Brides of Christ

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Brides of Christ Vision, Ecstasy, and Death in the Holy Women of Gianlorenzo Bernini
Bell, Jessica Peyton
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[Gainesville, Fla.]
University of Florida
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Master's ( M.A.)
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University of Florida
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Art History
Art and Art History
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Ross, Elizabeth
Committee Co-Chair:
Westin, Robert H.
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Altars ( jstor )
Death ( jstor )
Eucharist ( jstor )
Marriage ( jstor )
Mysticism ( jstor )
Mystics ( jstor )
Spiritual love ( jstor )
Viewers ( jstor )
Visual arts ( jstor )
Women ( jstor )
Art and Art History -- Dissertations, Academic -- UF
Electronic Thesis or Dissertation
bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
Art History thesis, M.A.


Throughout history, scholarship on Gianlorenzo Bernini's Ecstasy of Saint Teresa in the Cornaro Chapel has wrangled with issues of sexuality and the religious image, and has never fully elucidated the mystical narrative of the altarpiece. Through a cultural contextualization and review of the literature on both the Baroque and Bernini, it is possible to begin a proper reading of the subject of eroticism in his work. By establishing the foundations of mysticism and moving forward from a medieval precedent, rather than backward from the contemporary period, any notions of profanity within Bernini?s work become appropriately aligned with the sacred. In addition to the Cornaro Chapel, there are two other works that have a mystical subject: the Memorial to Maria Raggi and the Altieri Chapel and its Blessed Ludovica Albertoni. Examining these three compositions in relation to one another and in relationship to a medieval framework delineates Bernini's translation of the sexualized language of mysticism into artistic representations consonant with the theology of the Counter-Reformation Church. Bernini?s Brides of Christ serve the goals of the Catholic Church both as a means of provoking spirituality through an emotional connection with viewers and as didactic tools to model the importance of the sacrament of the Eucharist. ( en )
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Thesis (M.A.)--University of Florida, 2008.
Adviser: Ross, Elizabeth.
Co-adviser: Westin, Robert H.
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by Jessica Peyton Bell

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2008 Jessica Peyton Bell 2


To my mother, who makes all things possible: Nisi coelum creassem ob te solam crearem 3


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS First and foremost, I would like to thank my committee chair Dr. Elizabeth Ross, and my cochair, Dr. Robert H. Westin, for their mentorship and commitment. I would also like to extend my appreciation to Drs. Heather Ho lian and Carl Goldstein at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, who first stimulated my interest in this topic. I am indebted to my friends and peers (BJ, MM, KH, NS, BA, EM, CS, and especially Ms. Emily Pfeiffer), who provided unwavering support; and to Mrs. Susan Swiderski for her kindne ss, patience, and magic bullets. Additional thanks are extended to my grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Guy and Anita Marino ( Due Benedizioni di Dio), and to Ms. Ashley E. Nunalee. Finally, I must recognize the person most instrumental in my life, my mother, Ms. Kerri J. Kearns. Words cannot express my gratitude for her role in the completion of my masters degree. 4


TABLE OF CONTENTS page ACKNOWLEDGMENTS...............................................................................................................4 ABSTRACT.....................................................................................................................................6 CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION................................................................................................................. ...7 2 PIETY OR PERVERSION: SEXUALI TY IN THE RELIGIOUS IMAGE..........................12 3 GOD IS LOVE: MEDIEVAL PRECEDENTS......................................................................32 4 BERNINIS BRIDES OF CHRIST........................................................................................51 The Memorial to Maria Raggi ................................................................................................54 The Cornaro Chapel................................................................................................................60 The Altieri Chapel............................................................................................................. .....76 5 CONCLUSION................................................................................................................... ....83 APPENDIX LIST OF ART WORK CITED......................................................................................................85 LIST OF REFERENCES...............................................................................................................87 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH.........................................................................................................93 5


Abstract of Thesis Presen ted to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts BRIDES OF CHRIST: VISION, ECSTASY, AND DEATH IN THE HOLY WOMEN OF GIANLORENZO BERNINI By Jessica Peyton Bell May 2008 Chair: Elizabeth Ross Cochair: Robert H. Westin Major: Art History Throughout history, scholarshi p on Gianlorenzo Berninis Ecstasy of Saint Teresa in the Cornaro Chapel has wrangled with issues of se xuality and the religious image, and has never fully elucidated the mystical narrative of the al tarpiece. Through a cultural contextualization and review of the literature on both the Baroque and Bernini, it is possible to begin a proper reading of the subject of eroticism in his work. By establishing the foundations of mysticism and moving forward from a medieval precedent, rather than backward from the contemporary period, any notions of profanity within Berninis work become appropriately a ligned with the sacred. In addition to the Cornaro Chapel, there are two other works that have a mystical subject: the Memorial to Maria Raggi and the Altieri Chapel and its Blessed Ludovica Albertoni. Examining these three compositions in relation to one another and in relationship to a medieval framework delineates Berninis tr anslation of the sexua lized language of mysticism into artistic representations consonant with the theology of the Counter-Reformation Church. Berninis Brides of Christ serve the goals of the Catholic Church both as a means of provoking spirituality through an emotional connection with viewers and as didactic tools to model the importance of the sacrament of the Eucharist. 6


CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION Note well that the Son of God married us in the circumcision, cutting off the tip of his own flesh in the form of a ring and giving it to us as a sign that he wish ed to marry the whole human generation.1 Saint Catherine of Siena speaks of her mystical marriage to Christ in highly sexualized terms, using nupt ial imagery that had been estab lished in the very origins the Christian faith. This is th e erotic language of mystics, an d though it may seem startling or even profane to contemporary audiences, it has an important theological role in expressing spirituality of the Counter-Reformation period and for achieving the goals of the Catholic Church. of the What is mysticism? Put simply, it is the union between God and his followers through Christ. There is a perceived state of separation between humans and God that mystics endeavor to recapture in order to achieve the f undamental state of oneness with Him.2 In the reality of the mystic, this seeming twoness is evidenced by a disquieting of the spirit that illustrates an individuals kinship with the divine. Mystics believe that despite the ineffability of the celestial and mankinds apparent separation from it, one can achieve an intuitive knowledge and moral harmony with it through the reciprocity of self-knowledge.3 In practice, there is an initial stage of activeness, but the final stage is marked by passivity, defined in Christian mysticism as union, wherein the exercises of the fi rst stage are accomplis hed without effort and no longer needed. 1 E. Ann Matter, Mystical Marriage. Trans. by Keith Botsford, in Women and Faith: Catholic religious life in Italy from late antiquity to the present edited by Lucetta Scaraffia and Gabr iella Zarri (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999), 37. 2 Margaret Lewis Furse, Mysticism: window on a world view (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1977), 15. 3 Ibid., 17. 7


Knowledge is intuitively based and ethics are undistinguished, with em phasis placed on the present time and experience.4 The Baroque is a period of art preoccupied with the concepts of illusionism and the representation of the supernatural Depicting the ephemeral, tran scendent state in art presented the same problematic issues that troubled the or iginal, verbal expression of mystical concepts. How exactly did an artist illustrate the mystical ascension from the physical to the spiritual and the final culminating union of the terrestrial and the celestial? Just as mystics utilized an erotic vocabulary and physical metaphors, so did artists. In particular Gianlorenzo Bernini drew on both the history of mysticism and contempor ary literature in order to create visual representations of mystical union in his sculptures using corporeal terms, just as mystics had used physical language to express the ineffable. One of the most salient visualizations of mystical union is Berninis Cornaro Chapel, located in Santa Maria della Vitto ria in Rome (Figure 1). The al tarpiece and crown jewel of this chapel is the Ecstasy of Saint Teresa a sculptural group which has been recognized both by the artist and by the majority of historians as his most accomplished work, not simply for its formal virtuosity, but also because it summarizes the revolutionary innovations that delineate the culmination of his artistic career, the bel composto: a combination of painting, sculpture, and architecture in a singular wor k, creating a beautiful whole or synthesis (Figure 2). Though other artists worked in all three media, Bernini wa s the first in the history of art to combine all three in one work.5 In this chapel, the subject of erotic ism and sexuality is carefully negotiated in the writings of most contemporary scholars who specialize in the Baroque (such as Rudolf 4 Furse, 17-18. 5 Bruce Boucher, Italian Baroque Sculpture (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1998), 134. 8


Wittkower, Howard Hibbard, Kenneth Clark, Charle s Avery, and Tod Marder); they either do not address the issue or curtly note it, gingerl y eluding the topic by focusing on formal aspects and a generalized stylistic analysis. Neoclassical and Vict orian commentators (such as Francesco Milizia, John Flaxman, John Ruskin, Jacob Burckhardt, De Stendhal, and Hippolyte Taine), and theorists outside art history (such as Jacques Lacan, Luce Irigaray, and Tom Hayes), by contrast, have found the work to be thoroughly erotic, interpreting Saint Teresa in sexualized terms independent from any seventeenth century reli gious and socio-cultural context. There are, of course, varying degrees of assessment in be tween, including a few historians (such as John Pope-Hennessy, Robert Petersson, Irving Lavin, Charles Scribner, and Bruce Boucher) who have briefly suggested that any perceived eroticism is firmly placed within the established religious tradition of mysticism. A full review of these evaluations will be covered in Chapter Two. The shortcomings of scholarship have been tw o-fold. First, this sculptural group should not be considered as a separate entity from the chapel itself Berninis original concept seamlessly blends architecture, painting and scul pture, and any dissection of the sum of these parts thoroughly breaks down the larger narrativ e of the iconographic program and negates the proper interpretation of this wo rk. Second, in order to properly understand the iconographic narrative, it is necessary to contextualize the mystical tradition it employs. By approaching the interpretation of this chapel program by moving forward from th e medieval precedent, rather than moving backward from the contemporary pe riod, the established vocabulary of mysticism comes into focus. Reading the Cornaro Chapel and its Ecstasy of Saint Teresa through this lens aligns our comprehension more closely with how it would have been understood in the seventeenth century and how it should be viewed today. In addition to re viewing the literature and framing the Cornaro Chapel within an established mystical tradition, it is pertinent to 9


consider the contemporary seventeenth century socio-cultural and re ligious environment, particularly the case of public commissi ons within the Counter-Reformation period. There are two additional Roman works within Gi anlorenzo Berninis oeuvre that illustrate the mystical states of holy women: the Memorial to Maria Raggi in Santa Maria sopra Minerva and the Altieri Chapel and its Blessed Ludovica Albertoni in San Francesco a Ripa (Figures 3-5). The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa has dominated the literature to date and as a result, the importance of these other works in their relation to the Ecstasy and in the interpretation of the ephemeral within Berninis art has been remiss. The Memorial to Maria Raggi precedes the Cornaro Chapel and represents Berninis initial treatment of the divi nely supernatural union between Christ and his bride, the Venerable Sister Maria Raggi. The Altieri Chapel and its Blessed Ludovica Albertoni follow the Cornaro Chapel and its Ecstasy of Saint Teresa In this chapel, Bernini once again combines architecture, painting and sculpture in a larger iconographic program to produce a narrative delineating the mysti cal union between Christ and Beata Ludovica Albertoni. The aesthetic similarities between these additional wo rks have actively been noted by scholars, but few have given any consideration to conceptual commonalities beneath th e surface. These two works, in addition to the Cornaro Chapel, do not merely satisfy the reque sts and propagandistic function of their individual pa trons. Such a singular interp retation ignores the multivalent qualities within their compositi ons. When placed alongside the Cornaro Chapel, they not only contextualize and further illustrate the role of mysticism within the Counter-Reformation Church, but they also serve larger goals of reinforcing the rite of Holy Communion and demonstrating the power of the sainttwo asp ects of Catholicism that had been the most viciously contested points of Protestant Reformers. 10


Examining these three works in relation to one another and in relati onship to a medieval framework puts into perspective Berninis engage ment with the language of mysticism and his utilization of these works within the environm ent of the Counter-Refor mation, both as a means of provoking spirituality through an emotional connec tion with viewers and as didactic tools to model the importance of the sacrament of the Eucharist. Any perceived eroticism within Berninis work should be understood within th e recognized mystical tr adition and its use of nuptial imagery to conceive of an intangible un ion between the earth-boun d and the heavenly. Berninis sculptural Brides of Christ represen t this role of mystic ism within the CounterReformation Church, and are used to delineate an d reinforce the key princi ples of early modern Catholicism in the conn ection with the divine. 11


CHAPTER 2 PIETY OR PERVERSION: SEXUALI TY IN THE RELIGIOUS IMAGE Critical debate over the profan ation of the sacred by no m eans began with Gianlorenzo Bernini. In order to adequately and justly disc uss the issues of sexuality in religious art, it is necessary to consider a variety of factors. Framing works of art in their contemporary sociocultural environment is imperativ e in their interpretation, partic ularly in the case of public commissions. From this initial exploration of environment arise four secondary a nd vital issues: literary sources and influences for the art work, the role of the artists, the will of the patrons, and the interpretations made by the public. With th ese many considerations in mind, we may begin to examine how these internal and external fact ors shaped the controve rsial sculpture of St. Teresa, in order to pu t her eroticism in hist orical perspective. From the conclusion of the Council of Trent through the persiste nce of the Counter Reformation in Italy, there was a redoubled effort to maintain the purity of sacred works. These regulations encompassed not only art and literatu re, but nearly any interpretive device used for the promotion and understanding of Catholicism. Jill Burke asserts: The fact that religious painting also had th e potential to arouse view ers sexually became a mounting anxiety for Catholic re formers, who in the later sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries increasingly sought separate sphere s of operation for the sacred and profane.1 Yet this comment by Burke should not be interpreted as a permissive gesture by ecclesiastic officials in favor of a realm of profane, s ecularized art, but the acknowledgement that its existence, while not publicly tolerated, was im plicitly evident. Irreverent themes and representations, particular ly in public works with religious s ubjects, would not be acceptable. Despite post-Baroque perceptions, p ublic works of religious art th at were deemed inappropriate 1 Jill Burke, Sex and Spirituality in 1500s Rome: Se bastiano del Piombos Martyrdom of Saint Agatha. Art Bulletin 88 (2006): 482. 12


faced censorship, up to and including removal. Those that were not subject to this censorship should be viewed as relatively acceptable, insofar as they were not condemned by Church officials. This point should be kept in mind particularly whil e considering Berninis mystical works. In these examples, there is not a di chotomy of the sacred and profane, but a visualization of the sacred using a very physic al vocabulary in order to describe a wholly spiritual experience. The Catholic Churchs commitment, at leas t publicly, was to uphold the reforms set up by the Council of Trent. Session XXV of the Council in 1563 states: And the bishops shall carefully teach this,-that by means of the hist ories of the mysteries of our Redemption, portrayed by paintings or other representations, the people is instructed, and confirmed in (the habit of) remembering, a nd continually revolving in mind the articles of faith; as also that great prof it is derived from all sacred images, not only because the people are thereby admonished of the benefits and gifts bestowed upon them by Christ, but also because the miracles whic h God has performed by means of the saints, and their salutary examples, are set before the eyes of the faithful; th at so they may give God thanks for those things; may order their own lives and manners in imitation of the saints; and may be excited to adore and love God, and to cultivate piety. But if any one shall teach, or entertain sentiments, contrary to these decrees; let him be anathema. And if any abuses have crept in amongst th ese holy and salutary observances, the holy Synod ardently desires that they be utterly abolished; in such wise that no images, (suggestive) of false doctrine, and furnis hing occasion of dangerous error to the uneducated, be set up.2 More than one artist found themselves answering to the Church concerning their artistic license. Not ten years after the institution of this decree, Paolo Veronese had to appear before the Inquisition in 1573 for the addition of non-historical figures in his Last Supper.3 Caravaggio dealt with the rejection of his art from several public church commissions, one for perceived 2 James Waterworth, ed. and trans., The canons and decrees of the sacred and oecumenical Council of Trent, celebrated under the sovereign pontiffs, Paul III, Julius III and Pius IV (London: Dolman, 1848), 235, /texts/trent/ct25.html (accessed March 7, 2008). 3 David Chambers, Brian Pullan, and Jennifer Fletcher, eds., Venice: a documentary history, 1450-1630 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press in association w ith the Renaissance Soci ety of America, 2001), 232-236. 13


historical and doctrinal inaccu racies in his painting of St. Matthew and twice for showing the Virgin in a common and debased way.4 Bernini himself faced censorship by Pope Innocent XI in his Tomb of Alexander VII. Filippo Baldinucci recounted the event in his seventeenth-century biography of Bernini: At the bottom of the tomb on either side ar e two large marble figures, one representing Charity, the other Truth. This latter figur e was completely nude, though the nudity was concealed somewhat by the play of the pall a bout her and also the sun which covered some of the bosom. But a nude woman, even though of stone and by Berninis hand, was unsuitable to the purity of the mind of the pres ent Pope, Innocent XI. He let it be known in a gracious way that it would be to his liki ng if Bernini would c over her somewhat in whatever manner seemed best to him. Be rnini quickly made her a garment of bronze which he tinted white to look like marble. For him it was a work of immense thought and labor, as he had to unite one th ing to another that had been made with a different aim in mind. He held, however, that it was effort well spent, since by these measures, and by that beautiful example, the holiness of mind of th at great Pope would shine forth for all the centuries to come.5 The decree established by the Council of Tr ent would be echoed by church officials and artists alike. In 1582 Cardinal Gabriele Pa leotti, archbishop of Bologna, authored his Discorso intorno alle imagini sacre e profane in the hopes of co rrecting abuses in the visual arts by addressing indiscretions in both ar tists and patrons that could poten tially pollute the meaning of the subject being viewed. Paleotti addressed patrons as curates and noblemen and honored persons, and found them to be the princip al agents whose will the artist executed.6 On 4 R. Po-Chia Hsia, The World of Catholic Renewal, 1540-1770 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 159. 5 Filippo Baldinucci, The Life of Bernini trans. Catherine Enggass (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1966), 65-66. Additionally interesting to note is that in the preparatory drawings and models for the tomb, the figure of Charity was originally bare breasted as well, nu rsing a child she held in her arms, presumably to represent the allegorical nature of her figure. For more on this, cf. Charles Avery, Bernini: Genius of the Baroque (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1997), 134-138, and Tod A. Marder, Bernini and the Art of Architecture (New York: Abbeville Press, 1998), 314-317. 6 James Clifton, Being Lustful, He Would Delight in Her Beauty: Looking at Saint Agatha in SeventeenthCentury Italy. In From Rome to Eternity: Catholicism a nd the Arts in Italy, ca. 1550-1650 edited by Pamela M. Jones and Thomas Worcester (Boston: Brill, 2002), 159. 14


viewing art, he cautioned not to place a sacred wo rk in the realm of the profane (thus alluding to the two different categories into which he divided art): because it could be that an image in its nature and according to its form should justly be placed among sacred [images], and nonethele ss one who is looking at it will place it in another category. This happens because the view er will have a very different idea in his mind from that which the maker had 7 Perhaps the most adumbrative comment by Paleo tti provided the best summation: Whereby we see that from the sap of country flowers bees make sweet honey and spiders extract deadly poison.8 Seventy years later in 1652, theologian Giovanni Domenico Ottonelli and painter Pietro da Cortona wrote the Trattato della pittura e scultura uso et abuso loro, aimed first and foremost to the viewers, and secondarily to artists. Ottonelli and Cortona dealt with issues of nudity, obscenity, and general lack of decorum. They part icularly asserted, on the issue of nude women, that such images could serve sometimes as an impulse for the dangerous fall of weak viewers9 and were to be painted with great care to a void thoughts of impurity. Wh at was labeled as the first abuse of painting religious subjects was that, some paint angels or saints with lascivious appearances, from which are cause d impure thoughts in the viewers.10 Such statements from Ottonelli and Cortona illustrate a responsibility in both ar tist and viewer, and what is pertinent to note about both essays is that they forthrightly address the pe rception and responsibility of the viewer in the interpretation of art. 7 Ibid., 160. Nevertheless, Paleotti does not excuse the role of the artist in such inappropriate interpretations. 8 Idem. 9 Ibid., 161. 10 Ibid., 162. 15


