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Video transcript

not all artists that produce religious work are themselves religious but an exception to that was Bernini Bernini was deeply religious but he was also especially interested in the theater he did set designs he wrote plays and he brought together his deep religious faith and his interest in theater here in this great masterpiece the ecstasy of Saint Teresa with in the corner a chapel within the Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria it's important to think about the sculpture with the architecture because Bernini was both a sculptor and an architect and you could say he brought together not only sculpture and architecture here but also painting because he's using colored marble there's also fresco up on the ceiling and the stained glass and you've got gilding and so it's it really is an entire installation piece he used whatever means he could to do what all Baroque art tried to do and that is to involve the viewer to inspire faith and to inspire faith again in the miraculous and that's precisely what this is about the subject matter is the ecstasy of Saint Teresa that is a woman who had recently been canonized been made a saint who is here having one of her not so uncommon visions of an angel that's right she was canonized in 1622 and she wrote accounts of the visions that she had of angels I can read the one that Bernini used for the ecstasy of Saint Teresa please do beside me on the left 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 ranks of angels who seemed 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 so that it penetrated to my entrails when he pulled it out I felt that he took them with it and left me uh Turley consumed by the great love of God the pain was so severe that it made me utter several moans the sweetness caused me by this intense pain is so extreme that one cannot possibly wish it to cease nor is one soul 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 that last line is especially important both the text that you just read and Bernie's approach use the physical body and a kind of sexual symbolism to get at the spiritual experience that's right to represent it for us we need to understand st. Teresa's spiritual visions by means of a metaphor that's all we have we don't have visions you and I most people don't but st. Teresa was blessed the only way that Bernini and centuries or herself could explain that to us was by a metaphor involving the body this made her moan this was a physical experience and so Bernini has translated that relationship between the physical and the spiritual into stone and if we look for instance at the two figures we see this gorgeous angel who's plunging that arrow that she spoke of with its iron tip pointing it right at her and you can see her body writhing under the heavy cloth he has this very sweet angelic smile on his face his body is very graceful there's such a difference in that gauze fabric that he wears look at the way the wind seems to whip it around his body creating this fabulous torsion in such contrast to the heavy quality of the cloth that she wears she is of the earth he is of the heavens and that also in contrast to the feathers that we can almost feel in his wings Bernini is using marble the same substance for all of these but making them seem such different textures well it's almost impossible to remember this is marble in fact especially because the whole thing seems to float in midair well he's done that by supporting it from quite a deep recess so that everything underneath shadow and the miraculous is expressed you know this is the counter-reformation this is a moment when Protestants in the north revolting against the Catholics and are saying that the incense the pomp in the ceremony of the Catholic tradition is not necessary it gets in the way the Protestants said that we should have a personal relationship with God that we didn't need all that ceremony of the church and what Bernini is doing here very cleverly is in fact using all that pomp and ceremony all the fabulous gold all of the marble here to express a direct relationship between an individual and the spiritual realm giving us a kind of dramatic access to that and the main thing that broke art always does is it involves the viewer and here Bernini does that in a number of ways he's not just thinking about the sculpture of Saint Teresa and the angel but about the whole space of the chapel because on either side we see relief sculptures of figures that look like they're in theater boxes as though we were part of an audience so we become immediately part of the work of art look at the way that broken pediment this sort of proscenium this stage like space literally seems to open up as if the marble is moving to reveal this very intimate image and to give us a sense of the specialness of our vantage point but the figures on the upper left and the upper right are very curious they are like us in that they are seeing the sacred event but they're not like us because they are the patron and the family of the patrons this is the Cornaro Chapel and Fredrika corner was a cardinal in Venice but had important ties to Rome so we have Teresa and the angel on a cloud appearing to float in the air with rays of gold that seemed to be mysteriously illuminated from above well we're in the church looking at the chapel in the late afternoon in the summer and light does seem to be miraculously pouring down on these figures from above if we look way up we can see that this fresco on the ceiling of the chapel that shows the Holy Spirit a white dove and light is emanating from that it almost seems as if the light that's pouring too on these two figures is coming from the Holy Spirit but Bernini remember is a dramatist and remember is a stage craftsman and he's using all of his tricks to make this happen it's of a trick in this case is that there's a window hidden behind that broken pediment that shines light through and then down onto the sculptures Bernini is doing everything he can to make us walk up to this tableau and go and feel this moment this spiritual vision in our bodies you often think about how Baroque art appeals to our senses in a way that's so different from the high Renaissance and its appeal to the rational mind this is not all about the rational this is about change is about metamorphosis it's about spiritual awakening and it is incredibly powerful emotionally it's about that union of our world with the spiritual you