, it is not recognized as its best contribution throughout the history of the basilica, but rather its famous colonnade, an extensive sequence of columns that constitutes an autonomous element and surrounds its entire square, just in front of the temple. . Since its creation, this immense square with an elliptical floor plan has received endless praise due to its harmonious scenographic effects.

As a consequence of his few, but important works for private patrons and the collaboration they provided him for many years, the transcendent work we are talking about was born and the one that fervently represents his characteristic style of sculpture, "The Ecstasy of Santa Teresa" .

Although many people do not believe it, even today it is quite difficult to conceive of the possibility of a dramatic intensity and superior dynamic force, in an execution of diminutive dimensions carried out by means of such a fine treatment of marble. .

It has come to be considered as a masterful compilation of the three major arts: architecture, sculpture and painting. This is due to its status as an element for chapel decoration techniques and the exceptional chiaroscuro effects. That is why, centuries later, he is still named as an incomparable model of Baroque sculpture.

The entire work was under the supervision of Bernini and was completed between 1647 and 1652, specifically during a good part of the papacy of the pontiff who did not have him as his favorite artist, Innocent X. In that period, Bernini had been displaced, since which was directly linked to the highly excessive cats of the previous papacy, that of Urban VIII.

For this reason, he was severely deprived of pontifical patronage. In addition, there is the fact that Pope Innocent had a preference for his artistic rival, the equally impressive Alessandro Algardi. Therefore, Bernini had enough free time to be contacted by private employers.

One of them was Cardinal and Patriarch Federico Cornaro, who chose the Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria of the Discalced Carmelites as the chapel in which he was buried. Cornaro had a myriad of reasons to avoid being buried in his native Venice, which is why he chose such a place.

And it is that after his appointment as cardinal by Urbano, while his father played the role of the Doge (maximum representative of the Catholic Church in the city of Venice), there were various scandals in the town where he lived causing fights between families with great power.

The Venetian, after much thought, opted for the left chapel of the church, in which a figure of "The Ecstasy of Paul" was previously found, which was replaced over the years with the image of Saint Teresa of Jesus, nun, mystic, founder of the Order of Discalced Carmelites and Spanish writer, at the same time that she suffered an ecstasy caused by the arrow of a cherub.

Approximately in 1652 the work was completed with the exorbitant sum invested of 12 thousand shields, currency of the modern age and that at present is around 120.000 dollars. According to the Spanish politician, journalist and writer, Luis María Anson, Saint Teresa, to reach such a point of ecstasy, was influenced by the mystical poet and religious Saint John of the Cross. Just myths.


Although at this point we will analyze the meaning of the work, we cannot investigate the subject without having explained the historical context of the time in which it was created. "The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa" was given life no more and no less than in the period of the Counter-Reformation of the Catholic Church.

What does this mean? It means that he was born at a time when the Church had a serious crisis due to the arrival of the Protestant Reformation. As a result of it, European Christianity was divided and there were countless wars and conflicts, especially in regions of France and Spain.

Little by little, the Catholic Church was losing power in the different territories in which it led, and it had an urgent need to carry out a drive to demonstrate its power. After the multiple sessions of what is known as the Council of Trent in the XNUMXth century, the high command concluded that this impulse would be through art.

That made a lot of sense at the time, since the vast majority of the Western population was illiterate and had to be impressed by their eyesight and ostentatious works. Through "The Ecstasy of Santa Teresa" two main objectives would be fulfilled.

The first is that they were shown model characters that the faithful believers had to yearn with devotion to become them, while in parallel with a certain didactic purpose they were taught the Passion of Saint Teresa. It was a clear form of his exercise in crowd control.

The second is that they could show that they had enormous sums of money and that beauty was not a luxury for them, but a mere necessity. The Church was rich and powerful, with the prestige to crush those who dared to challenge them. All this would be in one way or another captured in baroque art.

As for the analysis as such, the sculptural ensemble represents the mystical experience known as "transverberation", a spiritual pleasure that goes beyond the corporeal, and that Bernini knew how to express it in an exceptional way. In this way, the ecstasy of the Saint could be a little more understandable for mere mortals.

As mentioned at the beginning, it was based on his own writings, but taken to sculpture it is nothing more than the typical topic of the Baroque, both for its propagandist concept and for its visualization of religious emotions It does not have any kind of sexual connotation , is just the representation of love, pain and joy simultaneously.

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