In light of the reforms instituted by the C ouncil of Trent in the mid 1500s, a period of restoration and renewal began and continued throughout the seventeenth century. While the reactionary clarifications of the Church concerning art di d not amount to wholesale iconoclasm, they seemed to favor a more conservative and thoughtful approach as a means for the justification of images. However, this anti-aesthetic stance f ound in art criticism shifted to a profound appreciation for aesthetic quality, catalyzed by the aspirations of a High Baroque papacy to compete with absolute monarchies. In this post-Counter Reformation era, the arts remained an important tool of the Church; critics and theologians like Pale otti, et al., were still addressing artistic strategies that could be unders tood as too profane as late as 1652. However, the arts now served not only to educate the spiritual, but to pr ovide enjoyment as well. In addition to the rise of aestheticism, the sphe res of secular and sacred art became more individualized (as noted by Burke) marked by a heightened interest in secular art by ecclesiastic as well as political circles.11 Such interests are evident in examples such as Caravaggios Musicians, made for Cardinal Francesc o Maria Del Monte, and his Amor Vincit Omnia done for Marchese Vincenzo Giustiniani. Interestingly, the late Seicen to also produced a surge in mysticism, not only in literatu re, but art as well. This de velopment occurred despite the practical psychology and psy cho-therapeutic directness of the powerful Jesuits, and a general softening in devotional fervor.12 As a result of the Counter-Reformation and in response to staunch Protestant critics, the martyrdom of saints became mo re of a central theme in art.13 What manifested in the Baroque was a shift to depictions of graphic violence a nd deathly contemplation in an appeal to the 11 Rudolf Wittkower, Art and Architecture in Italy, 1600750 (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1958), 90-91. 12 Idem. 13 Hsia, 163. 16


emotional state of the viewer. Female mart yrs were a particularly complex issue for representation, because of the increased depiction of female virgin martyrs nude or semi-nude, which heightened the violent offense to their bodies as well as virtue.14 The illustration and viewing of sacred subjects, par ticularly saints, was a delicate matter. The problematic issue of viewership and the potential for inappropriateness of gaze has been suggested by the reforms of the Council of Trent and the censoring measures taken against artists in connection with the reform and restoration of the Counter-Reformatio n. Often the eroticism of a work is assigned solely to the artist and the work, without proper consideration of the role of the viewer. An example that elucidates this point can be found in Berninis own oe uvre. Chantelou relates in his Diary of the Cavaliere Berninis Visit to France a story Bernini used to illustrate the issues surrounding the interpretive mind: When he was working on the Daphne, Pope Urban VIII (then still a cardinal), came in to see it with Cardinal de Sourdis and Cardinal Borghese who had commissioned it. Cardinal de Sourdis remarked to the latter that he w ould have some scruples about having it in his house; the figure of a lovely naked girl might disturb those who saw it.15 Whether the good Cardinal de Sourdis was speak ing of his own personal desire or cautioning others is unclear. Another prim ary source, Baldinuccis biography, Life of Bernini notes the action taken by the future Pope Urban VIII to clarify the interpretation of the sculpture: In order that the figure of Daphneso true a nd alivewould be less offensive to the eyes of a chaste spectator, Cardinal Maffeo Barber ini had carved there the following distich, the noble fruit of his most erudite mind: The l over who will fleeting beauty follow / Plucks bitter berries; leaves fill his hands hollow.16 14 A. Hyatt Mayor, The Art of the Counter Reformation. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 4 (1945): 102. 15 Paul Frart de Chantelou, Diary of the Cavaliere Berninis Visit to France ed. Anthony Blunt, trans. Margery Corbett (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985), 30. 16 Baldinucci, 14. 17


The necessity of applying a Christian moral to a well-known mythological subject perhaps best demonstrates the case in point. Another key component in the depiction of bot h sacred and secular art is the source from which subjects were drawn. Images were not always idealized by the licens e of the artist (which would have been considered carefully), but we re often represented as they were expressly described in their corresponding lite rary sources. The reforms instituted by the Council of Trent focused on the purification of literature, not only because it was an individual form of artistic expression, but also because it was a source for painting and sculpture, whose subject matter was delineated both by the patrons request and the lite rary narrative. Traditional doctrine has not been the sole source for artistic interpretation. Many artists looke d to plays, poems, biographical accounts, and church records to glean exampl es for reproduction. Seventeenth century assessments of Bernini valued his power of inven tion, translation, and his ability to create a work that conveyed a meaningful literary theme above all other issues of aesthetic appeal and execution.17 Despite contemporary praises such as these, Bernini worked within an environment that was highly sensitive to the moral clarity of art and the dangers of the profane commingling with the sacred. His successful position is pertinent to consider when examining the early critical reception to his work, and what scant criticism ther e was may result from jealousy of his position rather than legitimate artistic offenses. When Cardinal Maffeo Barberini became Pope Urban VIII in 1623, anyone aspiring to a papal commissi on for the next thirty-one years would be sorely disappointed. Gianlorenzo Bernini woul d be the uncontested artist of choice for the duration of Urban VIIIs papacy, enjoying what Ho ward Hibbard has asserted as, a relationship 17 George C. Bauer, Bernini in Perspective (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1976), 6. 18


unmatched in the history of artistic patronage.18 The newly elevated Pope had begun cultivating the artist and their relationship when Bernini was a young child prodigy working for a former papal family, and had been the first to commission an independent work from Bernini in 1616.19 With Berninis virtual monopoly of pa pal patronage came the continual ebb of criticism. His position under Urban VIII was the most coveted in all of Rome and put him quite out of reach for any encroaching usurpers. With only brief interruptions, Bernini commanded the Roman art world and was overwhelming successful for more than fifty years. Rudolf Wittkower remarks of his career: Only Michela ngelo before him was held in similar esteem by the popes, the great, and the artists of his time.20 Even Giovanni Battista Passeri, painter and biographer, who said Bernini was, the dragon in the garden of the Hesperides who, jealously guarding the apples of papal favor, everywhere vomited poison and always sowed the way which led to the possession of high favor s with the most stinging nettles begrudged that despite his acrid metaphor, Bernini held his elevated position on genuine talent and achievement.21 However, the recognition of merit did not stop the deluge of negativity or the efforts of artists and their supporters to discredit Bernin i and secure a position for themselves.22 18 Howard Hibbard, Bernini (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1965), 68. 19 The former papal family here is the Borghese: Pope Paul V Borghese and specifically his nephew, Cardinal Scipione Borghese. Young Gianlorenzo was introduced to the world of papal patronage through his father, Pietro, who regularly worked for the Borghese family. Ibid., 25, 29. He was encouraged in his studies by Paul V, who Baldinucci says, entrusted Bernini to Ca rdinal Maffeo Barberini, a great devotee and patron of the noblest arts Baldinucci, 9. 20 Wittkower, Art and Architecture in Italy 96. 21 Bauer, 5-6. Cf. Hibbard, 115, and Francis Haskell, Patrons and Painters: A Study in the Relations Between Italian Art and Society in th e Age of the Baroque (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1980), 16, 36-37, for concurrent accounts. 22 Hibbard, 157. Pope Innocent X said of him in 1647, They say bad things about Bernini, but he is a great and rare man. Ibid., 107. For more on criticisms and enemies of Bernini, specifically those dealing with the destruction of the bell towers of St. Peters and cracks in the dome, cf. Baldinucci, 89-109. 19


Commentary on the Cornaro Chapel and Ecstasy of Saint Teresa from Berninis lifetime is scant. The sole example comes from an anonym ous source who stated that the sculptor had pulled Teresa to the ground and made this pure virgin into a Venus, not only prostrate, but prostituted.23 However this critique is most likely evidence of the negative commentary he faced from jealous rivals thr oughout his career. Walther Weibel feels the criticism from his contemporaries only served to justify Berninis legitimacy as a true master.24 He also maintains that the Ecstasy of Saint Teresa was met with contemporary approva l from both ecclesiastic and lay circles alike, pointing out that one of Bernin is sons later lauded his fathers work, a move which would not have been possible if the sculpture had been perceived as offensive.25 Additional praise comes from the dedicatory epistl e given to Federico Cornaro when the chapel was completed. Since this letter bears the sign ature of the prior and members of the convent (from Santa Maria della Vittoria), it is possible to read the bountiful praise of Federico Cornaros devotion to Saint Teresa, expr essed in metal and marble.26 The Cornaro Chapel has a dynamic and multifaceted, yet wholly purposeful program. First, it functions as the funera ry chapel of Cardinal Federico Cornaro. Second, it venerates and honors the founder of the Discalced Carmelite orde r, Saint Teresa of vila. The Discalced Carmelites generously bestowed a chapel space in the left transept of their church, Santa Maria della Vittoria, to Federico Corn aro, who requested the space after being inspired from a lifetime 23 Published anonymously sometime in the 1670s, as quoted in Irving Lavin, Bernini and the Unity of the Visual Arts (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980), 121. 24 Walther Weibel, The Repr esentation of Ecstasy. In Bernini in Perspective edited by George C. Bauer (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1976), 79. 25 Weibel, 84-85. 26 Boucher, 137. 20


of interaction with the order and committees.27 Third, through the depiction of high-ranking officials from the Cornaro family in high relief on the chapel sidewalls, a dual purpose is served. The chapel acts both as Federicos commemoration of the Cornaro familys accomplishments and as his propagandistic message for the only po sition yet to be achieved by the distinguished members of the Cornaro familythe papacy.28 By commissioning Bernini for the Cornaro Chapel, Federico ultimately succeeded in attaching his name to the ranks of popes29 through both the notoriety of the artist and in chronologica l relation with two extrao rdinary public monuments commissioned by the papacy. At the time of its completion, the Cornaro Chapel was firmly wedged between two of Berninis major commissionsjust after Pope Urban VIIIs tomb and just before the Pope Innocent Xs Fountain of the Four Rivers .30 Through the thematic program of the Cornaro Chapel, Federico successfully depict ed noble members of his family not only in a fashion befitting them, but also in a manner that was reminiscent of a C hurch senate, portraying his familys lineage of devotion to the Church and his suitability to reign on the papal throne.31 Even if the entirety of the socio-cultural cont ext is forgotten, with the perspective of a propagandistic bid for the papacy underlying a ca rdinals funerary chapel that honors a popular 27 William L. Barcham, Grand in Design: The Life and Career of Federico Cornaro, Prince of the Church, Patriarch of Venice and Patron of Arts (Venezia: Istituto Veneto di Scie nze, Lettere ed Arti, 2001), 306. 28 Ibid., 376-385. 29 A commission from Bernini meant glory conferred to the patron by the very virtue of his calling card of clients. Pope Urban VIII had been exceedingly strict on who he would allow Bernini to sculpt. His blessing was given rarely and only for exceptional privileges in return. T hough Bernini was a free agent at this time, his demand and restrictions from fulfilling that demand would not have been overlooked, particularly by high ranking clerics. Cf. Haskell, 37. 30 Barcham, 386. 31 Ibid., 385. 21


saint,32 it is hard to assert that Be rnini would have taken any risks in decorum in the depiction of Saint Teresa. Critical sieges would con tinue throughout Berninis career and beyond, though these attacks were not entirely based on Bernini as an artist, but the st yle of the Baroque. Beginning in his lifetime, the notion of classi cal purity rose to the surface of artistic ideals. Though not expressly stated in the academic l ectures and writings of Giovanni Pi etro Bellori or in the treatise of Orfeo Boselli, the condemnati on of artists who freely invent and slavishly copy nature, in addition to the complaint that art does not flouris h when it is only create d by one artist, clearly had a particular person and styl e in mind. Such commentary would pave the way in the years after Berninis death for the most detrimenta l of criticisms, propagated by Johann Joachim Winckelmann and his followers. Winckelma nns comments about Bernini himself are few, though his sentiments about the Baroque are wide ly known, and were directly influential on the study and theory of art. In the classicist view, the Baroque period came to be considered the end of the artistic cycle.33 Under the tutelage of Winckelma nn, classical idealism, intellectualism, and clarity replaced Baroque realism, emotiona lism, and amalgamated dynamism. Neoclassical follower Francesco Milizia stated: Borromini in architecture, Bernini in sculpture, Pietro da Cortona in painting, the Cavalier Marino in poetry are a plague on taste, a plague which has infected a great number of artists.34 Such a disparaging and gene ralizing statement made about Baroque art certainly taints Milizias assertion about the Ecstasy of Saint Teresa specifically: but the St. Teresa in the Vittoria swoons in an ecstasy, not of Divine Love, but of very worldly 32 Cf. Weibel, 79: Teresa was so esteemed that, when th ey were to be canonized together, she was almost given priority over Ignatius of Loyola. Only with effort did the Jesu its succeed in having the name of the founder of the Society mentioned before that of a Spanish nun. 33 Bauer, 9-11. 34 Francesco Milizia, as quoted in Bauer, 12. 22


voluptuousness.35 Victorians such as John Flaxman and John Ruskin would follow suit in their commentary. Flaxman, English sculptor and dra ughtsman (d. 1826) stated that Berninis work was a baneful influence, which corrupted public taste for upwards of one hundred years afterwards.36 Ruskin, appalled by the statues co ntinuing popularity, stated that it was impossible for false taste and base feeling to sink lower,37 and found Berninis work on the whole to be morally corrupt.38 The culmination of such cri ticisms was that both the Baroque and Bernini were virtually ignored from the middle of the eighteen th century to the beginning of the twentieth, and when they were mentioned, it was no more than a regurgitation of everything disparaging that had come before.39 There would not be a sympathe tic English translation of the periods central figure until Rudolf W ittkowers 1955 monograph on Bernini.40 Twentieth-century commentary initially followed the same pattern as the preceding century, with the exception of historian Walther Weibel. Writing in 1909, Weibel attributed the notion of obscenity in the Ecstasy of Saint Teresa to modern historians who have failed to take the contemporary perspective into account. He described modern research as having expressed its opinion against it with especial vehemence, even with contempt.41 He cited Jacob Burckhardt as a primary example of this, who stat ed: Here one certainly fo rgets all questions of 35 Francesco Milizia, Dictionary of the Fine Arts: Bernini. In Bernini in Perspective edited by George C. Bauer (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1976), 55. 36 As quoted in Avery, 277. 37 Rudolf Wittkower, Bernini: the sculptor of the Roman Baroque 4th ed. (London: Phaidon Press, 1997),11. 38 Boucher, 9. 39 Bauer, 10-21, especially 15. Bauer also notes that Winckelmann and Lessing were the basis for sculptural criticism into the twentieth century. 40 Boucher, 9. 41 Weibel, 79. 23


