The church of Santa Maria della Vittoria is home to a masterpiece by the great Baroque sculptor, Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680).
The Ecstasy of St Teresa (1647-52) was commissioned by Federico Cornaro (1579-1653), a wealthy Venetian cardinal, who, in 1647, acquired the patronage of the left transept of Santa Maria della Vittoria, the newly-built church of the Order of the Discalced Carmelites.
In addition to the sculpture, Bernini designed the whole of the chapel, transforming the transept into an intimate little theatre, the private preserve of the Cornaro family, who look on from either side. The patron, Cardinal Cornaro, occupies the right box, the second figure from the right.
St Teresa of Ávila (1515-82) was a prominent Spanish Carmelite nun and mystic, who was canonised by Pope Gregory XV (r. 1621-23) in 1622.
Bernini's sculpture illustrates St Teresa's vision of religious ecstasy in an encounter with an angel, which she recounts in her autobiography: 'I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it...'
On seeing the work, the French writer Charles de Brosses (1709-77) quipped, 'Well, if that’s divine love, I know all about it'.
Bernini described his sculpture as the 'least bad thing I have done'.
My name is David Lown and I am an art historian from Cambridge, England. Since 2001 I have lived in Italy, where I run private and
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