Bernini’s Ecstasy of St. Teresa versus Michelangelo’s Pieta

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Michelangelo, during his work with the Medici in Florence, carved many pieces of art (ItalianRenaissance.org). In the 1490s, he traveled and ended up living in Rome for five years (ItalianRenaissance.org). Michelangelo was commissioned by a cardinal named Jean de Billheres to create a sculpture that would be placed in a side chapel at Old St. Peter’s Basilica (ItalianRenaissance.org). The sculpture he created, which was entitled Pieta, was carved from Carrara marble and it depicted the scene when the Virgin Mary holds the dead body of Christ after his body was removed from the cross and not yet entombed (ItalianRenaissance.org). This scene is significant in the Catholic faith, but it was more commonly depicted in the art in other countries during that time period (ItalianRenaissance.org).

Bernini’s Ecstasy of St. Teresa focuses on the real person named Teresa from Avila in Spain (The Archive for Research in Archetypal Symbolism). Born in the sixteenth century, Teresa lived in Spain during a period of religious turmoil in Europe known as the Counter-Reformation (The Archive for Research in Archetypal Symbolism). She supported several houses that hosted nuns and monks who followed a more primitive form of monastic life, and she published many writings about her path to achieve mystical union with God (Call 35). Teresa would detail the experiences she had during her life, including visions, mystical unions with God, and other miraculous occurrences (Call 35). These events brought her widespread attention and she was a very important figure during the period of controversy and challenges between factions in the Christian faith (Call 36).

The medium selected by the artists for carving their sculpture is marble. Both sculptures include multiple figures, and the sculptures include one male and one female figure. In the two works, the female figures are robed in clothing that is painstakingly carved with incredible detail. The fabric appears real and does not seem to be made of marble (ItalianRenaissance.org). The two female figures occupy different roles in the sculptures. When comparing the respective sizes of the two figures in Michelangelo’s sculpture, Pieta, the Virgin Mary is larger than Jesus and she holds a significant role in the perspective and overall image of the sculpture (ItalianRenaissance.org). Bernini depicted Teresa in a supine position, and she appears to occupy more of a passive participant in the religious scene (Call 37).

Bernini understood from the leading forces who had commissioned the Ecstasy of St. Teresa that the sculpture would have to be uncontroversial in order to be displayed in the Chapel (Call 37). The way he presents St. Teresa reflects the awareness of Bernini of his need to conform to his depiction of a legendary saint to meet the approval of the religious leaders (Call 37). In comparison, Michelangelo’s Pieta is a very trailblazing work and it marked a transition in the artistic field in which he operated (Ziegler 33). Michelangelo’s decisions as he crafted the Pieta were a very dramatic departure from the stylistic approaches he had inherited from earlier artists who had depicted similar scenes (Call 33). The emotion portrayed in the two sculptures is also a point of interest. The Virgin Mary in the Pieta is shown with a very peaceful expression while she holds her son in her arms (ItalianRenaissance.org). Bernini depicts the intensity of the moment when St. Teresa experiences a vision, and the intensity can be seen on her face (The Archive for Research in Archetypal Symbolism).

Works Cited

Call, Michael J. “Boxing Teresa: The Counter-Reformation and Bernini's Cornaro Chapel.” Woman's Art Journal, 1 Apr. 1997, https://www.jstor.org/stable/1358678. Accessed 15 October 2019.

ItalianRenaissance.org. “Michelangelo's Pieta.” ItalianRenaissance.org, 23 July 2012, http://www.italianrenaissance.org/michelangelos-pieta/. Accessed 15 October 2019.

The Archive for Research in Archetypal Symbolism. "The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa.” ARAS.

https://aras.org/selection_ecstasy.aspx. Accessed 15 October 2019.

Ziegler, Joanna E. “Michelangelo and the Medieval Pietà: The Sculpture of Devotion or the Art of Sculpture?” Gesta, 1995, https://www.jstor.org/stable/767122. Accessed 15 October 2019.