style because of the scandalous degradation of the supernatural,42 and also presents a lengthy excerpt from Hippolyte Taine and a more brief one from De Stendhal,43 summarizing that their reproach of profanation rings out over all the praise.44 It is Weibels conclusion that any accusation of lasciviousness was initially made by later generations and not those of Berninis lifetime. He summarized: but this invalida tes it [the reproach], si nce we can only judge the intentions of the artist with the eyes of his own time.45 If the words of his predecessors do not ring true, then where does that leave Weibels assessment of the Ecstasy of Saint Teresa ? Weibel is the first histor ian to contextualize what had been previously assigned as prurient, ac knowledging that the overwhelming cacophony of criticisms might carry so me weight if not for Teresian hagi ography and literature, which reveal why Bernini represented the subject in away which has shocked many for the overt equation of the supernatural occurrence of a vi sion with a worldly scene of love.46 He went on to state that a consideration of both the physiological as well as the psychic processes are necessary in order to properly delineate Sain t Teresa during her vision.47 Weibel asserted that Bernini conducted clinical studies of Saint Teresa s physical illness, which was di agnosed in the late nineteenthcentury as epilepsy. Teresa had described her co ndition and stated that it was exacerbated during her visions and ecstasies. Even without this pathological evidence, Weibel stood firmly on the 42 Idem. 43 Of the two, De Stendhals is the more salient example: What divine art! What voluptuousness? Our good monk believing that we did not understand it, explained this grou p to us: E un gran peccato, he finished saying, that these statues can easily present the idea of a profane love. We have pardoned the Cavalier Bernini all the evil he has done to the arts. 44 Weibel, 81. 45 Weibel, 85. 46 Ibid., 81. 47 Idem. 24


fact that Bernini translated the sculpture di rectly from her literatu re and therefore took no indecent liberties with the representation.48 He briefly noted that Teresas writings were animated by a fervent tone of love which is only rarely found in the literature of profane love,49 and that this love was concentrated in a metaphysical or sublime way upon God, but the expression which she gave to her feelings was scarcely different from that of a world passion, ly 50 and specifically cited her commentary on the Song of Songs, proclaiming that she exceeded the already sensual tone of the poetical work. Weibel supported his contextualization by maintaining that Teresa had li ved in complete chastity and her sexual naivety was pointedly mentioned in the investigation during her canonization.51 Though his scholarship is brief, Weibel made an important first step in re-examining the Ecstasy of Saint Teresa Later commentary within the twentieth-century dialogue of Bernini s Cornaro Chapel and its Ecstasy of St. Teresa are primarily concentrated on the ero ticism of the work, and for the most part, either theoretically driven or outside the field of art history. Theorists such as Jacques Lacan and Luce Irigaray have utilized Sain t Teresa (among other mystics) in their psychoanalytic interpreta tions of mysticism and the sexuality of women.52 Lacan first discussed Teresa in connection with psychoanaly sis and sexuality in God and Womans jouissance.53 He found that women possessed a jouissance that was supplementary to the one that the phallic 48 Ibid., 82. 49 Idem. 50 Idem. 51 Idem. 52 For an in-depth examination of psychoanalytic interpretations of Saint Teresa and mysticism, cf. Carole Slade, St. Teresa of Avila: Author of a Heroic Life (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), 134-145. 53 Jacques Lacan, On Feminine Sexuality: The Limits of Love and Knowledge Book XX: Encore, 1972-1973, trans. Bruce Fink and ed. Jacques-Alain Miller (New York: Norton, 1998), 61-77. 25


function designates and that women cannot explain their experience. He found Berninis Ecstasy of Saint Teresa to be a particularly salient visualizati on of the supplementary jouissance in the mystical experience: you need but go to Rome and see the stat ue by Bernini to immediately understand that shes coming. There is no doubt about it. What is she getting off on? It is clear that the essential testimony of the mystics consists in saying that they experience it, but know nothing about it.54 Ultimately, Lacan was interested in how this par ticular jouissance, experiential but unknowable, related to the Other.55 Luce Irigaray employed feminist cons tructs in order to criticize Lacan when she responded to his complaints that wome n have not vocalized their sexuality. Irigaray also referenced Berninis sculpt ure, pointing out that instead of engaging with visual sources, Lacan should be reading the woman herself:56 In Rome? So far away? To l ook? At a statue? Of a saint? Sculpted by a man? What pleasure are we talking about? Whose pleasure? For where the pleasure of the Theresa in question is concerned, her own writings are perhaps more telling.57 Tom Hayes, a Renaissance, modern and postmoder n poetry specialist, endeavors to engage more directly with the idea of the feminine jouissance through the Cornaro Chapel and the Ecstasy of Saint Teresa He speculates on Berninis state of mind and intent ions, stating: Berninis statue of Teresa in Ecstasy evokes a sense of mysticism that is no longer believable Berninis desire to create an aura around his stat ue of Teresa by placing it in a baroque theater is the result of a nostalgia for a sacredness images once had but which he feared was now being lost.58 54 Lacan, 76. 55 Ibid., 77. 56 Slade, 134. 57 As quoted in Slade, 134. Cf. Luce Irigaray, This Sex Which Is Not One trans. Catherine Po rter with Carolyn Burke (Ithaca: Corn ell University Pr ess, 1985), 91. 58 Hayes, 342. 26


In Berninis self-portraits, he reads Bernini as insecure in his self-i dentity and lacking the confidence to create works of art th at evoked the aura of sacredness.59 Hayes feels that the Ecstasy is meant to be a solution to these problematic issues,60 in which Bernini endeavored to create the illusion that a sacred reality lay behi nd a profane material reality.61 However, he has failed because he turned the Cornaro Chap el into a baroque theater of divine jouissance ,62 with the Ecstasy as a spectacular performance that ultimately appears contrary to Berninis intentions for a realistic presentation. Hayes states that th e mimetic devices of Teresa are as ineffective for the viewer as they are for the Cornaro patriarc hal observers because our subjectivities are no longer formed in conjunction with a discourse of an orthodox religious community that validates the category of the sacred.63 His conclusion is that the mystery is the source of the supplementary jouissance.64 Modern and contemporary Baroque specialis ts vary in their assessment of the Ecstasy of Saint Teresa and can be divided loosely into two groups: those who do not engage with the subject of eroticism within the altarpiece (such as Rudolf Wittkower, Howard Hibbard, Kenneth Clark, Charles Avery, and Tod Marder) and thos e who do (such as John Pope-Hennessy, Robert Petersson, Irving Lavin, Charles Sc ribner, and Bruce Boucher). Of particular importance is the second group. Lavin, Scribner, and Boucher go beyond mere enga gement and discuss (albeit briefly) the larger context of er oticism within the mystical traditi on. Additionally, it is important 59 Ibid., 347-348. 60 Ibid., 348. 61 Ibid., 353. 62 Idem. 63 Ibid., 352. 64 Ibid., 353. 27


to note that the decision of scholar s to include or ignore issues of sensuality is not restricted chronologically. In 1955, English-speakers would enjoy the firs t sympathetic scholarsh ip on Gianlorenzo Bernini with the publication of Rudolf Wittkowers monograph on the artist. In spite of this relatively modern date, he still felt it necessary to implore readers to seriously consider Baroque sculpture.65 Wittkower does not address the eroticism of the sculptural group except to say that the arrow with which the seraph pierces Teresa produces her mystical union with Christ, the heavenly bridegroom.66 He goes on to state that in choosing this particular episode of Teresas life, Bernini was following the highest authorit y, since it was this tran sverberation that was particularly recognized in the Bull of her canonization.67 Thus Wittkower has responded to earlier criticisms without dir ectly recognizing the sensuousness nature of the group. Howard Hibbard does not address the sensuous tone of the group at all, and focuses instead on formal issues of the chapel. He only comments that the vision depicted is cited in the Bull of her canonization from 1622.68 Kenneth Clark discusses formal issues, calling the contrast between the plain, dauntless, sensible face of the hi storical Saint Teresa, and the swooning sensuous beauty found above the altar in th e Cornaro Chapel, almost shocking.69 Clark does not expound on the implications or possible meanings of this contrast, leavin g the reader with a simple observation of idealized formal qualities in the sculpture. Charles Avery curtly notes: To an unbeliever this [tra nsverberation] may seem far-fetched and to a Protestant, then or today, 65 Boucher, 9. 66 Wittkower, Bernini 158. 67 Ibid., 266. 68 Hibbard, 136. 69 Kenneth Clark, Civilisation: a personal view (Harper and Row: New York, 1969), 191. 28


distasteful, while its sexual overtone s invite a psychologi cal representation70 Like Wittkower, he has provided an indirect explanation for a subj ect he himself eludes. After a brief description of the group, Tod Marder simply states: In thes e features Bernini sought to represent what the saint herself described as the union mistica between God and herself, an ecstatic state attained by prayer.71 The group of scholars that directly address the erotic nature of the Ecstasy of Saint Teresa can be further subdivided into two groups. The first is comprised of John Pope-Hennessy and Robert Petersson, who recognize th e altarpieces sensuality and endeavor to contextualize it using the writings of Teresa. The second sub-group (Lavin, Scribner, and Boucher) goes beyond the Teresian literature and places both the form al qualities of the sculptural group and Teresa herself within the greater scope of mysticism. John Pope-Hennessy discusses Berninis theatr ical and illusionary te chniques, pointing out that the artist endeavored to create an unreal wo rld, and further emphasizes that this theatrical effect on Berninis sculptures was not meret ricious, but was inte nded to propagate the ephemeral qualities of his work. For him, the s upreme instance of the use of these devices is in the Ecstasy of Saint Teresa Though he references Stendhals compla ints that the sculptural group uses a vocabulary of profane love, and conced es that the interactio n between the Saint and the Angel is indeed almost embarrassingly physi cal, Pope-Hennessy qualif ies this physicality: But the analogy with profane love is implicit in the Saints own narrative Berninis figures take on a visionary quality that is perfectly consistent with the Saints account of her own mystical experience.72 However, his acceptance of this an alogy is based on its description in 70 Avery, 146. 71 Marder, 112. 72 John Pope-Hennessy, Italian High Renaissance and Baroque Sculpture (Phaidon: New York, 1963), 110. 29


the hagiography of Saint Teresa, rather than on the understanding of an established mystical tradition. Robert Petersson move s further away from Victoria n commentators and seeks to establish the eroticism of Saint Teresa firmly within her mystical writings. Though Peterssons contextualization does not extend beyond the mystic al qualities of Teresas literature, it comes closer than any historian since Wa lther Weibel in 1909. In his 1970 book, The Art of Ecstasy: Teresa, Bernini, and Crashaw Petersson addresses the erotic quality of Teresas writing by stating: many have taken her character to be completely erotic and her spiritual passion to be sexual sublimation. Indeed she is erotic. The error is to limit that quality to the physical instead of realizing that God is the object of her love and her love is total and indivisible, including the body. In fact we should not w onder that this is an intellectual vision.73 He brings in this reflection in his assertion of the altarpiece proper, onc e again finding Teresas figure unquestionably erotic, but in spiritual rather than exclusively physical terms.74 Petersson would echo this sentiment in 2002, when he once again emphasized that seeing her only as an erotic figure limited the work, and that one must take into account that her corporeality serves a specific purpose: Her entire being is c onsumed by a divine passion which possesses body, mind and soul at the same moment.75 The most in-depth scholarship on the Cornaro Chapel and its Ecstasy of Saint Teresa has been written by Irving Lavin. As the foremost hist orian on the subject, his research is prolific. Though the summary here is brief, it permeates nearly the entire lengt h of his groundbreaking book, Bernini and the Unity of the Visual Arts. Of the sensuality deline ated in the altarpiece, he very simply states: the group evinces a physical eroticis m that well-meaning apologists do 73 Robert T. Petersson, The Art of Ecstasy: Teresa, Bernini and Crashaw (Atheneum: New York, 1970), 39. 74 Ibid., 92. 75 Robert T. Petersson, Bernini and the excesses of art (Florence: M & M, Maschietto & Ditore, 2002), 41. 30


wrong to deny.76 He goes on to contextualize the physic al vocabulary of love and the nuptial metaphors, employed by Teresa and delineated by Bernini, within the mystical tradition,77 noting that Bernini has emphasized the physicality of Teresas transverberation and death in order to delineate her mystical marriage to Christ.78 Charles Scribner treats the subject more briefly, and his observations are assuredly inde bted to Lavin. He first cites the source of Berninis narrative as the saint herself, and like ot her scholars, references the reading of her account at canonization hearings. Scribner then points out that there was a long standing tradition of the allegorical use of earthly love as a means of describing religious ecstasy. He ends his contextualization by summarizing Lavins conclusions.79 Finally, Bruce Boucher follows the same pattern, referring to Saint Teresas account of th e transverberation and noting that Teresa is a metaphor for the lovesick soul of the Bibles Song of Solomon.80 76 Lavin, 121. 77 Idem. 78 Ibid., 122. 79 Charles Scribner, Bernini (New York: H.N. Abrams, Publishers, 1991), 92. 80 Boucher, 143. 31


CHAPTER 3 GOD IS LOVE: MEDIEVAL PRECEDENTS God is love, according to 1 John 4:8, and the first and greatest commandment is to love the Lord God with ones whole heart and mind and soul.1 The manners and modes in which monastics have loved God have been thoroughly researched and debated within theology, in particular, mysticism. The origins of mysticism in ancient Hebrew and early Christianity have had a profound impact on the evolution and legacy of the mystic tradition in the Latin Church. The examination of this historical context clarifie s the spiritual atmosphere of the Middle Ages. Further analysis of the additional contributions beyond the Church Fathers provides an adequate foundation for the understanding and contextualization of the use of mysticism as a key theological mode within the Count er-Reformation art of Bernini. However, it is not simply a general mystical tradition that is to be examined, but specifically that of women mystics: the basis, significance, and impact of nuptial imager y on their religious lives and on the Christian Church. Despite overwhelming erudition that firmly places the eroticism of devotional literature and exercises of medieval female mystics with in a venerable and long-established tradition, the sensuality of the language has b een a topic of critical debate a nd remained a problematic issue that would be echoed in both th e literary and artistic represen tations in the Baroque period. How and why does early Christ ian and medieval mysticism employ erotic and marital imagery to delineate a union with God? Mediev al speculative mystics relied on a mixture of early Judaic, Christian, Platonist, and Neoplatonist sources. They de fine union with the divine as a kinship between mankind and God in an undiffere ntiated reality that is for the most part verbally indescribable, save through the use of obfuscating metaphors. This union ultimately 1 Bernard McGinn, Love, Knowledge, and Mystical Union in Western Christianity: Twelfth to Sixteenth Centuries, Church History 56 (1987): 23. 32


results in a fusion between the soul of man and God, which become indistinguishable: Man is like a drop of water; God is like the ocean.2 Particulars such as ethics histories, and facts give way to more broadly defined and universal c oncept of Unity. Mystics do not interpret a relationship with God in terms of morality. The initial connec tion is kinship, and the ultimate end is identity and union with Godefforts of reform and morality are essentially secondary.3 Bernard McGinn describes two central themes that are the basis of Christian mystical theology. First, God is unknowable because divine nature cannot be comprehended by rational means. Second, love is particularly accessible to God be cause He is love, and it is through the form and conferral of His love that humans are able to reciprocate this love with him.4 Terminologies of union have been variously defined since antiquity : the pure spirit unifying with the unknown One; spiritual senses; l ove of God; and the humanity of Christ. The basic principle remains at the heart of mysticisman intimate union of God to his followers through Christdespite variations in themes and definitions of union. Louis Dupr comments on the historical continuity of this mystical idea of unification with God and its importance within religion: Strong opposition to the idea of mystical uni on did not emerge until theology had begun to separate the universal element of experience imp licit in the original idea of grace from the privileged consciousness of union attained by few. Indeed, the tendency noticeable since the beginning of the modern ag e to sever faith from experience altogether resulted in marginalizing mystical life into a highly exceptional and hence susp ect position. That the mystical drive survived these constant suspicions in all three branches of the Christian faith confirms the assumption that it may be an inherent feature of the faith itself.5 2 Furse, 73-74. 3 Ibid., 74, 79. 4 McGinn, 12. 5 Louis Dupr, The Christian Experience of Mystical Union, Journal of Religion 69 (1989): 2. 33


