Bernini Essay, Research Paper
Chicha, NathalieArt History 11, sect. 109March 5, 1998 Bernini+s The Ecstasy of St. Teresa This is not a physical, but a spiritual pain, though the body has some share in it even a considerable share. So gentle is this wooing which takes place between God and the soul that if anyone thinks I am lying, I pray God in His Goodness, to grant him some experience of it. St. Teresa, Life If only doubters view Bernini+s The Ecstasy of St. Teresa (1645-52), the Saint+s wish will have been granted. Bernini+s work is one of |gentle. . wooingX and, ultimately, a catharsis of unity: between the material and immaterial, the actors and their audience, and art+s various forms. The physicality of St. Teresa+s experience only intensifies its spiritual dimensions; likewise, the physical presence and scale of Bernini+s work brings to climax the Saint+s experience of the purely immaterial. Bernini+s masterpiece, according to Hibbard (page 130), is situated in the Cornaro Chapel to appear as a revelation. Despite its size, it strikes the viewer whole; the whiteness of the ceiling and of the Ecstasy gives the work a coherency across space. The combination of forms sculpture, architecture, and painting manipulate the environment so that we cannot tell where the art stops; even the air seems rarified. And we, breathing the air, come as close to St. Teresa+s experience as we ever can without having a cherub+s spear pierce through our hearts. As we approach the Ecstasy, the spiritual beauty takes on, increasingly, an emotional intensity. The divinity represented in the ceiling+s painting concentrates itself in the wounding of the marble St. Teresa+s heart; her pain and pleasure are from experiencing the wholeness, largeness of the divine. A mortal heart must certainly feel pain at grasping something so momentous. Bernini began seriously experimenting with the duality of physical pain and spiritual pleasure in the Martyrdom of St. Lawrence (c. 1614-15). According to Bernini+s son, Domenico, the artist put his own leg into a fire to observe a face+s reaction to pain (Hibbard, page 29). Accurate recreations of emotion in art allow the viewer to both recognize and empathize with the emotion. The viewer matches a sculpted figure+s physical expression to his own emotional projection of what that expression signifies. In other words, the artist invokes an emotion which the viewer must experience to give the work meaning. Bernini+s Saint Teresa, through her face and body, invites us to feel a rapture which leaves the body limp, a pain which leaves the soul in ecstacy. The contrasts embodied in this statement are central to understanding the work. Her body and pose show her release of the physical realm. Hands and feet dangle, limp. The toes of her right foot hook into the cloud supporting her, while the foot+s heel sags. Her body+s muscles seem to have gone lax, and if not for the cherub holding the cloth of her robe her whole body would probably fall backwards. Her eyes are half closed and pupil-less, her mouth open with an unstoppable moan. Face, hands, and feet all suggest a bodily surrender to the spear. Only the robe reminds us of her physical pain (|severeX and |intenseX, according to the Saint+s Life ); it tussles coarsely, agitatedly, with deep grooves creating strong black and white contrasts. The pain, though, does not cause the body to resist the cherub; and because of St. Teresa+s surrender, we assume she does in fact feel the |sweetness caused by this intense pain.X While St. Teresa droops, the cherub stands assuredly over her, ready to thrust the spear again into her chest. His face is serene, unaffected, impermeable. His hold on both the spear and the Saint+s robe appears delicate and effortless. The spear, bringer of |severeX and |intenseX pain, rests steadily between only his thumb and index finger. His body is young, smooth and unmuscled so perfect its origin can only be divine. While the material of the Saint+s robe is bulky and rough, the material of his drapery is thinner and expresses his origin by the grace with which it folds and moves. Its elegance and resistance to gravity may also allude to the fire which St. Teresa described the cherub to be alight with. Thus, the cherub, in his contrasts to the Saint, helps better convey the transcendental nature of her experience. He directly links the Ecstasy with the images of divinity on the Chapel+s ceiling. The cloud below and the golden light rays behind these figures also participate in the theme of the spiritual meeting the physical. As the Cherub gained flesh in his descent to Earth, light gains solidity with Bernini+s usage of thin bronze poles. Also, the cloud, for which Bernini did not use marble, appears fluffy and yet, physically, it supports the cherub and the Saint. To express the meeting of man with the divine, the material and immaterial can merge.
