Monday, May 27, 2013

Italian Baroque (pt. 5)

Bernini's other famous work is his more controversial sculpture of The Ecstasy of St. Theresa.
The story of St. Theresa was that, in a vision, an angel pierced her heart with a fire-tipped golden arrow, symbolizing God's love.  In the statue here, the angel and the saint are carved in white marble, and the background is golden rays coming from above.  The scene is lit overhead by a window built into the Vatican wall.  The figures appear to be floating freely in the space, don't they?
Much has been made of the artwork's sexual undertones.  The arrow is at first an obvious phallic symbol, targeting a swooning female whose facial expression indicates one of euphoria.  And although we cannot see inside of this cold, statuesque Theresa, Bernini put his sculpting genius on display with his treatment of this subject.  We do see the ecstasy of St. Theresa, not merely in her face, but in her entire form, covered as it is in wavy, flowing robes.  The drapery of the nun is surging with energy and motion that indicates the electric activity being felt on the inside.  Bernini takes a subject of spirituality and infuses it with more realistic, human, almost base descriptions, as if to convey the divine love of God as a very carnal, sensual phenomenon.  If you would ask how to interpret such a crossover, the resulting discussion would fill many more pages which I will not trouble to venture down at the moment.  It is possible, however, once finished with our overview of art history, to then go back, ask questions, discuss, and focus in on the specifics that were left behind.  For now, we should press on.

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