Bernini - 'Ecstasy of St Teresa'
Waiting for the becalmed America's Cup last night I stumbled upon a frankly fantastic TV programme celebrating this masterpiece, Bernini's frankly sensual St Theresa. Any programme that praises this is a programme worth praising, and Simon Schama's 'Power of Art' is certainly that. I have no idea how long it's on for, but it' definitely worth watching out for - Schama's descriptions brings great art to life, and the cinematographic presentation of the sculpture is the next best thing to being there. (What it's doing on at 10:30 on a Sunday night when the rest of the schedules are full of nothing but crap I really don't know.)
When I first posted Bernini's 'Ecstacy of St Teresa' last year I said it was part sculpture, part theatre, part architecture, -- an integration of all three that transforms a simple story into great art. Schama highlights the revolution that Bernini brought into being here: showing a nun in a frank height of ecstacy; making a ton of marble seem to float, to ascend; using the folds of her habit to betray the exultation within...
Picture a Roman of 1647 seeing this. The light from above, the intimate chapel, the image of ecstacy, the smiling puti lifting the robe, aiming his golden shaft... It's not too hard to see what Bernini was aiming at. Says Schama in his characteristically demonstrative fashion :
What Bernini's managed to make tangible is something that we all, if we're honest, know we hunger for, but before which we're properly tongue-tied. Something that has produced more bad writing, more excruciating moments of bad cinema, more appalling poems than anything else. No wonder when art historians look at this sculpture they tie themselves in knots to avoid saying the obvious, that is, that we're looking at the most intense convulsive drama of the body that any of us experience."Ecstasy of St. Teresa, 1647-52, Marble, height c. 11' 6" (3.5m), Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome
UPDATE: Paul at Fundy Post says it far more succinctly: "[This] is a work that can best described as ravishing."
Roman Catholicism was so much more fun during the counter-reformation. Then it was opulent and sensuous; now it is priggish and earnest. St Teresa's own description of her vision can be found here; dirty, dirty, dirty.TAGS: Architecture, Art, Sculpture