It has always been my wish to visit Bernini’s marble masterpiece at Sta. Maria della Vittoria. Bernini’s sculptural group shows a cupid-like angel holding an arrow directed towards the central area of the ecstatic St. Teresa.I had previously read about the sexual implications in this work of art since the actual direction of the arrow has been openly questioned. Is it really directed to the saint’s heart or did Bernini have other intentions in mind?
In her own biography, St. Teresa writes about her visions. She describes an angel repeatedly piercing her heart with a spear which sends her into a state of spiritual rapture. She writes, “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 then content with anything but God.” (The Life of Saint Teresa of Ávila by herself, Chapter 29) And through his work, Bernini manages to interpret this episode in the most splendid of ways.
There is no doubt of the artist’s success in the interpretation of the ecstatic, the ethereal and the sensual as defined through every detail of the work. The angel’s delicate touch and lithe figure give him an air of grace. With her head thrown back and eyes closed, Teresa is an image of sensuality and her body seems to have de-materialized beneath the heavy drapery of her robe. Engulfing folds of fabric give movement to the scene and bronze rays, emanating from an unseen source, send forth a shaft of divine light. The combined effect is one of intense drama, the ethereality of which is in great contrast to the true nature of the work of art. Despite being made of heavy marble, both saint and angel appear to float weightlessly upon a cloud. Purely inspiring!
And of course, after visiting Rome I could not help feeling the need to work out my own Teresa. Tackling a subject after this Baroque work, the new Teresa is presented in a modern composition with modern materials (being acrylic on canvas). Although synonymous with the classical stance of Bernini’s St. Teresa, the new Teresa is confined below a negative space suggestive of the saint’s illumination by a grand shaft of light. And above all, interpreting Teresa in an overall red colour scheme becomes suggestive of all ecstatic and sensual.