Friday, 1 May 2015


Bernini was the first sculptor to realise the dramatic potential of light in sculpture. This is fully realised in his famous masterpiece Ecstasy of Saint Teresa (1645-1652, Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome), in which the sun's rays, coming from an unseen source, illuminate the saint and the smiling angel about to pierce her heart with a golden arrow.

Saint Teresa was a nun who was canonized (made a Saint by the Church) in part because of the spiritual visions she experienced. She lived during the middle of the 16th century in Spain—at the height of the Reformation. Saint Teresa wrote several books in which she described her visions.

Here is Saint Theresa’s description of the event in her own words.

“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 rank of angels, who seem 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 utterly consumed by the great love of God. The pain was so severe that it made me utter several moans. The sweetness caused by this intense pain is so extreme that one cannot possibly wish it to cease, nor is one's 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.”

To a contemporary viewer, Saint Theresa is a woman on the very verge of tipping over into orgasm bliss. The ecstatic expression of her slightly parted lips; the tightly closed eyes, shutting out superfluous sensation. The angel’s spear, with the flame at the tip. Bernini presents us with a sacred image; it is profane too.

You can see Bernini’s fabulous (fabulous in the truest sense of the word) in the Cornaro Chapel, Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome.


  1. "a sacred image; it is profane too."

    I love the mixing of the sacred and the sensual. It's a big theme in my writing - both on my blog and in my eBooks. Even when it's not explicitly there, it's always in the background.

  2. Yes, I do too..sacred and profane..mingling them, muddling them up. It can be shocking for the reader...when I read my stuff, after a break..I'm shocked too..

  3. I love it when I shock myself!

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  5. That amazing image of St. Theresa probably makes many modern Christians uncomfortable. I wonder what the contemporary response was when Bernini's statue was first unveiled.

  6. My wife and I braved 100 degree Roman heat this past August--in the middle of the day--to get to Santa Maria della Vittoria, only to find out the church was closed for midday -- so we waited on the steps for a half-hour. But it was well worth the wait. The second time I had seen this magnificent sculpture -- Kenneth Clark discusses the work in his Civilisation series, and opined that Bernini went shockingly far in his sensual depiction of St. Theresa.