Art History Lab

The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa: A Masterpiece of Baroque Sculpture

The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa: A Masterpiece of High Roman Baroque SculptureIn the heart of Rome lies a marvelous work of art that has stunned the world since the seventeenth century. It is an exquisite white marble sculptural ensemble that has captured the mystical religious experience of Saint Teresa of Jesus.

This masterpiece of High Roman Baroque sculpture is entitled ‘

The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa,’ and it is the focal point of the Cornaro Chapel in the Santa Maria della Vittoria church. This chapel is preserved to this day, and it is visited by tourists from all corners of the world.

The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa

The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa is a white marble sculptural ensemble created by Gian Lorenzo Bernini between 1647 and 1652. This artwork portrays the moment when Saint Teresa of Jesus experienced her heart being pierced by an angel’s arrow, conveying the ecstatic spirituality that she felt.

This artwork is intentionally designed to invoke a feeling of awe in the viewer. Bernini’s skillful use of light, shadow, and the representation of Saint Teresa in her rapture make it look as if the sculpture is alive and moving.

Its location as the focal point of the Cornaro Chapel adds to its prominence and significance.

High Roman Baroque Sculpture Masterpieces

The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa is only one example of High Roman Baroque sculpture masterpieces. Bernini, a renowned Italian designer and sculptor, had an extraordinary ability to portray the human face.

His work created a revolution in Baroque sculpture as he pushed boundaries in portraying the emotions and the inner state of the human soul. The representation of Saint Teresa in the sculpture in her ecstasy was influenced by her Spanish nobility and religious background.

The Artistic Genius of Gian Lorenzo Bernini

Gian Lorenzo Bernini was a prodigious Italian artist who excelled in sculpture, architecture, and painting. He was known for his passion for art and his devotion to the Baroque era.

Bernini was an artistic genius who pushed the limits of imagination and creativity. As a designer, he could see the original concept in his mind before he even put it on paper or started sculpting.

Michelangelo and Italian Baroque Architecture

Michelangelo was another Italian artist who influenced the aesthetics of the Italian Baroque architecture. Like Bernini, Michelangelo was a prodigy of stone and is known for his sculptures depicting religious themes.

Michelangelo’s emphasis on human feeling and sensuality in his art was an influential part of his career. In the Baroque era, there was a transformation in how people observed the world; beauty was no longer limited to the physical dimension but also encompassed the spiritual dimension of human beings.


In conclusion, the High Roman Baroque sculpture was a movement that changed the way in which art is perceived. Gian Lorenzo Bernini and Michelangelo created masterpieces that are still studied and admired to this day.

The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa is one of the many works that Bernini produced, and it is an unforgettable example of Roman Baroque art. It is a piece that continues to captivate visitors to the Cornaro Chapel, as it speaks to the religious and spiritual experience shared by the artist and Saint Teresa.

Bernini’s artistic genius and his passion for the Baroque era paved the way for the revival of the Italian Baroque architecture. The legacy of these artists continues to influence contemporary art and architecture.

Speaking Likeness – Documenting Subjects

During the sixteenth century, technology for capturing visual images was not available, and the true-to-life representation of people was not a common practice. However, portraiture remained a vital art form, notably in the form of official portraits of rulers, merchants, and military leaders, documenting their subjects for posterity.

The realistic approach used in portraiture at that time was called the speaking likeness, with an emphasis on capturing the sitter’s physical features in fine detail so that the final result looked as much like a portrait as a photograph. Furthermore, this realistic approach was carried over to official portraits meant for graves, commission for which was on a rise to perpetuate the subject’s legacy.

Apollo and Daphne Impact on Sculpting and Architecture

Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne sculpture is considered a turning point in the progression of Baroque sculpture. This piece had a giant impact on architectural style and sculpting techniques and has shaped the way architectural elements are incorporated into sculptures.