Light and colors also contribute to the effect. The (once) natural light source Bernini built into the Chapel emphasizes the idea of something unworldly, mysterious, and immaterial touching Earth. As the light source is not apparent, it is obviously intended to be a light from the Heavens; from the source of this light, the cherub descended. Due to black and white reproductions, observations concerning the colored marbles surrounding the Ecstasy are harder to make; but still, we can attempt two. First, the color is a contrast to the Ecstasy+s white; this contrast draws our attention to the Ecstasy and articulates its separation from other earthly matters. Though the statue group is horizontally level with the colored marbles, it has more to do with the art work above it. Secondly, as Hibbard notes (page 131), the colored marble+s most impressive effects take place around the Ecstasy. It is almost as if the statue gives off so much pure kinetic energy, it alters the color of its surrounding marbles, giving them strange swirls and dapples of white. So, white, connoting spirituality and the divine, bursts into the color, connoting the earthly and physical. Here, in effect, we see another form of merging. Extending outward horizontally from the Ecstasy and the marbles, we come to one of the work+s least conspicuous and yet most interesting features: the marble Cornaro audience. Their presence in two sets of four, one on each side of us effects the work in several, but most noticeably three, important ways. First, and most outstandingly, we now have three statue groups surrounding us, two of which are, like us, spectators of the Ecstasy. (Bernini even creates the illusion that they occupy the same architectural reality as us.) The space between these statues is consequently activated, and by stepping into it, we enter the work of art. The arrangement forces our participation much as Bernini+s David (1623-4) does. So we now have two methods by which Bernini involves us in the experience of the Ecstasy (the first method, we recall, was by his accurate, physical renditions of emotion). Secondly, the presence of an audience to this most holy event stresses, emotionally, the physical vulnerability of St. Teresa. Not only is she undergoing intense pain, but she is being watched as she undergoes it. Yet, as already suggested, her physical submission is a sign of spiritual triumph. Thirdly and lastly, the Cornaro audience bears witness with us to the miracle of beams of light and an angel becoming solid, physical objects. That we have company in this that this seemingly private event is actually public sets the piece+s scope. Ideally, it will effect a community of people; Bernini sets its social importance very high. Perhaps, as Hibbard points out (page 130), the Cornaro Cardinals have actually conjured up this vision of St. Teresa+s Ecstasy. Such an understanding would take into account the Cardinals+ poses why, while several of them are watching the Saint, most instead discuss the vision among themselves. But whether or not the Ecstasy is actually their vision, they are the audience while the Saint and the cherub are the actors. The stage of this play, though, does not lay on a horizontal plane, but rather a vertical one. Two architectural shapes highlight this verticality: a smooth arch, running across the top, and framing the work+s horizontal space, and a broken pediment, crowning the Ecstasy. Taken together, they form a rough triangle, much in line with the work+s themes. We can imagine two lines running down from the left and right-most walls of the arch to form a sharp angle at the Ecstasy ; so all of the Heavens converge at one point in St. Teresa+s heart. The arch is also noteworthy for its three-dimensional angels over stucco. This is the beginning of the meeting between the material and immaterial realms; the end of the meeting resides with the more fully realized cherub standing over St. Teresa. The ceiling+s painting creates a one-dimensional contrast to further enhance the meeting evident in the three-dimensional Ecstasy. Hence, through new relations between architecture, sculpture, and painting, and the actors with their audience, Bernini brings us to the Ecstasy+s heart: the meeting of the spiritual and the physical to become one. Bernini+s handling of the various elements indeed makes it seem that |a gentle. . wooingX is taking place between both St. Teresa and God, and the viewer with Bernini+s masterpiece.