Interpreting scripture, mystics favor sources that delineate a direct connection with God, while providing a metaphor for th eir own lives and practices. The ascent of Moses to Mt. Sinai in the Old Testament is one such example. He re the emphasis is placed on the act of ascension and ultimately, experiencing the presence of God.6 There is a long tradition of nuptial imagery within the Bible, beginning before 721 BC with the prophet Hosea, who adopted the annual ma rriage ritual of the Canaanite fertility cult. By folding the vivid espousal imagery of paga n mythology into the context of the Hebrew God, he utilized it to describe th e relations between Yahweh and Is rael. The Canaanite cult was not alone in their use of marital symbolism; it was found in many other near eastern mystery religions (Syrian, Phrygian, and Egyptian, etc.) that geographically and figuratively surrounded the sole monotheism of the Hebrew faith.7 These early sources absorbed into the Judaic tradition would find later resonance with the most prominent text upon wh ich mysticism is founded: The Song of Songs. Though scholars continue to deba te the exact date and origin of the Song of Songs, it is generally dated to the second ha lf of the fifth century BC, and attributed to King Solomon. However, it is possible that the work is a collecti on of older material written at different times, thought to be folk songs of a poetic pastoral people.8 Despite first century AD debate on preserving the Song of Songs with in Scriptural text, Jewish scholars retained the work on the foundation of prophetic tradition of nuptial imagery, and it was t hus considered part of the 6 Ibid., 82-83. 7 Marina Warner, Alone of all her sex: the myth and the cult of the Virgin Mary (New York: Knopf, 1976), 123. 8 Ibid., 125. 34


canon and henceforth attributed to King Solomon.9 One tradition of the Song of Songs has been interpreted as the love between God and Israel, bu t more specifically it can be read to celebrate the revelation of the Torah on Mount Sinai or the love that was s ubsequently revealed after the Ark of the Covenant was placed in the temple in Jerusalem. Akiba, a first century rabbi, advocated the addition of the Song to the Bible, stating: th e whole world is not as valuable as the day on which Israel was given the Song of Songs; all scripture is a holy text, but the Song of Songs is the holiest of holy.10 The inclusion of the Song leg itimizes the expressive use of a sexual and matrimonial vocabulary by both Judaism a nd Christianity to describe the relationship between humanity and God.11 The Song of Songs would become a critical text in the catalogue of mystical writing, utilizing an ea rthly vocabulary of love in conjunction with personal religious devotions. This language has a decisively er otic tone, through which the Song of Songs expresses an interpersonal rela tionship between humans and God as experienced by mystics. This lexis reflects a personal and practical compone nt within mysticism, appealing to the poetic and warming the spirit.12 The symbol of the bride within a Christian c ontext is used for the first time in the New Testament by St. Paul in his lette r to the Ephesians (5:27) wherei n he refers to the Church as Christs bride. The metaphor of Christ as brid egroom was repeated by Paul in his letter to the Corinthians, where he referred to himself as both mediator and best man, a role that John the Baptist would later assign himself in the Fourth Gospel. The identity of the bride remains 9 Ibid., 126. Cf. Rachel Fulton, Mimetic Devotion, Mari an Exegesis, and the Historical Sense of the Song of Songs, Viator 27 (1996): 89. 10 Matter, Mystical Marriage, 31. 11 Idem. 12 Dupr, 84. 35


ambiguous in the literature after Paul, with more primacy given to the preparation for the last daythe Apocalypseand the subsequent wedding feastthe final peace of the Church and the union of Christ and his followers. It is at this nuptial banquet th at the symbol of the bride is linked with Mariology. In Revela tion 21:2, John sees at the marri age feast the new era of the Church, embodied as bride coming down from h eaven; because the Virgin Mary is synonymous with the Church, and because in the Apocalypse she was connect ed to this wondrous bridal descent, she also becomes the bride of Christ. La ter Christians would thus identify the lover as Christ and the beloved as the Church, the s ouls of Christs followers, and the Virgin.13 Early Christian mystics would later absorb the Song of Song s and develop it allegorically through the work of eastern authors such as Methodius of Olympus, Origen, and Gregory of Nyssa, and in the west, Ambrose of Milan.14 Origen is the source of the earliest literary remnants of the Song of Songs interpreted as a mystical alle gory. The prologues from his commentary provide the standard for interpreting the role of the beloved: either it is the soul, created in the image of the Wo rd of God, or it is the Churc h, redeemed by the Word, or both.15 In addition to Origen, Ambrose of Milan dr aws on Platonic and Neoplatonic themes, adapting the erotic symbolism of the Song of Songs to describe the as cent of the soul and its union with God. The bridal imagery from the Song of S ongs was especially utilized by Ambrose in conjunction with the newly converted and baptize d, symbolizing a betrothal to Christ and the process of coming to understand newly revealed mysteries of the Church.16 In Ambroses works 13 Warner, 124-125. 14 Ibid., 126. 15 F.B.A. Asiedu, The Song of Songs and the Ascent of the Soul: Ambrose, Augustine, and the Language of Mysticism, Vigiliae Christianae 55 (2001): 299-300. For a more extensive analysis of Origen, cf. Matter, 32. 16 Ibid., 300-301. 36


De mysteriis and De Isaac uel anima he wove his commentary with examples from the Song of Songs, stating God the Word is ab le to speak to the Church in the passionate language of the lover 17 In the latter of the two treatises, he shifted effortlessly from the Church as the beloved, to the individual soul. It is pertinent to note that de spite Ambroses use of nuptial imagery and conjugal love within the context of the spousal union of the divine, he rarely uses Jesus when referring to the bridegroom, preferri ng God, the Word, or Christ. As Jesus was divine and human equally, it was clear that such explicit language would have been problematic if applied liberally within an earthly fr amework, however partial it may have been.18 Generally, the early Church considered th e love songs a commentary betw een Christ and the consecrated virgin or nun. Ambrose was the first to amalgama te the Virgin, Church, and individual Christian souls into the exegesis of the Song. Beyond the allegory of Christ, th e Church, and individual Christian souls, primary scholars also extended the nuptial metaphor to the Christian virgin. The origins of this description of the Christian virgin as Christs bride are sourced to Tertullian in the third century. By the fourth century, it ha d entered common usage and Ambrose reported similarities between consecrator y rites of virgins and actual wedding ceremonies. In addition, other early Christian examples of marital meta phors between God and the Church, for example Ephesians (5:25-32), became the source for th e sacrament of human marriage. Asiedu encapsulates the historic, exegetical devoti on to the Song of Songs and early monastic interpretations. In this summary, the basic i ssues of the progression fr om the physical to the spiritual are outlined: Origen divides the wisdom of Solomon into three levels corresponding to the natural, moral and the mystical. For Origen, the alle gorical reading of the Song is reserved for 17 Ibid., 303. 18 Ibid., 304. 37


those who have advanced through the first two stages. Consequently, only a mind trained in the other disciplines of the soul, able to overlook the obviously evocative language of the Song, can transcend the primary level of th e text into the deeper contemplation that yields the mystical meaning of the Song. Th e ascesis involved is both intellectual and moral, since it requires an effacement of the te xt as something other than what it appears The mystical reading of the Song of Songs as a description of the individual souls union with God entail a prelim inary overwrite of the text 19 In the Counter-Reformation period, Bernini woul d corporeally represen t this transcendence and ultimate union with the divine by depicti ng his holy women in erotic terms and utilizing a larger thematic narrative to c ontextualize their mystical union with Christ. Through these supernatural representations of a connection wi th divine, Berninis works would model for the viewer the means by which to achieve it. Saint Augustine also comments on the Song of Songs, though he used erotic and nuptial imagery to a far lesser degree than Ambrose. Soon after his conversion, Augustine reflects on the power of the experience usi ng imagery similar to that empl oyed by Ambrose and the Song of Songs: You pierced my heart with the arrow of your love and we carried your words transfixing my innermost being They set me on fire w ith such force that every breath of opposition from any deceitful tongue had the power not to dampen my zeal but to inflame it more.20 This quote becomes especially salient when juxtaposed w ith a strikingly comparable one made later by Saint Teresa, which Bernini sculpturally translates into the Ecstasy of Saint Teresa centerpiece of the Cornaro Chapel: It pleased the Lord that I should sometimes see the following vision. I would see beside me, on my left hand, an angel in bodily form In his hands I saw a long golden spear and at the end of the iron tip I seemed to see a point of fire. With this he seemed to pierce my heart several times so that it penetrated to my entrails. When he drew it out, I thought he was drawing them out with it and he left me completely afire with a great love for God. The pain was so sharp that it made me utter several moans; and so excessive was the 19 Ibid., 312. 20 Ibid., 302. 38


sweetness caused me by this intense pain that one can never wish to lose it, nor will ones soul be content with anything less than God. It is not bodily pain, but spiritual, though the body has a share in itindeed a great share. So sweet are the colloquies of love which pass between the soul and God that if anyone thinks I am lying I beseech God, in His goodness, to give him the same experience.21 Saint Teresa had read the writings of Saint Augustine,22 and the similarities between Saint Augustines reference to a heart-piercing and inflamed love for God and Saint Teresas experience indicates a connection in th e continuity of my stical language. Erotic language within the mystical dialogue is an outgrowth of mankinds inability to describe the divine and the e xperience of the divine, thus employing the only metaphoric definition that comes close the language of human love.23 There are commonalities in the processes between erotic and my stical unions, despite the differe nces in their ultimate ends. Scholars have noted that it is bot h natural and inevitable that mystics came to use metaphors of marriage and love in their verbalizations of a spiritual union with the divine: these associations were readily available and recognized as fulfilling in an earthly life, and they were universally understood. In addition, this romant ic language offers a strangely exact parallel to the sequence of states in which mans spiritu al consciousness unfolds itself and which form the consummation of the mystic life.24 The pragmatic nature of making the ineffable tangible compels mystics to forego the arid terms of religious philosophy in favor of a terrestrial expression of the perfect union: the Lover and the Beloved.25 21 E. Allison Peers, Saint Teresa of Jesus: The Complete Works (London and New York: 1963), 192. 22 Jodi Bilinkoff, The vila of Saint Teresa: Religious Reform in a Sixteenth-Century City (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1989), 117. 23 Ralph W. Hood, Jr. and James R. Hall, Gender Diff erences in the Description of Erotic and Mystical Experiences, Review of Religious Research 21 (1980): 195. 24 Ibid., 196. 25 Dupr, 10. 39


Historians are thus faced with a formidable challengeendeavoring to assume and maintain a medieval perspective in spite of their contemporary situation. E. Ann Matter, utilizing Jean Leclerq, teases out th e simplest solution: the use of the common language of love to represent different levels of human desire, and the adaptation of human love language to the ineffable love of God, is a spontaneous symbolism, only to be expected from limited human language.26 Differences in the language of medieval texts and a contemporary percep tion of this language essentially represent differences in the contex tual use of symbolism and in the medieval conception of the body itself.27 It is important to bear this perspective and the historical foundations of mysticism in mind, particularly when reading the writings of late medieval mystical women. Medieval mysticism continued to build on the foundations laid by early Christian examples, expounding on erotic espousal analogies with the appropriation of socio-cultural models, liturgical inclusion, gui ded devotion and meditation, and th e use of tangible objects of art. It was in this period that women mystics come into their own, adopting a position of teacher and not solely student, active and no t strictly passive. It is pe rtinent to begin the foray into mysticism of the medieval period with an ex amination of important commentators and the implications of their texts. Though theologian s and commentators of the Middle Ages differ in particular delineations concerni ng aspects of mystical union, the use of ma rital analogies is prevalent in their writing.28 26 E. Ann Matter, The Voice of My Beloved: the Song of Songs in Western Medieval Christianity (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1990), 139. 27 Ibid., 141. 28 For the purposes of this thesis, I will focus on the gene ral use of such terms, and not in the particularities and debates of their details (i.e. intellectualism and active versus contemplative lives). 40


New orders of Cistercians and Victorines contributed to the escalation of mystical theology and an interest in mystical life. Bernard of Clairvaux (d. 1153) was an important author for the literary tradition of mystical marriage. During his abbotship at Clairva ux, he wrote eighty-six homilies (between 1135 and 1153) on the Song of S ongs, and was widely considered one of the most important theologians of the period.29 He was a significant figure among Cistercians and through his eminence and sanctity, he achieved canonical status among mystics and mystical theologians.30 Bernard established a form of affective mysticism, described by the power and ascent of love, as well as the c onsciousness of knowing. In the Sermones of Cantica he insisted that it is only by way of love th at humans may reciprocally enga ge with God. Bernard went on to state that the highest form of love is marital, because it best expresses union.31 William of Saint Thierry, a contemporary of Bernard of Clai rvaux, also found the nuptial imagery from the Song of Songs to be an appropriate anal ogy for the union between the spirit and God.32 The later heir of these scholars was Bonaventure, who continued the explorati on of twelfth century mystical theology. On the subject of mystical rapture and its inte llectual and affective points, he states in the third book of the Commentary on the Sentences it is the most excellent knowledge which Dionysius teaches. It consists in ecstatic love and it transcends the knowledge of faith according to the common mode.33 Thomas Gallus, anonymous author of the Cloud of Unknowing (c. 1370), also placed primacy on the spiritual connection of love, stating: it is 29 Matter, Mystical Marriage, 33. 30 McGinn, 8. 31 Ibid., 9. 32 Ibid., 10. 33 Idem. 41


love alone that can reach God in this life, and not knowing.34 Gallus further delineated the nature of spiritual union by using two examples: Moses, whose experience of God came by way of ecstasy after climbing Mt. Sinai, and Aaron, priest in the temple, who could experience the divine at any given moment.35 It is clear that medieval commentators were within the established literary tradit ion of the early Church with regard to metaphoric and conceptual use of love, both spiritual and corporeal. The development and rise of the female mystic and saint is punctuated by several important points: an explicitly appropriated command of mystical marriage metaphors, an increase in first-person authorship as a result of the spread of la y vernacular, and an elevation in status as a result of spiritual precedence and performance. Christ himself set a precedent in the importance of women. He established a spec ial bond with women that may be recalled by female mystics. In the Gospels, some of the mo st devoted and trusted fo llowers of Christ were women. Mary and Martha were Christs chosen examples of active and contemplative lives. Mary Magdalene was a great sinner who was re deemed and to whom Christ first revealed himself after the resurrection; it was she who carried the news to his disciples. The Marys were present at Christs crucifixion, death and ento mbment, and were the ones to anoint his body. Furthermore, the established sym bolism of the Virgin Mary as C hurch and Christs espousal to the Church was the foundation for the asso ciation of nuns as brides of Christ. The evolution of female spirituality has occu rred largely because of their exclusion from central aspects of the Church, particularly priesthood and the Mass, with select nuns only breaking out of their enclosure th rough the verbal and written wo rd; the subsequent response was 34 Ibid., 13. 35 Ibid., 14. 42


the exceptional justification of their authority. Ho wever, one must consider these nuns to be the exception, and not the rule. Most nu ns did not seek to reform or rebel against the constraints of their monastic setting and doctrinal authorities. It is the challenge of contemporary historians and readers to view these women without the pe rspective of the present. Many nuns had scant interest in mysticism. For those that did, Jeffrey Hamburger warns readers not to think of them as being in a perpetual state of ecstasy: More often than not, female mystics, at least as idealized by their advisers, served (or we re co-opted) as champions of orthodoxy and ecclesiastical reform 36 In the period of the later Middle Ages, from 1200 to 1400 respectively, female saints comprised a larger portion of new sain ts than they had in the centurie s just before and after. Italy in particular saw a rise in lay penitent women, brought about by the support of mendicants, who also promoted more lay women than men and were more intent on the hagiography of the interior life of devotional women. It is no surprise that the most famous lay saints of the period were female. At this time, new saints exhibite d an advantaged experience of the divine, in addition to their already establis hed hagiographical expression of power in miracles, charitable works, and asceticism.37 Female mystics commanded respect in the medieval period by the nature of their virtue, piety, and the quality of their person. Additionally, there was a persistent idea that God worked through the humble in orde r to teach important lessons, a notion which worked in womens favor. These pious women were often publicly regard ed as prophets, due to their visions and livelihoods, and their private lives were not without this influence.38 36 Jeffery F. Hamburger, The Visual and the Visionary: art and female spirituality in late medieval Germany (New York: Zone Books, 1998), 31. 37 John Wayland Coakley, Women, men, and spiritual power: female saints and their male collaborators (New York: Columbia University Press, 2006), 9. 38 Monica Furlong, Visions and Longings: Medieval Women Mystics (Boston: Shambhala, 1996), 9. 43


Ironically, it is due to their exclusion that female monastic s come to experience a more overwhelming sense of inclusion and elevation. Devotional meditation, in the form of guided imagery, was used in conjunction with visual an d literary devices in or der to teach lay people and nuns that were unable to read Latin. Apart from repetitive prayer, this device was one of the only forms of meditative exercise. Many women e xperienced visions as a result of devotional meditation, and such events were positively bolstered by popular opinion that considered them to be important achievements.39 Female mystics had visions of be ing initially visited by the Virgin Mary, who allowed her monastic daughters to hold, cuddle and care ss the infant Christ. Later, the Virgin presided at their mystical marriage, giving her blessing or joining their hands. Mary served as a guide in the nuptial imagery, rejoicing in the union between the women and her son. Visions of mystical marriage were highly ritualized and modeled on secular rituals. In heaven, Christ and his visionary bride joined hands, exchanged vows and rings, and occasionally nuptial robes, and the ceremony itself was understood as a pr omise of eternal life in heaven after her death. Female mystics were instructed to addres s their erotic relationship with Christ in this manner in order to focus their earthly desire inst ead of sacrificing it, a nd to strengthen it through purification in order to ultimately transform it into a consciously spiritual union with the divine.40 Such visions, guided by imagery of mystical marriage and nuptial symbolism established in the early Church and propagated throughout the Middle Ages, became a central tool and regular vocabulary amongst female mystics, in a ddition to being a signif icant catalyst in the perception of holy women of the period. After the twelfth century, female mystics elaborated the 39 Elizabeth Petroff, Medieval Women Vi sionaries: Seven Stages to Power, Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies 3 (1978): 38. 40 Ibid., 39-40. 44


nuptial mysticism that had primarily been within the masculine realm, and consequently they number higher after about 1200. Though acute types of penance were practiced by men, women were almost entirely unique in their psychos omatic imitation of the various sufferings of Christ, particularly the marks of flagellation; their bleeding ofte n took place on Fridays or at the hour of the Crucifixion. Additi onally, their affective response ( ecstasies, etc.) and accompanying paramystical phenomena were also more prevalent.41 Caroline Walker Bynum asserts: cases of psychosomatic manipulation (manipulation from within) are almost exclusively female Trances, levitations, catatonic seizures or other forms of bodily rigidity, miraculous elongation or enlargem ent of parts of the body, swellings of sweet mucus in the throat, and ecstatic nosebleeds are se ldom if at all reported of male saints but are quite common in the vitae of thirteenthand fourteenth-century women. The inability to eat anything except the eucharistic host is reported only of wo men for most of the Middle Ages Despite the fame of Francis of Assisis stigmata, he and the modern figure Padre Pio are the only male s in history who have claimed all five visible wounds. There are, however, dozens of such claims for late medieval women. Francis (d. 1226) may indeed have been the first case (although ev en this is uncertain); but stigmata rapidly became a female miracle, and only for women did the stigmatic wounds bleed periodically.42 Bynum also points out that certain phenomena oc curred more frequently in women, such as holy exuding (particularly after death) bodily swelling (mystical pregna ncy), sickness or persistent pain, and a higher percentage of miracle-wo rking relics in the late medieval period.43 Perhaps most salient was the mark on the wedding finge r that women would often manifest. These espousal rings delineated their deep ly personal connection to Christ.44 Women also asserted themselves in the realm of devotional exer cises. The instituti on of the feast of Corpus Christi 41 Furlong, 27. 42 Caroline Walker Bynum, The Female Body and Religious Practice in the Later Middle Ages, in Fragments for a History of the Human Body edited by Michel Feher, Ramona Naddaf, and Nadia Tazi. 3 vols (New York: Zone, 1989), 165. 43 Bynum, 166. She further states that incorruptibility either of the whole cadaver or of a part seems a virtual requirement for female sanctity by the early modern period. 44 Furlong, 27. 45


came at the insistence of female mystics, who had influenced the shift in concentration to the Eucharist as a pivotal point in Christian devotiona l life. This Eucharistic focus, stemming from late medieval spirituality, is a dire ct connection to modern Catholicism.45 The primacy of the Eucharist is particularly im portant in the Counter-Reforma tion period, which in many ways reinforced the orthodoxy of the medieval period. The power of the Eucharist and its ability to facilitate a spiritual union with the divine is a central theme in Berninis representations of his holy women, a topic that will be addressed tin the next chapter. An increasing emphasis on the sacrament of marriage in twelfth century theology and canon law also coincides with marriage becomi ng a more visible and powerful spiritual metaphor. Though it seems that female monastic s associated most with Christ, and male monastics with the Virgin, it is important to k eep in mind that mediev al commentators did not make marked distinctions be tween sexual and affective responses, or male and female.46 Spousal metaphors remained salient from early Ch ristianity into the Middle Ages, particularly for delineating the pertinence of the virginal st ate. Works such as the thirteenth century Holy Maidenhead homily went far to disparage union with men, and exalt the joys of a marriage with Christ. Saint Catherine of Al exandria (d. 307) and Saint Catherine of Siena (d.1380) were both well known female saints who had mystically we d Christ. Though the first well known depiction of Saint Catherine of Alexandrias celestial wedding is from 1337, earlier paintings illustrating the infant Christ presenting her with a ri ng from the arms of the Virgin do exist.47 45 Caroline Walker Bynum, Jesus as mother: studies in the spirituality of the High Middle Ages (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982), 18. 46 Ibid., 162. 47 Warner, 127. 46