The sculpture is part of a broader architectural ensemble, with the figures’ placement and dramatic gestures perfectly coordinated with surrounding elements, such as paintings and other sculptures. Bernini’s work briefly breaks with the traditional rigidity of Baroque artwork and instead is inspired by the human body’s innate fluidity.

His work in the ensemble created one of the most dynamic and remarkable artistic experiences of the Baroque period, and it continues to captivate viewers today.

The Statue of Saint Teresa

Completed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini in 1652, the Statue of Saint Teresa is one of the most significant works of the late Counter-Reformation school of Baroque sculptures. The marble creation portrays Saint Teresa of vila in a state of spiritual ecstasy.

The statue’s appearance is unique in that it incorporates physical features often associated with the attraction, resulting in a form of art that soothes and inspires. The statue is located in Santa Maria Della Vittoria, Rome, and is one of the major tourist attractions of the region.

Spiritual Components of Catholic Religion

The unique spiritual ecstasy experience of Bernini’s Saint Teresa is indicative of one of the spiritual components of the Catholic religion, notably the Counter-Reformation movement. The image portrays Saint Teresa in the throes of divine ecstasy, which is comparable to the physical experience of an orgasm.

Bernini’s work on Saint Teresa is important because it represents the Catholic mysticism of the Counter-Reformation, which attempted to combine faith with the individual’s bodily experiences. This mystical experience is what sets the statue apart from others with religious themes and made it one of the most significant works of Catholic religious art.


In conclusion, Bernini’s work in the form of the Statue of Saint Teresa and Apollo and Daphne sculptures were pivotal moments in the evolution of the Baroque period. Through his work, Bernini made considerable contributions to the counter-reformation movement’s religious ideology and redefined the concept of art in the Baroque period.

The incorporation of sculptures with architecture was his way of bringing together various disparate elements of art into a unified form, resulting in an unparalleled experience for the viewer. Furthermore, realistic portraiture represented the speaking likeness and was glimpsed in official portraits often used in graves, documenting subjects for posterity.

The impact of Bernini’s work in art is still evident today and serves as a reminder of the beauty and versatility of Baroque art.

Cardinal Federico Cornaro Commissioning Bernini

One of the most significant patrons of the Baroque period was Cardinal Federico Cornaro, who commissioned the construction of the Cornaro Chapel at Santa Maria Della Vittoria in Rome. This personal chapel is one of the most significant examples of Baroque art in the world and a testament to the Venetian Cardinal’s strong faith and devotion.

Cardinal Cornaro commissioned Gian Lorenzo Bernini to design the chapel and included his masterwork,

The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, to serve as its centerpiece.

Venetian Cardinal Burial Chamber

Cardinal Federico Cornaro served as a wealthy merchant and a Venetian statesman. In addition to his social and political career, he enjoyed a close friendship with Innocent VIII, who later became Pope.

As a cardinal, he had constructed a magnificent burial chamber for himself, and he paid the substantial amount of 12,000 scudi for Bernini’s masterpiece. His patronage of art was also an indication of the significant role patrons played in the art and the culture of the Baroque period.

Teresa of vila Spiritual Reformist and Writer

Teresa of vila was a Spanish nun, Carmelite sister, spiritual reformist, writer, and contemplative prayer theorist during the 16th century. She was instrumental in the restructuring of the Carmelite Orders and played a central role in the religious and spiritual revival movement of the time.

Edward St. John, in his book “Teresa of Avila and the Politics of Sanctity,” describes her as a “central figure in the political, social, and cultural life of Spain” and a significant participant in the spiritual renewal movements that spread through the country.

Restructuring of Carmelite Orders

Teresa of vila is perhaps best known for her work in the restructuring of the Carmelite Orders. She advocated for a return to the strict observance of the order’s original rule, which saw her clash with the older, more established branches of the order.

However, her reform efforts were eventually recognized and approved by Pope Gregory XIII, who allowed for a break from the previous order, resulting in the creation of the Discalced Carmelites. Teresa also wrote a considerable number of works on spiritual matters, including “The Interior Castle” and “The Way of Perfection.”


