Tuesday, 3 July 2007

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

: 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


  1. Catholic porn, dear boy; utterly delicious and captivating, but porn nevertheless, in a very spiritual sense.

    I don't know what Schama means about Art Historians avoiding the obvious topic. When we studied this sculputure at varsity, we talked about nothing else.

  2. "I don't know what Schama means about Art Historians avoiding the obvious topic. When we studied this sculputure at varsity, we talked about nothing else."

    Yeeah, but that could be because you're a godless atheist. You think Sister Wendy would know what you were talking about? ;^)

  3. Schama does tell a ripping yarn. Especially liked the story about that slut his brother was banging as well.

  4. And some people wonder why I/S closed his comment section, and reckon he doesn't know what misogyny is.

  5. You've missed some great episodes including Van Gogh and Caravaggio. Don't know how much literary licence he takes but for entertainment's sake he can make it up for me.

  6. So why has no one told me this is on?

    You're all to blame! Infamy, infamy, everybody's got it in for me. ;^)

    (And why so damn late? This is EXACTLY the sort of stuff that should be prime time viewing.)

  7. oolqsAgreed, Lindsay. I loved those particular eps, too.

    Doncha know by now the good stuff is always on late, PC! The latest gem from (West Wing master) Aaron Sorkin & co's 'Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip' I struck by accident two wks ago about 11.15ish.

    This time he's taken on the US television industry in the form of a fictional live weekly satirical show. Last week's was a nice piece on network politics and freedom of speech. (Thurs 10.30pm on 2).

    There is the odd mushroom amidst the pooh.

  8. Ecstasy, not Ecstacy please...

  9. Crikey, Pedant, you're right. I must have been on a high when I typed that.

    Mea culpa. ;^)

  10. The series is available on DVD and as a book.


  11. I love Simon Schama!!! XD

  12. @PC:
    I don't know... Sister Wendy gets awfully excited about certain things! Her description of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, the Flaying of Marseillas(sp?)... I can't remember what the last one was called, but there was Venus and Mars, and all she talked about was sex and lovers. It was highly embarrassing for a 10th grader such as I.

    Bernini was a truly awe-inspiring artist, though, and Schama does a fantastic job of connecting to the audience, driving home how talented these people were. Honestly, I feel artists may have regressed in skill since then. It can't be helped though--people had more time to devote to their crafts then.


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