It’s impossible to think about the drama of the Roman Baroque without thinking of Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598 – 1680). His passion, power, and virtuosity are evident all over Rome.
Gian Lorenzo Bernini
Sometimes in class I’ve put up the 4 famous David sculptures: Donatello, Verocchio, Michelangelo, and Bernini, and asked Which is your favorite work of art? Or Which is the greatest work of art? The students always, overwhelmingly, pick Michelangelo’s David. One day, after putting the 4 images up and asking that question, I had the sudden impulse to ask a second question, Who would you rather date? By a wide margin the students picked Bernini’s David. When I asked why changing the question from “art” to “date” resulted in such a different answer, one student explained,
Michelangelo’s David is beautiful. It’s what I think of when I think of the idea of art. But he’s self absorbed. I don’t think he’d really care that much about me. I feel like Bernini’s David is a guy who’d have my back.
The Ecstasy of St. Teresa
One extraordinary example of Bernini’s power and drama is The Ecstasy of St. Teresa (1647-52, marble, life-size) The sculpture is behind the altar at the Cornaro Chapel, Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome. The sculpture illustrates the writing of St. Teresa of Ávila (1515 – 1582). She left this earth just 16 years before Bernini was born. I’ll resist the almost irresistible urge to go off on a St. Teresa tangent. Like Hildegard von Bingen and Joan of Arc, St. Teresa is such a singular presence in history. I’ll limit myself to simply sharing the passage from St. Teresa’s writing that inspired Bernini’s sculpture:
Beside me, on the left hand, appeared an angel in bodily form, such as I am not in the habit of seeing except very rarely… 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… This is not a physical, but a spiritual pain, though the body has some share in it – even a considerable share.
Other than St. Teresa’s writing itself, I have never experienced a work of art that comes even half as close to depicting “St. Teresa’s Ecstasy” as Bernini’s sculpture. To give you some perspective on Bernini’s vision, lets remember what a portrait of a Saint is “supposed to” look like. Here’s Peter Paul Rubens’1 St. Teresa portrait from 1615.
Rubens gives us the detached repose of grace, dignity, and restraint. Bernini dares to offer the lived intensity of St. Teresa and her ecstasy.
Your Mission, Avatar
Good morning, avatar. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to depict your own ecstasy.
Do avatars have ecstasy?
In contemporary times we might dismiss St. Teresa’s ecstasy as the effects of temporal lobe epilepsy. That might be clinically true, yet spiritually oblivious to the power of her life and her experience.
IRL we have so many commitments. Jobs to pay the rent. Showers to take and meals to prepare. What prompts our actions in VR space? Not a basic need like rent money or washing dirt off? Are VR lives, lives of pure passion? Of following our deepest self on a journey to manifest that self? Where is your ecstasy of avatar experience? Has a flaming angel ever pierced your avatar heart with a great, golden spear?
However you choose to depict it, try to depict your avatar ecstasy. It might be a simple moment lying on the grass. It might be dancing in a trance state at a club. It might be The Ecstasy of St. Teresa.
As always, should you, or the flaming angel, be caught or captured in ecstasy, the Community Manager will disavow any knowledge of Friday Artist Challenge #4: Gian Lorenzo Bernini: The Ecstasy of St. Teresa.
Good luck, avatar,