The concept of mystical marriage was not just restricted to the monastic context in the medieval period; socio-cultural ceremonies a nd celebrations also employed nuptial metaphors, specifically marriages between religious and political figur es, or marriages between religious figures and symbolic modelsthe sea, povert y, etc. Particularly in the cloistered life of the Middle Ages, but beginning as early as the fourth century, nuns were urged by theologians to conceive of their lives in terms of brides espoused to Chri st. Although male monastics and even doges of the Middle Ages might have envisioned themselves as participants, and occasionally even as brides, in the mystical marriage, it was the women of the pe riod who most fervently embraced the marital allegory. Women who had b een mystically wed to Christ acquired an elevated status and prestige above ordinary women. The brides of Christ were provided a Marian model through liturgy and twelfth century texts on the Song of Songs. One particular text, St. Trudperter Hhe Lied most likely written by a confessor to cloistered nuns, elevated Mary as a model for the pious soul; nuns are ex horted to seek to become, like her, daughters of God, mothers of Christ, and br ides of the Holy Spirit.48 By the late Middle Ages, the association of fe male monastics as brides of Christ was an almost wholly essential aspect of female spirituality.49 It is at this time that there is a marked shift from the use of marital metaphors to a more sexualized language of love. One should also recall the earlier words of Cather ine of Siena, who asserted that it was through the foreskin of Christs penis that he had wed her and all of hu manity: Note well that the Son of God married us in the circumcision, cutting off the tip of his ow n flesh in the form of a ring and giving it to us 48 Matter, Mystical Marriage, 34-35. For literary eviden ce of the lives of nuns and the context of mystical marriage written by both male and female monastics, cf. Matter, 35-41. 49 Idem. 47


as a sign that he wished to marry the whole human generation.50 The concept of mystical marriage can be traced as an outgrowth from the religious community that evolved into a form of private and personal mystic devotion. This transformation was first and foremost promoted by spiritual directorsteachers, confessors, et c.and eventually appropriated by women, as evidenced in their direct liter ary accounts. This documentation from female monastics had increased steadily after the year 1200. Biogr aphies, prayers, meditations, and mystical experiences written for and sometimes by women, became a possibility due to the development of vernacular language within literature, making it possible to have the primary information today.51 Saint Catherine of Siena was a prominent figure of this tradition, and spoke in her writings of her marriage to Christ.52 Other examples of this direct use of nuptial imagery can be found in thirteenth century Sain t Clare of Assisi, w ho illustrated her adoption of the nuptial metaphor in her letters to Agnes of Prague, comp elling her to think of herself as a bride, a mother, and a sister of Jesus Ch rist and forego a secular marriage.53 Saint Gertrude of Helfta, also from the thirteenth-century, spoke with increasingly physical terms, using the word amor frequently in her invocations to God. Historian E. Ann Matter notes that the use of the explicitly erotic term amor (love) rather than other words for love such as dilectio or caritas indicates the consummation of this mystical marriage between the nun practicing this discipline and G od. It is evident that mysti cal marriage was a concept fully integrated into the spiritual life of Gertrude.54 Women also went beyond metaphors of earthly 50 Matter, Mystical Marriage, 37. 51 Bynum, Jesus as mother, 170. 52 Matter, Mystical Marriage, 37. 53 Idem. 54 Ibid., 36. For an in-depth analysis on Gertrude of Helfta and the Nuns of Helfta, cf. Bynum, Jesus as Mother 170247. 48


love in the context of mystical marriage, a nd developed an explicitly physical language and experience for connecting to Christ. A par ticularly graphic example comes from Agnes Blannbekin, a Viennese Beguine, who had a vision in which she received Christs foreskin in her mouth and reported that it had a honey-like sweetness.55 Bynum elaborates: Women regularly speak of tasting God, of kissi ng Him deeply, of going into His heart or entrails, of being covered by His blood. Thei r descriptions of themselves or of other women often, from a modern point of view, hope lessly blur the line between spiritual or psychological, on the hand, and bodily or even sexual, on the other.56 Lidwina of Schiedam and Gertrube of Delft bot h felt such a maternal longing for the infant Christ that milk exuded from their breasts. Lukardis of Oberweimar a nd Margaret of Faenza would kiss their spiritual sisters with ope n mouths, and experienced a physically shaking, ardent grace flowing from one to another.57 Perhaps the culmination of this evolution in female piety and its importance within religious devotion is best illustrated in an ex ample of spiritual teaching and guidance from a treatise entitled Von Ihesus pettle in (On the little bed of Jesus).58 The document would have been read in segregation from other references or texts, and it makes use of imagery that may seem unorthodox to contemporary readers. Using r eal and imagined art, Von Ihesus pettlein guided the female monastic in her theological ex ercises, drawing on a pict orial language that was almost exclusively influenced by the Song of Songs. According to late medieval authors, the little bed from the title of the document refers to the flower-strewn bed of consummation used 55 Bynum, The Female Body and Religious Practice in the Later Middle Ages, 164. 56 Ibid., 168. 57 Idem. Interestingly, medieval men also experienced vi sions and affective experiences but seemed to learn their practices from, and defined themselves through, the feminine. In addition, although male authors also use physiological language to describe their experiences with God, they do so in a remarkably impersonal way. 58 Hamburger notes that this treatise is utterly conventional, 387. 49


by Christ in his union with the soul.59 Von Ihesus pettlein functi oned within a tradition of a spiritual advisor acting as a guide to his spiritual daughter and was understood by both the reader and author as functioning inclusively, rather than exclusiv ely to a single reader. Despite this general delivery, nuns would have taken the message personally. In the treatise, the author describes the convent as a series of antecham bers that lead its inhabitants toward the consummation of their marriage with Christ in heav en, and the heart, speci fically, is a palace fit for Christ the king, and late r, a bridal chamber where Christ consummates his marriage with the soul.60 After guiding the nun through a series of vi sualizations, the advise r at the end of the letter must leave her to her own practices but entreaties her to pray on his behalf: Take your beloved in your arms and press him lovingly to you and kiss his sweet, rosy lips for my sake, for it is not for me as a sinner to do such a thing; it proper ly is the prerogative of his brides. But I still desire from the bottom of my heart that such a loving embrace from my most merciful Lord take place for my sake. Pray to Him over time for me.61 Historian Jeffrey Hamburger maintains that th is plea by her adviser recognizes the nun as belonging to the spiritual elite through her specialized relations hip with Christ; the visionary experience was a privilege of Christs brides.62 In this example, the female mysticism of the medieval period blooms, placing the visionary in an elevated positi on that allows her, much like Mary, to appeal to Christ on mankinds behalf. 59 Hamburger, 387. 60 Ibid., 389. 61 Idem. 62 Ibid, 390. 50


CHAPTER 4 BERNINIS BRIDES OF CHRIST In the Baroque period, specifically 1650-1680, there was an overal l resurgence of mysticism in art, particularly in Rome.1 Mysticism in Baroque art, specifically the depiction of visions, ecstasies, and raptures, is unique in its involvement w ith the viewer, who, by the nature of artistic design, is compelled to en gage in its supernatural events.2 The very concept of such an engagement is a paradox, since the visionary subjects that artists endeavor to illustrate ca neither be seen nor depicted. The state of a mystical episode often defies the expressive capabilities of the individual, much less any person witnessing the event, and mystics have maintained that transcendent encounters elude both description and representation. The visual and the visionary are inherently problematic. n 3 Around 1640, artists began to depict what Wittk ower called a dual vision. This duality suggests that the viewer is encouraged to be an active participan t in the otherworldly, mystical manifestations, rather than simply being an outside observer. In the visionary example of this, a saint and their personal experien ce are one component, and the r eactionary experience of the viewer is anotherthe unreal has been made real through the work of the artist. Wittkower states: Representations of dual visions are extreme cas es of an attempt to captivate the spectator through an appeal to the emotions.4 This emotional appeal was viewed as the main vehicle of religious persuasion. To elucidat e the dual vision, Wittkower uses the master of the technique and the periods clearest example, Berninis Ecstasy of Saint Teresa : Berninis St. Teresa, 1 Wittkower, Art and Architecture in Italy 2. 2 Baroque scholars have highlighted this particular charact eristic in Berninis work. Charles Avery states: Bernini, skilled dramatist that he was, always aimed at stunning the byst ander into reverence and acceptance. He does not appeal unassumingly or apologetically, but veritably demands suspension of disbelief. Cf. Avery, 141. 3 Victor I. Stoichita, Visionary experience in the Golden Age of Spanish art (London: Reaktion Books, 1995), 7. 4 Wittkower, Art and Architecture in Italy 2. 51


shown in rapture, seems to be suspended in mid-air, and this can only appear as reality by virtue of the implied visionary state of mind of the beholder.5 The main goal of Baroque artists can thus be described as creating an emotive expe rience through imagery, and this was achieved through narrative and rhetorical lang uage of gesture and expression.6 One of the hallmarks and greatest innovations of Baroque ar t, specifically employed in the pursuit of evoking this mystical state, was the use of illusionism, which reached its pinnacle in Rome and was employed by a number of painters such as Cortona, Bacicci o and Pozzo. Anthony Bl unt calls Bernini the greatest master of this technique, stating: I use the word greatest deliberately, becau se, though many of his contemporaries and successors used illusionism with the utmost ingenuity to produce striking and dramatic effects, Berninialmost aloneused it to expres s a particular kind of deeply felt religious emotion and so raised it to an altoge ther higher level of imaginative creation.7 Heightened corporeality and emo tional states were depicted in order to connect the viewer to the narrative and elicit an intensely spiritual response. Highly dramatic scenes and graphically depicted agonies of Christ and the saints combined with stronger naturalistic treatments to create an era of heightened realism in art and a more vivid and tangible presentation of the human experience of the divine. It is im perative to note that such overt displays of bodily sacrifice and spiritual heroism, united in the visual narrativ e, closely echo the primary reaffirmation of the Counter-Reformation: the sacrament of the Eucharist. Protestants such as Zwingli sought to reduce the significance of Holy Communion and Lu thers doctrine relegated the important 5 Idem 6 Wittkower, Art and Architecture in Italy, 92. 7 Anthony Blunt, Gianlorenzo Bernini: Illusionism and Mysticism, Art History 1 (1978): 71. 52


sacrament to consubstantiation. The Catholic re sponse was firm and direct: the bread and wine became the body and blood of Christ in complete transubstantiation.8 It is through mystical concep ts and illusionistic techniques, and with the primacy of the Eucharist in mind, that Gianlorenzo Bernini s eeks to convey the othe rworldly condition and mystical union with the divine in three particular Brides of Chri stVenerable Sister Maria Raggi, Saint Teresa of vila, and Beata Ludovica Albert oni. The aesthetic sim ilarities between their works have actively been noted by scholars, but few have given a ny consideration to commonalities beyond the surface. Bruce Boucher, discussing the Ecstasy of Saint Teresa notes: the saints face is tilted back, her half-c losed eyes and open mouth allude to that combination of ecstasy and death first seen in th e memorial to Maria Raggi which reappears later in the Blessed Ludovica Albertoni.9 These works of art not on ly serve their own means, functioning as independent commissions and evoki ng the individual goals of the patron, but they also serve as models for Count er-Reformation Catholics, dem onstrating a union with Christ through a conflation of metaphorical devices that suggest the power of the Eucharist. This message becomes especially clear when simulta neously considering Berninis works of these three women and providing a context for their perceived erotic representation. In this interpretation it is necessary to consider not on ly the supporting textual a nd visual references, as they would have been understood both by Bern ini and by important ecclesiastical figures who sanctioned and commissioned the works, but also to understand the bel composto and iconographic whole of these pieces. 8 Petersson, The Art of Ecstasy 10-11. 9 Boucher, 139. 53


The Memorial to Maria Raggi Gianlorenzo Berninis Memorial to Maria Raggi is located on the east face of the second compound pier, across from the high altar, on the nor th side of the nave in Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome and is generally dated to 1643 (Figure 3).10 A swath of black marble cloth, edged at the sides and bottom with giallo antico marble, appears as if animated by some unseen wind, held in place by a gilt-bronze cross at the top, placed like a large stick-pin fastening the cloth to the pillar.11 The marbleized cloth serves to both enframe and transport12 the oval giltbronze medallion of a bust-length portrait of Ma ria Raggi, which is carri ed vertically by two winged cherubs of the same material. In order to emphasize visibility, her head projects fully from the background and is cantilevered by her ha nds, which are pressed ardently to her bosom in a gesture of devout emotion.13 Below the medallion-bearing cherubs is an inscription in luminous gold letters, curving with the drapery, which states the patronage and personage of the monument. On the lower left corn er is a gilt-bronze heraldic shie ld, tilted slightly to the right, which serves as a counter-diagonal to the left tilt of the surmounted cross.14 Historians have generally accepted this work as simply a memorial to Maria Raggi, designed in the tradition of othe r funerary monuments of the peri od and owing most to Berninis other notable cenotaph, the Memorial to Alessandro Valtrini (Figure 6). However this work represents far more than merely a memorial to a candidate for beatification and Tertiary nun of 10 Judith Bernstock, Berninis Memorial to Maria Raggi, Art Bulletin 62 (1980): 249. Though Bernstock has proposed a date from 16 47-1653, I will be using the most widely accepted date of 1643-1647. Fo r more on issues of dating, cf. Lavin, note 9, 68. 11 Hibbard, 110. 12 Bernstock, 254. 13 Avery, 143. 14 Idem. 54


the Dominican Order. It represents the first of three women that Bern ini would represent in visionary, ecstatic, and tr ansitory states, both as part and pa rcel of a greater iconographic whole and as a demonstration of th e powerful union between Christ and humanity, delineated through Eucharistic metaphors. Maria Raggi was born in 1552 and just twelve ye ars later, in accordan ce with the will of her parents and against her wishes, she was marrie d. As a child Raggi was reported to have been devoted to prayer and penitence, and she would lament the loss of her virginity for the rest of her life. Raggi would be widowed six years into he r marriage, in 1570, the mother of two surviving sons. In 1572 she became a Tertiary nun in the Dominican Order after su ccessfully discouraging a suitor that was supported by her friends. She arrived in Rome in 1584 and received lodgings near Santa Maria sopra Minerva, where both he r sons were stationed within the Dominican Order. She was celebrated for her piety, humility and self-mortifications. Raggi was sought after for her prayers and advice, and she pe rformed miracles and experienced visions.15 In interpreting this cenotaph, scholars, and likel y Bernini himself, have correctly utilized a witness account of her death used in her candi dacy for beatification. Irving Lavin provides a translation of this account in his book Bernini and the Unity of the Visual Arts : Suor Maria held her eyes fixed on the altar of her oratory, and she told me to mark her with the sign of the cross; it was so that this servant of God alwa ys made the sign of the cross when she had some vision, and I was sure that she had one then. It must have been very good, for, the sign of the cross made, she extended her arms as if wishing to embrace someone, and she immediately closed them in the form of a cross on her breast, inclining her body and making a great bow. Then she rais ed her head and fixed her eyes in the oratory and repeatedly proffered the sweet name of Jesus, and in particular she uttered the words, Lord, Jesus, receive my spirit. She said those words with devotion; and then she pronounced three times the name of Jesus, and at the last, with admirable peace and quiet, 15 Bernstock, 246. 55