The patronage of wealthy individuals and religious leaders, such as Cardinal Cornaro, was instrumental in the development of Baroque art.

Bernini’s masterpiece,

The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, is a testament to the Cardinal’s devotion and faith. Teresa of vila, on the other hand, is perhaps best known for her role in the spiritual and religious revival of her time and the restructuring of the Carmelite Orders.

Her writings have had a lasting impact on the Catholic Church and the spiritual community. The contributions of both Bernini and Teresa of vila serve as a reminder of the power of art and spirituality to influence and shape society.

Composition of the Sculpture

The composition of

The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa is a testament to Bernini’s mastery of spatial design and lighting. The sculpture is housed within the Cornaro Chapel, a soaring space that Bernini expertly utilized to enhance the dramatic effect of the artwork.

The concave niche where the sculpture is placed is adorned with a trompe l’oeil fresco, creating the illusion of a heavenly space behind the figures. The materials used in the sculpture, including marble, gilded wood, and gilt bronze, reflect the craftsmanship and attention to detail for which Bernini was known.

Movement and Stillness in

The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa

The sculpture brilliantly captures the contrast between movement and stillness. Saint Teresa is depicted in a moment of rapture, her body leaning back with her eyes closed, evoking a sense of spiritual ecstasy.

The contrast of whiteness and polychrome marble adds to the visual impact of the sculpture, with the saint’s flowing robes and ruffled heavy drapery adding a sense of dynamism and movement. Surrounding Saint Teresa are the witnesses, sculpted statues that appear frozen in time, heightening the visual effect and adding to the overall spiritual meaning of the piece.

Sensuous Pleasure and the Catholic Counter-Reformation Art

The Catholic Counter-Reformation art movement, which sought to revitalize the Catholic Church and spread its teachings, often employed visual representations to communicate religious messages.

The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, with its vivid depiction of a spiritual experience, was intended to evoke sensuous pleasure in the viewer.

The artwork aimed to capture attention, engage emotions, and provide explanations of the secrets of Catholicism. Through its powerful imagery, the sculpture effectively conveyed the profound spiritual experience that Saint Teresa of vila had encountered.

Influence on Painters and Authors

Bernini’s interpretation of the spiritual experience in

The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa has had a profound influence on painters and authors throughout history. The sculpture’s transgressive allure and the depiction of bridal spirituality have captivated artists and writers.

Caroline Babcock, in her book “Bernini and the Worlds of Dream,” explores the influence of Bernini’s artistic style on painters and authors. She argues that Bernini’s ability to capture the physical and emotional aspects of ecstasy resonated with other artists, inspiring them to explore similar themes in their own work.


The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa remains a cornerstone of Baroque sculpture, emblematic of Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s skill and innovation. The composition of the sculpture, with its spatial design and masterful use of lighting, creates a captivating atmosphere in the Cornaro Chapel.

The contrast of movement and stillness, along with the use of different materials, adds to the visual impact and spiritual meaning of the piece. Furthermore, the sensuous pleasure and profound spirituality depicted in the sculpture have had a lasting influence on artists and writers, inspiring them to explore similar themes in their own works.

The enduring legacy of

The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa serves as a reminder of the power of artistic expression in conveying complex emotions and religious experiences. In conclusion,

The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa by Gian Lorenzo Bernini is a remarkable masterpiece of High Roman Baroque sculpture.

The composition, spatial design, and use of materials in the sculpture showcase Bernini’s artistic genius and his ability to evoke strong emotions and spiritual experiences. The sculpture’s depiction of movement and stillness, along with the contrast of whiteness and polychrome marble, creates a visually captivating experience.

Furthermore, the influence of Bernini’s work extends beyond the realm of sculpture, inspiring painters and authors to explore similar themes. The enduring legacy of

The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa serves as a testament to the power of art to convey complex emotions and religious experiences, leaving a profound impression on all who behold it.

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