Bernini – Ecstasy of Saint Teresa


What better way to start our discovering in the Baroque style with the great Gian Lorenzo Bernini and his Ecstasy of Saint Teresa!

Let’s find out all its secrets!

Gian Lorenzo Bernini - Ecstasy of Saint Teresa. Baroque sculpture
ARTIST Gian Lorenzo Bernini
NAME Ecstasy of Saint Teresa
LOCATION Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome
YEAR 1647–1652
TYPE Sculpture

Hi everyone and welcome back! Today I am going to talk about a masterpiece in Art (and not only for the Baroque Style): Ecstasy of Saint Teresa (Estasi di Santa Teresa in Italian). It was designed and completed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini who also created the setting of the Chapel in marble, stucco and paint.

By the way, if you missed the introductory post where I explain the Baroque features: here the link.

Bernini has been one of the best sculptors and architects ever and in this sculpture/architecture we can easily see his talent. The sculptor has been the favorite artist of the previous and profligate Pope Urbano VIII. However, with new Pope Innocenzo X, he was having a tough time. Anyway, he was still famous and appreciated and that’s why he found a new patron such as the Venetian Cardinal Federico Cornaro.

Cornaro commissioned the sculpture in the 1647 for his burial chapel in “Santa Maria della Vittoria” in Rome. It was completed in 1652 for the sum of 12,000 scudi, a price unheard at that time!

The sculpture represents the autobiographical episode in which the nun (then become Saint) Teresa of Avila experienced a religious ecstasy in her encounter with an angel. The two sculptural figures in fact are the angel with a spear and the swooning nun.

Cornaro Chapel in the Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome - Bernini, Ecstasy of Saint Teresa
Cornaro's Chapel, full view

The Chapel

However, before go deeper in details on the sculpture, I want that we stop on the chapel view. Bernini designed and completed not only the sculpture, but the entire setting of the Chapel in marble, stucco and paint. The sculptural group in white marble set in an elevated aedicule and it is the chapel’s heart. But the total view give us the idea of a theatrical scene with even spectators on the sides!

But who are this people and why are they there?? One word: witnesses. Witnesses of the miracle and witnesses of faith… Precisely, they are members of the Cornaro’s family (of course Cardinal Federico Cornaro is one of them) discussing the event in boxes as if at the theatre.

Cornaro Chapel in the Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome - details of the Cornaro Family
Cornaro Family detail in Cornaro's Chapel

With this solution Bernini shows his amazing genius: he is able to create a masterpiece in perfect Baroque Style including characters that are “modestly” on the sides. However, we are aware they are the patrons and “responsible” for the entire work of art…

As a result, Cornaro’s family is going to live forever with the two main characters. A great marketing example.

The Sculpture

Bernini show his ability as sculptor representing the moment when the angel is moving Teresa’s cloth to strike the spear in her heart. Both Teresa and angel’s fluttering draperies give us the idea of this movement: the angel’s really light drapery is moved by the wind while the thicker Teresa’s one is following the Saint laying down.

But what capture most our attention is for sure the Saint and angel’s faces. Teresa in particular seems completely lost and on her face an ecstasy that seems more erotic than mystic.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini - Ecstasy of Saint Teresa. Teresa's face detail
Teresa's face detail

Teresa seems living an immense pleasure and on the angel’s face we can read how he is enjoying the moment.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini - Ecstasy of Saint Teresa. Angel's face detail
Angel's face detail

A lot of art historians insist that Bernini could not possibly have intended to represent an erotic moment for such an important episode with a Saint. Moreover, inside a church. Anyway, we cannot hide the fact that the entire scene is so full of passion to suggest the idea of an ecstasy of senses.


And the eroticism is suggested also by another detail in the scene. Something that was not common to be represented in a sacred scene. Can you find it in the interactive image below?


In conclusion, Bernini’s ability is to create a scene that seems a real moment at the theatre, even if it cannot be real because of the topic, materials and circumstances. But it is not a coincidence that all the figures are life size: this detail, with the help of perspective, intense use of trompe l’oeil effects and characters’ natural expressions help to reach an intense level of Baroque “realism“.

I hope you enjoyed it! Please leave your comments and watch my video to find out more about this masterpiece!

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Discover more on the Ecstasy of Saint Teresa with many animations!

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