she gave up her spirit to the Cr eator, leaving all those presen t consoled by so happy a death and melancholy and tearful for her absence.16 Thus he concludes, on the basis of this description, that Berninis monument graphically illustrates her actions in dying. Bruce Boucher be gins his reading of th e cenotaph in the same fashion and likewise concludes that Bernini ha s illustrated Raggi in the moment of death.17 But what is the moment that her actions depict and what is the meaning of that moment? There is a notable change that Bernini made to this cenotaph from his previous intentions, known from a workshop drawing (Figure 7). Originally, Raggis head appeared crowned with thorns18 and turned in a more upward fashion, as pres umably her eyes were as well, towards the cross that surmounts the monument. Her arms we re open and her hands exhibited the stigmata. Lavin concludes: The first version of the monume nt was thus explicitly a vision of the cross and a display of the wounds.19 In her most notable vision, Christ on the cross appeared to her and bestowed upon her the stigmata, which she asked him to conceal from others, but not remove from her body, and the marks became visible on her hands after her death.20 In addition to the wounds in her hands, side and feet, she also expe rienced great pains in her head, to which she attributed as confirmation of being a bride of Christ, since his crown of thorns caused him the same pain, emphatically stati ng: Sono Sposa di Ges Cris to e porto la sua Corona21 (I am the Bride of Jesus Christ and I carry his Crown). It is especially important to note that she calls 16 Lavin, 68-69. 17 Boucher, 113. 18 Anthony Blunt states it was a crown of flowers, not thorns, and thus bequeathed to her by the Virgin. Cf. Blunt, 72. Judith Bernstock also agrees with Blunt, stating that it is a crown of roses and thorns, and may refer to the marks witnessed on Raggis forehead. Cf. Bernstock, 250. 19 Lavin, 69. 20 Bernstock, 246. 21 Idem. Due to the unavailability of the primary s ource, I am quoting directly from Be rnstocks direct quotation of P. Innocenzo Taurisano, La serva di Dio Suor Maria Raggi da Scio (Rome: Terziaria Domenicana, 1958), 39. 56


herself by the proper pronoun, Sposa di Ges Cris to, thus confirming the formal religious context of the title. In another episode that Judith Bernstock calls her most potent vision, Christ, in a resplendent white garment, spoke to Raggi using this same nuptial imagery as she lay on her deathbed, entranced by him for a whole day and night: sta di buon animo Suor Maria sposa mia, che Io t'aspetto22 (remain of good spirit Sister Mari a my wife, I await you). This use of marital vocabulary is common in the mystical tradition. Though Raggi was not explicitly a mystic, she did experience visions, and there was also a generally established understanding of nuns as the Brides of Christ. It is pertinent to note that in the early vers ion of the monument, Bernini has departed from the eye-witness account. However, in the final version Raggi does not bear the crown of thorns and there is only faint indention on the back of her hands (suggesting the stigmata, but not emphasizing it),23 her hands are folded over her breast, and her head inc lines toward the direction of the altar. Her parted lips appear to utter the sweet name of Jesus in the tradition of Berninis speaking portraits. Lavin interprets the final version to be the later moment in the witness account of her death, presumably af ter her vision has concluded, and places in a footnote a further explana tion of these changes: The turn toward the altar, as well as the a ttitude of devotion includ ing both hands, relates the work to the tradition of the effigy in eternal adoration (Br uhns, Ewigen Abetung); Bernini later used variants of the gestures in the Fonseca portrait and in the Ludovica Albertoni, where also the in extremis expression recurs.24 22 Ibid., 251. Bernstock further suggests that Bernini may have been playing off of her vision with the placement of her monument, since Michelangelos Risen Chri st was one pillar away on the same aisle. 23 Avery, 143. 24 Lavin, 69. 57


He goes on to reference Anthony Blunts suggesti on that Bernini deviated from the initial version because it was unsubstantiated evidence used in the process of her beatification, which was incomplete.25 What Lavin relegates to footnotes are importa nt points that should be taken into account when interpreting this monument. In his conclusion, Lavin asserts the workshop drawing expresses the initial moment during the vision and proposes the final version is the moment after the vision has ended. Though I concur with his summary that Maria Ragg is monument depicts her actions in dying, I will posit an alternate reading, utilizing the witness description used in the process of Maria Raggis bea tification and previously uncont extualized miraculous events surrounding Maria Raggi as reported by her biographers. Returning to the cenotaph, the miraculous even ts of her life can now be contextualized with the description of her death, and ultimately, the representation that Bernini depicts. As Maria Raggi is dying, she looks towa rd the altar of her oratory, fi nding comfort at the site of both Mass and Holy Communion. Actively rememb ering and visualizing the body of Christ transubstantiating on the altar, he appears to her in a vision. She asks for the sign of the cross, which is given, at which point she extends her arms to embrace Christ her spouse before her, enfolding him to her breast as she inclines her body. She then raises her head, anticipating the ascension of her soul as she utters the name of her beloved husband, finally united in death and everlasting life. Bernini has not illustrated her after her final visionary moments, but during them, at the climactic point at which her soul is united with Christ through her deathshe is both rapt with vision and dying. Her luminous medallion de lineates her in this supernatural light with her arms folded in an embrace across her chest and her lips parted, speaking the name of her 25 Idem. Cf. Blunt, 72-73. I agree with Blunts suggestion as to why Bernini abandoned the initial iconography. It has also been noted by numerable Bernini scholars that the artist does not take unauthorized license in his work. 58


betrothed in sweet adoration as she transcends her mortal life and asce nds to heaven, supported by two cherubs and led by the cross, the black marble drapery accentuating her flight.26 Bernini has, as Howard Hibbard so eloquently states, petrified the evanescent.27 But how does this memorial relate to the vi ewer? What of the placement on the compound pillar and the orientation of Maria Raggis heavily-lidded ga ze? First and foremost, the monument honors and promotes Raggi as a candidate fo r beatification. As a result of this, it also delineates the visionary a nd miraculous nature of her life through the dramatic and spiritually emotional moment that Bernini ha s representedher visionary and supernatural death. Bernini has endeavored to convey the mystical nature through the formal qualities of the work and provoke a spiritual response in the viewer. The location of th e monument is of particular importance, as it is on the last compound pier before the altar, and directly faces it on a diagonal. Charles Avery has found a special significance for this placement. He notes the following: Maria faces diagonally towards the high alta r and thus looks in the direction of Michelangelos Christ which stands by the left pier of the chancel. This was almost certainly intentional, for it recalled anothe r vision that the nun experienced on her deathbed, when Jesus appeared and said, Be of good cheer, Sister Maria, my wife, for I am awaiting you. So here Bernini set up a dram atic interplay at a spiritual level between the spectator and what were actual ly two inert pie ces of sculpture.28 For Avery, the placement sets up an intere sting dialogue between Michelangelos Risen Christ (1521) and the Memorial utilizing Christs words to the dy ing Maria Raggi, with the viewer between the two pieces of sculptural. Though the id ea that the works talk back to one another, 26 Lavin, 70. Though we differ in our interpretation of the circumstances and moment represented, Lavin also eloquently concludes: In the Raggi monument the billowing cloth and the medallion carried aloft by airborne messengers are brought together to create a visual metaphor for the spiritual transport expressed by the portrait the moment of the souls ultimate union with God. For Lavin, Raggi is without any narrative context, and while this is literally correct, her textual evidence is impossible to ignore in the reading, thus providing a framework that functions much like a narrative. 27 Hibbard, 110. Hibbards comment is based on formal stylistic elements, as he does not address any iconographic interpretations. 28 Avery, 143. 59


re-enacting the last moments of Raggis life is interesting, there is a more compelling one to be made. In her biographical accounts Sister Maria Ra ggi fixed her gaze on the altar as she was passing from this life to the next. Her monume nts placement on the pier across from the altar reconstructs this, emphasizing both the visionary and liter al aspects of her mystical episode. In this dual vision, Raggis perpetual orientation a nd sightline leads the view er to the altar, the place where they too will witne ss the body of Christ transubstan tiated into the host, and where they can achieve a divine connection through it. For the viewer, the power and importance of the Eucharist is conflated with the ultimate mystical union with Christ, delineated by Maria Raggi. Though the average viewer who engages with the Memorial of Maria Raggi may not possess her same qualities, they are directed through Bernini s monument as to how to achieve her same union with Godnot as a Bride of Christ or thro ugh supernatural gifts, but through the sacrament of Holy Communion, a rite available to any Catholic. The Cornaro Chapel The Cornaro Chapel and its Ecstasy of Saint Teresa follow the Memorial to Maria Raggi chronologically, and therefore possess similarities in stylistic developments. Both works function in a funerary capacity (M aria Raggi unto herself, and Teresa as part of a larger mortuary chapel and a context of her own death), and both exhibit mystical states in which the women are united with Christ. Judith Bernst ock observes their shared visionary connection with God: It is the ecstatic trance shared by Maria and Teresa, th e spiritual and physical totality of their union with God, that makes these women kindred spirits.29 29 Bernstock, 254. 60


However, they are also comparable in their iconographic message and the means with which they model, to the viewer, an ultimate union with Christ. Like the monument to Maria Raggi, it is within Teresas writings, among other literar y (and visual) sources, that Bernini found his inspiration and source for the pr ogram of the Cornaro Chapel. However, in order to properly interpret the message and meaning of the Cornaro Chapel, it must be considered in its entirety. Church chapels have a history of thematic c oherency in their programs, but the chapels of Bernini are unique in that their amalgamation of sculpture, painti ng, and architecture coalesces to delineate a central theme.30 The Christian mysticism that found a period of heightened popularity in the Middle Ages also surged during the Counte r-Reformation, particularly am ong religious women in Spain, where it served as an outlet for female monastic s in a country noted both for its religiosity and for its conservatism.31 Four women saints came out of the Counter-Reformation. Of these, none cultivated the influence or literary appeal equal to the mystical writings of Saint Teresa of vila. Teresas rise to fame, much like her life, w ould not be undaunted. Indeed, it was impeded at length by the fears, hostility, and skepticism of male clerics. Religious women faced strict censorship in their writing as part of the Church s long-standing position ag ainst female religious leaders, and Teresa of vila wa s no exception. After being inves tigated for heresy twice by the Inquisition and anticipating further interrogation, she preemptively wrote her spiritual autobiography. Though her spiritual leaders sub limated her familys conversion from Judaism and physical and spiritual struggles, they prai sed her visions as godly. The publication of the transcript was denied however, as one of her male confessors said, it is not fitting that writings 30 Bel composto Cf. Lavin, 6 31 Hsia, 148, 151. The Inquisition was staffed by Dominican s, who were deeply suspicious of both women mystics and Jesuits. 61


by women be made public.32 His recommendation prompted the Inquisition to withhold it from reproduction until four years after he r death in 1586. In the last y ears of her life she had been revered as a living saint, and by this time her reputation had spread throughout Spain. The response to her Vida was overwhelming, quickly translated, and immensely successful. It had both immediate and long-term effect s; R. Po-Chia Hsia calls it, t he single most important work of mysticism in early modern Catholicism the exemplum for the shaping and writing of the religious life of women.33 Teresa was a strong feminine voice that prevailed despite male subjugation, not only in her life time, but after her death. During her canonization process, the choir of her supporters would si ng her praises, calling her a mi stress of masters and more learned than the learned men.34 Teresa was a very dynamic figur e in the history of the Church, and raised topics that directly addressed issues of the C ounter-Reformation: gender, authority, sexuality, and piousness. The Cornaro Chapel and its Ecstasy of St. Teresa are located in the left transept of Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome (Figure 1). The church itself was built in first decade of seventeenth-century and was originally dedicate d to Saint Paul, but was reconsecrated to the Madonna in 1622 for the honorific recognition of a gr eat Catholic victory ove r the Protestants in 1620, which had been facilitated by a miraculous image of the Virgin.35 Inside the church, the left transept was dedicated to Saint Paul and th e right was dedicated to Saint Teresa. Federico 32 Ibid., 145. This is pertinent to note, particularly for th e topic of this paper, as some scholars and critics attribute the censorship of her writing expressly because of its sensua lity. Though the language of mystics is erotic in its earthly attempt to describe spiritual love, this should be the foregone conclusion for the sequestering of her autobiography. Hsia provides a very viable alternative interpretation throughout this chapter (9) on the subject of religious women in Counter-Reformation Spain. 33 Ibid., 144-45. 34 Ibid., 148. 35 Lavin, 77. 62


Cornaros choice for his chapel on the left and the subject of Saint Teresa for its altarpiece indicates a desire to further elevate her importance since the left transept is usually liturgically nobler, gospel side of the high altar. In additio n, the foundress had no permanent chapel in the church at that time and it also would receive more light, being on the unobstructed part of the building (the Discalced Carmelite c onvent buildings were on the north).36 The chapel space selected by Cornaro had previous ly been dedicated to Saint Paul and originally exhibited a painting of him in ecstasy. This adumbrated the rededication of the chapel to Saint Teresa since it was on the feast of Saint Paul that Teresa had her first vision.37 The architectural framework for the Cornar o Chapel began circa 1647, with work on the sculptural program continuing in to the 1650s. The integration of the chapel into the overall church design was of the utmost importance because as a transept arm, it was a fundamental part of the overall architecture.38 The vault of the chapel is permeated with heavenly glory, designed by Bernini and executed by Gui dobaldo Abbatini (Figure 8).39 Frescoed angels playing instruments and strewing flowers, the dove of the Holy Spirit, clouds, and light consume the vault and wall, creating the illusion that heav en itself is osmotic pervading our world.40 In order to further enhance this otherworldly, metaphysical presence, the fresco spills over the chapel architecture and gold-painted stu cco reliefs illustrating Teresas life that decorate the vault.41 The arched entryway to the chapel is adorned with additional stucco an gels and cherubs, who hang floral swags and a banner bearing the words s poken by Christ to Teresa (but also meant for 36 Ibid., 79. 37 Boucher, 135. 38 Lavin, 84. 39 Boucher, 136. 40 Hibbard, 134. 41 Scribner, 90. 63


all mankind) in one of her visions: Nisi coelum creassem ob te solam crearem (If I had not created heaven I would create it for you alone).42 The walls are covered with marble colored in contemplative shades of yellow, gray, and green, with the complexity of both color a nd pattern culminating around the architectural framework of the sculptural group itself. The altarpiece is set within a ni che framed by pairs of columns and surmounted by a pediment. Charles Scribner elaborates: T hrough the interplay of concave and convex shapes, the pediment of heavens portal bows outward as if in response to the force within.43 The altar frontal is effaced with a gi lt bronze and lapis lazuli relief of the Last Supper and above it, within the architectural proscenium-lik e niche, the sculptural group proper, the Ecstasy of St. Teresa is seemingly suspended on a cloud as gilt wood rays stream down from the top of the housing (Figures 9-10). Here Saint Teresa is elevated on a cloud, her body limp under her voluminous mantle as she rec lines slightly. Her face is a vision of idealized, but smoothly expressionless beaut y. Her eyes are heavily-lidded and unseeing, appearing to roll back, and her lips are parted, seemingly in gasp. Teresas tunic is grasped at the side by a cupid-like seraph who smiles sweetly and knowingly down at Teresas physically unconscious form; in his other hand he holds gilt-br onze arrow. His touch is divine as he raises her effortlessly from into a metaphysical plane.44 Bernini had windows built on the outside of the church wall to let in natural light that would have fallen th rough the top of the niche and the ochre glass onto the gilded rays, suffusing the sculpture of the Ecstasy itself (Figure 11).45 Regrettably, the original illusionistic and supernat ural qualities of the altarpiece have been all but 42 Lavin, 139. 43 Scribner, 90. 44 Lavin, 111. 45 Ibid., 104. 64


ruined by modern electrical lighting. Lavin main tains that despite even the brightest natural light, the interior would have demanded a momentary adjustment of the eyes, and then, as if suspended from the glistening beams, the softly tinted figures would gl ow, vaguely, like ghostly apparitions midway between nothingness and reality.46 On walls adjacent to the Ecstasy and opposite of one another, ar e the distinguished busts of Federico Cornaro and other notable members the Cornaro family (six other cardinals and a doge, four on each side) in draped balconies of giallo antico marble rimmed with black marble (Figures 12-13).47 Interestingly and previous ly unnoted in scholarship is the repetition of this color pattern from the drapery of the preceding Memorial to Maria Raggi The formal connections between her cenotaph and the prie-dieux (coretti) of the Cornaro effigies should not go unrecognized. Bernini likely used this complimentary formal quality to distinctly mark the funerary function of the chapel.48 The Cornaros are set against an illusionary relief of architecture reminiscent of a church interior, and they interact among th emselves and with the outside world. The floor of the chapel is the first polychrome, figur ated, marble intarsia pavement since antiquity,49 and depicts two half-length, gestic ulating skeletons in roundels on either side of the altar (Figure 14). Cardinal Fe derico Cornaro is buried underneath the pavement just before the altar.50 As in the Memorial to Maria Raggi there are two distinct themes in the Cornaro Chapel that are combined in a visual metaphor for th e viewer: the power of the Eucharist and the 46 Idem. 47 Marder, 113. 48 Though Federico Cornaro is the only member of the family buried here, the seven other effigies span a time period of two centuries (cf. Scribner, 90), thus they come to the chapel from a world beyond the present. 49 Lavin, 134. 50 Ibid., 135. 65


connection to Christ through mystical union. In order to understand how these themes are visually narrated, it is important to treat them both as a whole and in the order in which the viewer encounters them, as Bernini utilized a co nsciously constructed fr amework that virtually forces the viewer into th e optimal viewing position.51 As the faithful proceeds down the nave, his gaze is met by a leaning cardinal (and also Fe derico Cornaro himself), who leads him to the optimal viewing point for the chap el: directly in the middle of the crossing under the churchs main dome. It is at this point that the bel composto comes into visual and conceptual fruition.52 The perspective of the architectural reliefs behi nd the Cornaro family members is calculated from this point in front of the chapel, which can now be considered as a whole: a vaulted architectural unit containing an inner sanctuary at the back and at the sides a perspective design that extends the space laterally 53 The Cornaro family members are a critical co mponent of the chapel. Not only do they initially engage with the viewer and lead hi m down the nave, they also delineate a critical eucharistic component. Though the Cornaro effigi es are often described as witnesses, it is important to clarify the nature of how and what they witness. They are not looking at the Ecstasy itself, but instead concern themselves with the underlying meaning of the altarpiece in relation to the altar.54 Lavin compares the Cornaro men to figures in Raphaels Disputation of 51 Wittkower, Art and Architecture in Italy 12. 52 Lavin, 98. 53 Ibid., 95. At this point, the Cornaro Chapel may add itionally be viewed as a three-dimensional form of the antiquated illusionistic sacrament tabernacle, which parall els the equally archaic narrative altar front. Bernini revived these forms in order to explicitly emphasize the sacr amental representations. For further connections to the Eucharist and sacramental arch itecture, cf. Lavin 85-98. 54 Ibid., 101. 66


the Sacrament and suggests that it is in this capacity they function as confessors, manifesting their persuasion.55 He states: The Cornaro family portraits form a carefu lly planned exposition of the theme of the Eucharist through the contrasting and complementary routes to salvation: reason and faith The group on the left displays th e internal path of logic, prayer and contemplation; that on the righ t the external one of revela tion, communication and action. Referring as they do to the pavement, the alta r, the altarpiece and the vault, the Cornaro effigies embrace the entire chapel and bear double witness, as it were, both to the miraculous effects and the mystical substance of belief.56 Bruce Boucher echoes Lavins comment, asserting that the figures, despite their inability to visually engage with the altarpiece, reinforce th rough their poses the chapels principal theme of the beneficial nature of the mass.57 He also notes that Bernini has integrated the figures much as a painter might include donors in a polyptych 58 This comparison of a multi-paneled altarpiece will also be echoe d in the Altieri Chapel. The center panel within the Cornaro Chapel s polyptych is th e altarpiece of the Ecstasy of Saint Teresa Though Teresa experienced a breadth of visions and ecstasies, the episode in which her heart is pierced by an angel is the most famous and best reproduced. The use of her transverberation was imperative, as it had become Teresas trademark, and was equated with the martyrdoms and miracles of other saints.59 The subject is one of heightened emotional and religious drama, keeping with both the tradition of mysticism and the Baroque: It pleased the Lord that I should sometimes see the following vision. I would see beside me, on my left hand, an angel in bodily form In his hands I saw a long golden spear and at the end of the iron tip I seemed to see a point of fire. With this he seemed to pierce my heart several times so that it penetrated to my entrails. When he drew it out, I thought 55 Ibid., 102. 56 Ibid., 103. 57 Boucher, 138. 58 Idem. 59 Lavin, 84. 67


he was drawing them out with it and he left me completely afire with a great love for God. The pain was so sharp that it made me utter several moans; and so excessive was the sweetness caused me by this intense pain that one can never wish to lose it, nor will ones soul be content with anything less than God. It is not bodily pain, but spiritual, though the body has a share in itindeed a great share. So sweet are the colloquies of love which pass between the soul and God that if anyone thinks I am lying I beseech God, in His goodness, to give him the same experience.60 The transverberation of Saint Teresa, as depict ed by Bernini, becomes the point of contact between earth and heaven, between matter and spirit.61 Teresa is in the state of ecstasy,62 by her account, unable to move or speak aloud,63 but spiritually and intern ally burning painfully a sweetly with the love for God. There are three ways in which Berninis altarpiece is innovative within the traditional representations of tran sverberation and which come together here in particularly innovative ways: the recumbent pos e of Teresa; the cloud-borne setting; and an overtly sensual content not previously depicted. nd 64 Like in the Memorial to Maria Raggi Bernini overlays themes of ecstasy, death, and mystical union within one work. However, in the Ecstasy of Saint Teresa Bernini is able to draw on a larger body of sanctioned themes and therefore he is able to overlay several episodes from her lif e to elucidate the overarching theme of a mystical/eucharistic connection to God. The recumbent pose of Teresa marks a noted change from previous depictions, which usually showed her kneeling. This reclining pose may represent her death as well as her ecstasy. Lavin points out that the correlation between the tw o was endemic to the mystical tradition: the 60 Peers, 192. I have mentioned this quote previously as a juxtaposition with Saint Augustine in Chapter 3. 61 Lavin, 113. 62 Lavin, 113-115, asserts that the sculpture could also repres ent Teresas death in addition to the angelic episode, as she died in ecstasy, which would further compound the connection of her joining Christ as his bride after death. Though this is a considerable point, I feel the connection to eroticism and ma rriage to Christ stands alone in her writings, previous artistic depictions, and other features of the Cornaro chapel. 63 Ibid., 107. 64 Ibid., 113. 68


pain of spiritual love was conceive d as a wound, and the wound was mortal. 65 The moment of actual death was the final, culminating union between lover and beloved. Though Teresa had been weakened by illness, she in fact died in ecst asy. It is reported that just before she died, she spoke in terms of endearment to her beloved spouse. Evidence of her miraculous death was provided by witness, as well as Teresas own foretelling, and afte rwards it was confirmed in a vision to her fellow nuns. Her supe rnatural death was entered in the official documents of her canonization. Teresa is a mysti cal martyr, having died of her fa ith, rather than for her faith.66 There are two visual references that particularly demonstrate this concept of mystical martyrdom that Bernini (in addition to the prim ary literary sources) would have known. The first is an engraving by Anton Wierix, The Mystic Transverberation of Saint Teresa (Figure 15), which Lavin calls one of the most important influences on the Teresa chapel 67 In Wierixs engraving, Christ appears as a boyish ar cher or cupid, shooting a flaming arrow into the breast of Saint Teresa, who falls back into the ar ms of two angels. God the Father, the dove of the Holy Spirit, and a host of musical angels preside over the scene, while two angels descend from heaven bearing a bridal crown of flowers a nd a martyrs palm. Teresas wound of love and her death are metaphorically linke d by the caption at the bottom of the engraving. Bernini has placed Wierixs dove and music-making angels in the vault of the chapel and the palm of martyrdom appears at the underside of the main wi ndow (Figures 8 and 16).68 65 Lavin, 113. 66 Lavin, 114. 67 Lavin, 116. 68 Idem. 69


The second example is from an important altarpiece (that Bernini certainly knew, according to Lavin) by Palma Giovane, Transverberation of Saint Teresa (Figure 17).69 In this painting, Christ appears in heaven above, pointin g to the wound in his side with one hand and gesturing toward heaven with the other. A shard of light descends from his breast wound, illuminating Saint Teresa in ecstasy below. Her eyes are closed as she kneels; her arms open to receive the spear in her breast at the hands of an angel, while another supports her body from behind. Though Lavin connects this painti ng on a sacramental level, between the transverberation, the Eucharist and salvation70 (there appears to be an altar at the lower left of the painting), it can also be r ead (in conjunction with both li terary evidence and Wierixs engraving) as a visual support for the representati on of Teresa as mystical martyr, a point that remains unexplored in extant scholarship. In Giovanes painting, the connection between the breast wound of Christ to the breast wound of Te resa through gesture and use of light functions as an imitatio Christi Hagiography delineates a series of imitative actions, beginning with the Gospel, which the legend itself imitates: the saint imitates Christ and the faithful, in turn, imitate the saint. The story and the action are thus conflated.71 Thomas Heffernan states: Christs behavior in the Gospels was the sing le authenticating norm for all action.72 Christs life is both a delineation of Christian perfection, therefore sacr ed, and it is also the perfect model for others. As a result, there are clear similarities between the lives of the saints, not on ly to Christ but also to one another, which was the effect of hagi ography as a genrethe s uppression of individual 69 Idem. 70 Idem. 71 Susan Ashbrook Harvey, Women in Early Byzantine Hagiography: Reversing the Story, in That gentle strength: historical perspectives on women in Christianity edited by Lynda L. Coon, Katherine J. Haldane, and Elisabeth W. Sommer (Charlottesville: Univ ersity Press of Virginia, 1990), 37. 72 Thomas J. Heffernan, Sacred biography: saints and their biographers in the Middle Ages (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 5. 70


details for the modeling of the greater whole.73 Visually, the suffering and wound of Christ is connected to the mystical wound of love endur ed by Teresa and her martyrdom comes more fully into focus. The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa is a hybrid representation of her transverberation and her death.74 The second innovative component was the inclusi on of levitation into the transverberation imagery. This addition was facilitated by the fact that the location of the transverberation is not specified by Teresa, who emphasized only its rare but repeated occurrence.75 Teresas levitations were unique in the fact that they occurred in public, specifically at mass when she received communion, and were witnessed by numer ous individuals. Her acute devotion to the Eucharist became a central aspect of her mysti cal piety, and she experi enced both ecstasies and levitations when she received the Holy Sacramen t. These demonstrations were an emphasized point in her biographies a nd in her canonization process.76 By overlaying Teresas transverberation with her cloud-borne atmos pheric levitation, Bernini is compounding his visualization of Teresa as a eucharistic metaphor directly with her mystical connection to the divine. Charles Scribner eloquent ly describes the overall effect: Sculpture and painting are complemented architecturally by the tabernacle in which Teresas transverberation is exposed, suggesting a gleaming Host suspended in a bejeweled monstrance.77 The power of the Eucharist, that active principle of love whic h joins humanity and divinity, and here links 73 Karen A. Winstead, Virgin Martyrs: Legends of Sainthood in Late Medieval England (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1997), 1-2. 74 On the hybrid of transverberation/death, cf. Lavin, 118. I support his conclusions here. 75 Lavin, 90. 76 Lavin, 120. 77 Scribner, 90. 71


Teresas transverbation-death on the one hand to Christ, on the other to all men78 is made visible by Bernini in hi s representation of the Ecstasy of Saint Teresa .79 The concept of Teresa as both a mystical and sacramental metaphor fo r the Eucharist is additionally supported both literally and figuratively by the altar frontal beneath her tabern acle-niche. This gilt-bronze and lapis lazuli Last Supper inhabits the terrestrial realm of the viewer and serves as the liturgical equivalent to Teresas more inte nse and exceptional communion with God.80 The third and final innovativ e technique for depicting Sa int Teresa was the overtly sensuous physicality that she evidences. Myst ics had long employed terms of physical, earthly love in their endeavors to illustrate their emo tions and experiences, and the metaphor of marriage to Christ is fundamental to the idea of mystical union.81 Teresa of vila wrote expressly in this language in her controversial co mmentary on the Song of Songs, Conceptions of the Love of God : This divine union of love, with which I li ve, makes God my prisoner and frees my heart In addition to her response to the So ng of Songs, Teresa wrote prose in a similar way: One enjoys without understanding how one enjoys: the soul is consuming itself in love and does not understand how it loves: it recognizes that it enjoys this that it loves and knows not how it enjoys: it understands well that it is not a pleasure that the understanding strives to reach.82 Consequently, themes of marriage, mystical unions, and an ecstatic love for God became closely associated with Teresa both in art and literature. Pope Urban VIII (d. 1644) composed two 78 Lavin, 121. 79 Idem. 80 Petersson, Art of Ecstasy 89. Lavin suggests that Bernini likely modeled his narrative altar frontal of the Last Supper after one on the back wall of the Lateran sacramenta l altar, further compounding the overarching eucharistic themes of the chapel, and even more importantly, referencing specifically the Holy Sacrament and the table relic of the Last Supper. Cf. Lavin, 126. 81 Lavin, 121-122. 82 Weibel, 83. 72


hymns to honor the saint, in which he describes her marriage to Christ: With the dart of divine love / Thrust into your wounds you will fall / O vic tim of love And she heard the voice of her Spouse / Come, sister, from the summit of Carmel / To the wedding feast of the Lamb / Come to the crown of glory.83 In the Cornaro Chapel, Bernini was influenced by both Teresian literature and artistic precedents in his illustrations of Teresas nuptials to Christ. Apar t from the visual sublimity of the Ecstasy of St. Teresa two key components in the vault de coration also provide a guide for interpretation. First, there is an episode found in Teresas Relations in which she has a vision that Christ takes her as his spous e by presenting her with a nail that symbolizes their union. This scene is represented on the right side of the barrel vault, with Christ taking her right hand and giving her a nail of the cross as a sign of her espousal (Figur e 18). Second, there are two engravings by Anton Wieri xthe previously cited Mystic Transverberations of St. Teresa and an additional engraving by the same artist, Transverberation of Saint Teresa (Figures 15 and 19). From the first engraving, Bernini has placed th e palm of martyrdom beneath the window and transposed the dove of the Holy Spirit and musicmaking angels to the vault. In conjunction with nuptial imagery, Bernini also takes the flor al crown (it serves a dual purpose as both martyrdom and bridal imagery) a nd places it between the hands of tw o angels at the very center of the entrance archway (Figure 20). In the se cond engraving, God the Father oversees an angelic host who cascade flowers over Saint Teresa in a varied illustration of her transverberation. The engravi ng is crowned with a passage from the Song of Songs, clearly illustrating the dialogue of love between Teresa and Christ.84 Bernini has repeated the flower83 At First Vespers and at Matins, Lavin, 117. 84 Ibid., 130-131. 73


strewing cherubs in the vault, who further deli neate the joyous sanctification and observance of Teresas mystical marriage (Figure 20). Though only briefly noted by most scholars (L avin is the only exception), the ascending intarsia skeletons in the pavement of the Corn aro Chapel must be considered to conclude a complete reading of the overall program. Thes e roundels provide an important message of hope and salvation in light of the chapel s greater narrative. First, it is important to clarify what the skeletons represent. They are neither complete nor incomplete in their half-length form as they emerge from their darkened r oundels, indicating clearl y that they are in the processing of rising from below. Though some have in terpreted their presence as a momento mori in Federico Cornaros funerary chapel, they cannot be solely assigned this role, since they do not threaten humanity with a foreboding message of mankinds fa te. Lavin asserts: On the contrary, they are downright enviable as they ri se in prayer and exu ltation from the lower depths to bask in the light of heaven they are joyous pr omises of reintegration and redemption.85 Viewed in this context, they refer to Ezekiels (37.7) vision of the resurrection, but with a unique twist: the left figures hands are joined in devotion, while the right figure opens his arms in the orans manner, mirroring the gestures used in conj unction with the Virgin to the left and John the Baptist to the right of Christ in depictions of the Last Judgment (Figure 14).86 Lavin stresses Berninis innovation: By combining and rein terpreting the notions of the floor as an infinite space, as a solid surface, and as a place of interment, Bernin i made of it what it had never been beforethe upper limit of the underworld. Visually, the floor and vault are mirror images 87 The dead reside in a realm below the earthly one of the viewer, but rise with Teresa, in the blessed 85 Lavin, 136. 86 Idem. 87 Lavin, 137. 74


salvation that is bestowed through the rite of Holy Communion and the recognition of Christ on Judgment Day. Though the viewer faces their own mo rtality in the countenance of the skeletal images, they promise redemption and everlasting life. In this moment, the Ecstasy of St. Teresa comes into full focus as seen through the lens of the complete Cornaro Chapel program. Teresa, the Bride of Christ, floats supernaturally before the viewer, supported merely by a cloud and the most delicate of touches from the Angel who bears the fiery dart of Gods love. She is the very picture of a mystical, ecstatic, and otherworldly union with Christ as she ascends towards the heav enly scene that opens onto the vault of the Cornaro Chapel, where the dove of the Holy Spirit awaits her. Recalling the disputation of the Cornaro e ffigies, observing her placement above the altar supported by the relief of the Last Supper simultaneously conflate s the visual display of mystical matrimony and makes her the Eucharistic metaphor for the viewer. Just as in the Memorial to Maria Raggi the faithful here experience a dual vision. Tere sa is united to Christ through her mystical martyrdom, marriage, and the power of the Eucharist. The view er is likewise connected to Christ through the sacrosanct rite of Holy Co mmunion, wherein he is able to connect with God.88 Like Maria Raggi, Teresa ascends towards heaven in a mystical state of union with the divine, modeling for the viewer the possibility of this communion through the tr ansubstantiated body of Christ. The dual vision thus func tions here as a didactic tool. The viewer is not meant to copy Teresa, as her space and experience is clearly and literally separated from the earthly realm, but he should experience the power of her example a nd follow the most accessible path to their own union with God, the Eucharist. 88 Lavin, 125-126. 75


The Altieri Chapel Following the precedent of the Memorial to Maria Raggi and the stunning narrative of the Cornaro Chapel, there was but one other comparab le program that united painting, sculpture, and architecture: the Altieri Chapel and its Blessed Ludovica Albertoni. As noted above in the quote from Bruce Boucher, the three women share sim ilarities in their formal modeling. I hope to delineate further details that place this chapel alongside the Memorial to Maria Raggi and the Ecstasy of Saint Teresa as mystical Brides of Christ that model a union with Christ through the Eucharist for the lay viewer.89 The Altieri Chapel is the funerary chapel for Ludovica Albertoni, renovated by her distant but contemporary relative, Cardin al Paluzzi degli Albertoni, who had married into the papal family of the reigning Clement X Altieri, and had taken his name as a result (Figure 4). The chapel was refurbished in honor of her beatific ation and the sanctioning of her cult in 1671. The most important result of Bernini s renovation is the focal point of this chapel, the sculpture of Ludovica Albertoni, which he has placed above the altar and under which lay her remains (Figure 5). Ludovica Albertoni, sculpted in highly polished white marble lies semi-recumbent, contracting on her deathbed with her knees drawing towards her chest, which she clutches as it rises. Her face is ethereally b eautiful and her lips are parted to drink her last breaths of life, gasping not only in expiration, but in the joy that the union of he r death brings. Her head is thrown back and her face is upturned, seeming to seek the light that streams over her from Berninis hidden window within the recessed alcove that he has constructed for this lighting effect. The recessed portion extends beyond the alta r wall and is framed with an archway which 89 The debate over semiotics and iconography in the Altie ri Chapel and Blessed Ludovica Albertoni is incredibly convoluted, with a myriad of methodologies endeavoring to interpre t the intricacies and dual visions Bernini depicted. For the purposes of time and space in this purpose, I am limiting my reading. 76


also produces a telescopic effect. Above her is a Giovanni Battista Gaulli (Baciccio) altarpiece of The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne (c. 1674), on the frame of which are stucco putti heads, attached in a strongly diagonal orientation towa rds the animated figure of Ludovica Albertoni, but seeming to float adoringly above her. A ma rbleized cloth of red Sicilian jasper cascades from her bed towards the viewer, effectively un iting the space between herwithin the recessed alcoveand the realm of the viewer. The dove of the Holy Spirit rests in the center of the chapels dome, his wings outstretched to receive the spirit of Jesus bride.90 The wall space on either side of the altar has frescoes of Sa int Clare displaying the Eucharist and Ludovica Albertoni distributing bread to the poor, by Gaspare Celio.91 Ludovica Albertoni, like Maria Ra ggi, was a Tertiary nun who was intensely religious and had married only to obey her parents. After she became a widow at age thirty-three, she took the habit of the Franciscan Tertiary Order. Albertoni was known most for her piety and charitable works, and though she had reportedly levitated during prayers, her face enflamed by religious rapture, she was not known as a mystic or a visi onary. At age sixty, she became ill with a fever and reportedly longed for death so that she would be united with Christ. She began to take communion more often, stating that she was comfor ted by the Eucharist. Albertoni would die in fervent prayer in 1533.92 As a woman who was not known for ecstatic states, why would she be 90 Scholars debate over whether Albertoni is in ecstasy or agony, life or death. Scholars who posit she is dying include: Boucher, 142-143; Hibbard, 220-227; Shelley K. Perlove, Bernini and the Idealization of Death: the Blessed Ludovica Albertoni and the Altieri Chapel (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1990), 44; Torgil Magnuson, Rome in the age of Bernini (Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell International; Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1982), 305-307. Historians who as sert she is in ecstasy include: Avery, 152; Frank H. Sommer, Iconography of action: Bernini's Ludovica Albertone, Art Quarterly 33 (1970): 35; Petersson, Bernini and the excesses of art 40; While certain scholars are unclear or unconcerned: Marder, 297; Charles Scribner, Transfigurations: Berninis Last Works, Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 135 (1991): 498; Giovanni Careri, Bernini: flights of love, the art of devotion (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995), 51-86. For the purposes of this paper, I will operate under the interpretation that is both dying and in ecstasy. 91 Careri, 51-52. 92 Perlove, 4-5. 77


depicted in such a manner at the moment of her de ath? The explanation for this lies not only in the sculpture itself, but in Berninis concept of the bel composto As in the previous examples of the Memorial of Maria Raggi and Ecstasy of Saint Teresa this investigation begins by looki ng at the textual references that relate to the design of the Altieri Chapel. One of two documents testif ying to the new cult of Ludovica Albertoni, a Carmelite panegyric by Bernardino Santini entitled I voli dAmore (Flights of Love) and published in 1673, has an overtly mys tical tone and even compares her to Saint Teresa of vila by way of her contemplative talent.93 The introduction begins: Spos a Santi Imenei De lamato suo ben laure piu belle Sul giglio Nazaren Sue Rose inesta LEroe de Semidei De raggi arresta Sul crin di casta Ninfa oro di Stella LODOVICA al diletto Offre il sen, dona il cor, riposa in petto (Bride wed in Holy Matrimony to her beloved in the gentlest breezes jo ins her roses to the lily of the Nazarene. The hero of celestial se migods covers the hair of the chaste nymph with stardust. To her beloved, Ludovica offers he r breast, yields her he art, and rests in his bosom)94 The panegyric commingles original poetry with selections from biblical quotations and juxtaposes Ludovica with various other character s, to present Ludovica as a Bride of Christ: Observe (if you please) LUDO VICA rising from the earth and embracing Jesus on the Cross Great was the piety of LUDOVICA who united herself living to her dead beloved so that through her ardo r he might be revived But the living conveys life to the dead, though the one who is dead has sacrificed his being and his life for the living one. Between these two persons there is only one de ath, yet both have died of love Between these two subjects there existed only one life, nor can more than one life exist where the hearts reigns undivided Th at is, LUDOVICA dies with her expired beloved while the bridegroom dwells in her bosom Neither life nor death can separa te the lover of God from God Let us leave LUDOVICA with Jesus, as though alive, spreading her wings 93 Careri, 52. 94 As quoted in Careri, 58. 78


toward the object of her love Silence! Do not wake her, for it is sweeter to die than to live without 95 Ludovica Albertoni, in the mystical language of her flourishing seventeenth century Carmelite cult, is established as a Bride of Christ who upon her death was united with her betrothed. The other document that bears witnes s to the cult of Ludovica is a biography written by Friar Giovanni Paolo of Rome in 1672, whic h praises her virtues, piety and good works, specifically her charity to the poor of Rome. This contrast between her activ e life and her contemplative one is also illustrated visually in the art of her chapel. The representation of Ludovica in her expiring and ecstati c state was assuredly chosen by Bernini because of her new Carmelite devotion96 as well as for the theatrical aspect of the subject, which would be more likely to compel viewers spiritually and emotionally. Returning to the interpretation of the iconography within th e Altieri Chapel, we must observe several key elements that explain the conflation of Ludovicas agony and ecstasy. The chapels altarpiece, The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne by Baciccio is th e first of these components (Figure 21). The importance of this painting is evidenced by the intense collaboration between Baciccio and Bernini, kno wn from the accuracy of the drawings made by the painter of Berninis sculpture and exact location of the altarpiece.97 In the work, the Virgin gently compels the Christ child into the open, waiting arms of her mother, Saint Anne, while above the Holy Family, winged putti throw flowers. Shelley Perlove has noted several important ways in which the painting relates to the sculpture. To begin, there is a similarity in lighting between the two pieces. The fictive light in the altarpiece corresponds with the actual 95 As quoted in Careri, 67-68. 96 Careri, 52. 97 Idem. and Perlove, 19. 79


illumination of the sculpture, depicted as entering from either side.98 She also suggests that the stucco cherub heads mounted on the frame of th e altarpiece, hovering in tently above the body of Ludovica, are extensions of the boldly foreshorte ned cherubs of the painting, thereby they strew white roses not only upon the Virg in and Child with Saint Anne but also on Ludovica herself.99 The chapels dedication to Saint Anne and L udovica also aligns the two women. Viewed in Berninis bel composto through the unification of light and space, Saint Annes act of receiving the infant Christ in the painting formally mi rrors Ludovicas reception of him as her divine spouse at the moment of her death below.100 Like Maria Raggi, she folds her arms around him, pressing him to her chest, gasping both in deat h and with joy at the final union in the ultimate spiritual love.101 The extension of the winged putti strewi ng flowers from painting to sculpture, as suggested by Perlove, confirms this reading as a celebration of the mystical union between Ludovica and Christ her spouse. We have seen this iconography before in the vault of the Cornaro Chapel. It is known from the aforementioned textua l evidence that Ludovica Albertoni placed a great degree of importance on the rite of Holy Communion, and the taking of the Eucharist had notable effects on her person, as it did for Maria Raggi and Saint Teresa. Like these two other holy women, Ludovica Albertoni is al so visual evidence of the power of the sacrament. This achieved in two aspects within the chapel: her sc ulpture above the altar and the frescoes of Saint Clare displaying the Eucharist and Ludovica Albe rtoni distributing bread to the poor on the 98 Perlove, 20. 99 Idem. 100 Careri, 64-65; Boucher, 143. 101 It has been previously noted by Lavin that Raggis gesture is later repeated by Albertoni. While his reading describes an affetti of spiritual devotion, I am applying that gesture here as an ultimate affetti. 80


flanking altar walls. First, Bernini has placed Al bertoni above the altar in a similar fashion to Saint Teresa, and through this placement, creates an analogous liturgical function. As the priest stands before the sepulcher altar and raises the Host to the height of the sculpture, there is visual conflation of the Eucharis t and Ludovica Albertoni.102 Her union with Christ in death is aligned with the means by which the viewer can achieve he r sublimated connection to Christ in life. Second, the death and mystical union of Ludovica Albertoni is framed by the frescoes on the flanking altar walls, which are juxtaposed and ul timately amalgamate with the altar sculpture itself. In this manner, they also instruct the viewer on how to achie ve the unification that Albertoni demonstrates. Giovanni Careri clarif ies this process: In fact, although we were ab le to identify the process of conformation in Ludovicas imitation of Saint Anne in the act of receivi ng Christ, the beholder is not invited by a mediating figure to imitate her spiritual atti tude. The worshipper is invited to do so, however, in sacramental form at the moment of the Eucharist, becoming one with Christ through Holy Communion. While the blessed, who is infused with the ecstasy of Divine Grace, has internalized the Christ whom Mary is offering Anne, the believer may, within the limits of his possibilities, conform to L udovica in the act of communion. In displaying the sacred host, the figure of Saint Clare c onfirms and reinforces the importance of the moment of the Eucharist in the worshi ppers prayer in the Albertoni Chapel.103 However, the viewers experience of Ludovica here is much more intimate than that of the Cornaro Chapel, which overwhelms in its grandeur and otherworldly visionary qualities. In this private space, the faithful gazes upon Ludovica Albertoni, a woman known for her charity and life of good works, as she passes from this life to the next. She is both otherworldly and approachable, human and elevated beata. Her death is neither mart yrdom nor miracle, but one that anyone can achieve.104 Saint Clare displays the Eu charist and Ludovica Albertoni distributes bread to the poor, demonstrating that through good deeds and the rite of Holy 102 Perlove, 45. 103 Careri, 84. 104 Perlove, 50. 81


Communion, any layperson can achieve the c onnection with God illustrated through the exquisite sculptural display of Ludovica Albe rtoni above the altar. 82


CHAPTER 5 CONCLUSION In order to understand the m odes and meanings in the mystically-thematic works of Gianlorenzo Bernini, it is first necessary to ta ke into account the historical and contemporary literature of the period, the artist and the subjects he seeks to represent. Contextualizing the surrounding socio-cultural, religious, and political issues faci litates a more thorough engagement with the innovations of Bernini s art. By establishing the foundations of mysticism and moving forward from a medieval precedent, rather than backward from the contemporary period, any prurient perceptions of eroticism within Bernini s work become rightly aligned with the sacred. With this clarity and examining the chapels as a narrative whole, the reader can consider the works (as closely as a contemporary viewer is able) within a seventeenth century framework. Moving beyond formal similarities and rela ting the three holy women of Gianlorenzo Bernini as a group reveals the i nnovative methods that the artist employed in order to convey the message of the Counter-Reformationthe way to Christ and everlas ting life is through the Church, the rite of Holy Communi on, the belief in the power of the saints, and a lifetime of good works. Bernini has a specific technique fo r accomplishing these goals. His dual visions present visionary and physically transcendent states in a spectacular display, provoking an emotional and spiritual response from the viewer. The evolution of Berninis technique is evident in the progression of hi s work. The power of the Euchar ist is a recurrent personal theme in the lives of all three of his holy women that has been harnessed for the purposes of the Church. Despite the fact that only Saint Teresa was formerly recognized as a mystic, all three women experienced paramystical phenomena when taking communion. Conversely, it is the active component that is aligned with both Maria Raggi and Ludovica Albertoni, but is 83


underrepresented in Teresas hagiographical art. However, when considered as a group, the multi-faceted message of the Church comes into focus. Visually, Bernini develops these themes by overl aying multiple narratives of divine union. In the Memorial to Maria Raggi he blends ideas of vision, death, union, and ascension in a single monument that interacts with the site of the Holy Communi onthe high altarin a restricted spatial environment. In the Cornaro Chapel, Bernini is able to create a multivalent narrative that repeats and reinforces the power of the Eucharist and mystical union with Christ through the synthesis of the bel composto on a grand scale. The spectacular display is both didactic and affective as it engages the viewer. Like the Memorial and the Cornaro Chapel, the Altieri Chapel also conveys the same themes of un ion with the divine through the Host. It is in this chapel that the balance has been found between a mystical model and a utilitarian one. Ludovica Albertoni appears supernat urally before the viewer. Ba thed in directed light and luminously rendered by Berninis virtuosity, she e licits a spiritually emo tional reaction in the viewer. However, she is in a mortally transcen dent state that awaits all mankind, with the means by which to achieve her sublime death and ulti mate connection to Christ framing herthe Eucharist and a life of good works. Utilizing the my stical unions of his Brides of ChristSister Maria Raggi, Saint Teresa of Avila, and Beata Ludovica AlbertoniBernini presents a mystical model paralleled with functional means to me taphorically encapsulate the power of faith, delineated through a unification of light, color, sculpture, painting and architecture. 84


APPENDIX LIST OF ART WORK CITED 1. Gianlorenzo Bernini, Cornaro Chapel, Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome, 1647-1652. Marble, stucco, gilded bronze, and fresco. (From Adams, Art Across Time figure 17.20) 2. Gianlorenzo Bernini, Ecstasy of St. Teresa Cornaro Chapel, Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome, 1647-1652. (From Adams, Art Across Time, figure 17.21) 3. Gianlorenzo Bernini, Memorial to Maria Raggi Santa Maria sopra Minerva, Rome, 1643-1647. Colored marble and gilded bronze; life-size medallion and putti. (From Boucher, Italian Baroque Sculpture figure 102) 4. Gianlorenzo Bernini, Altieri Chapel, San Francesco a Ripa, Rome, 1671-1674. (From Hibbard, Bernini figure 121) 5. Gianlorenzo Bernini, Blessed Ludovica Albertoni Altieri Chapel, San Francesco a Ripa, Rome, 1671-1674. Marble. (From Avery, Bernini: Genius of the Baroque, figure 198) 6. Gianlorenzo Bernini, Memorial to Alessandro Valtrini San Lorenzo in Damaso, Rome, 1641. Marble. (From Boucher, Italian Baroque Sculpture figure 105) 7. Gianlorenzo Bernini, Drawing for the Memo rial Maria Raggi Biblioteca Vaticana. (From Lavin, Bernini and the Unity of the Visual Arts, figure 123) 8. Guidobaldo Abbatini, Vault decoration Cornaro Chapel, Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome, 1647-1652. Fresco and gilt-p ainted stucco. (From Lavin, Bernini and the Unity of the Visual Arts figure 183) 9. Last Supper Cornaro Chapel, Santa Maria dell a Vittoria, Rome, 1647-1652. Gilded bronze and lapis lazuli. (From Lavin, Bernini and the Unity of the Visual Arts figure 180) 10. Gianlorenzo Bernini, Cornaro Chapel, Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome, 1647-1652. Marble, stucco, and gild ed bronze. (From Lavin, Bernini and the Unity of the Visual Arts figure 151) 11. Exterior view of light chamber, Cornaro Chapel, Santa Maria de lla Vittoria, Rome, 16471652. (From Lavin, Bernini and the Unity of the Visual Arts figure 144) 12. Cornaro family monument, east wall, Cornaro Chapel, Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome, 1647-1652. Polychrome marble and stucco. (From Lavin, Bernini and the Unity of the Visual Arts figure 154) 13. Cornaro family monument, west wall, Cornar o Chapel, Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome, 1647-1652. Polychrome marble and stucco. (From Lavin, Bernini and the Unity of the Visual Arts figure 155) 85


14. Pavement, Cornaro Chapel, Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome, 1647-1652. Polychrome marble intarsia. (From Lavin, Bernini and the Unity of the Visual Arts figure 192) 15. Anton Wierix, The Mystic Transverberation of Saint Teresa 1614-1622. New York, Metropolitan Museum. Engraving. (From Lavin, Bernini and the Unity of the Visual Arts figure 278) 16. Vault decoration, Cornaro Chapel, Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome, 1647-1652. Fresco and gilt-painted stucco. (From Lavin, Bernini and the Unity of the Visual Arts figure 188) 17. Palma Giovane, Transverberation of Saint Teresa 1615. San Pancrazio. (From Lavin, Bernini and the Unity of the Visual Arts, figure 269) 18. Bethrothal of St. Teresa to Christ vault decoration (detail), Cornaro Chapel, Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome, 1647-1652. Gilt -painted stucco. (From Lavin, Bernini and the Unity of the Visual Arts figure 191) 19. Anton Wierix, Transverberation of Saint Teresa 1614-1622. New York, Metropolitan Museum. Engraving. (From Lavin, Bernini and the Unity of the Visual Arts figure 272) 20. Vault decoration, Cornaro Chapel, Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome, 1647-1652. Fresco and gilt-painted stucco. (From Marder, Bernini and the Art of Architecture figure 99) 21. Giovanni Battista Gaulli (Baciccio), Virgin and Child with Saint Anne Altieri Chapel, San Francesco a Ripa, c. 1674. Oil on canvas. (From Perlove, Bernini and the Idealization of Death figure 20) 86


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BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH Jessica Peyton Bell was born and raised in North Carolina. As an undergraduate she attended the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG), where Drs. Heather Holian and Carl Goldstein mentored her in the concentr ation of Italian Renaissance and Baroque art. She was awarded her B.A. in art history at UNCG in 2005 and graduated summa cum laude At the University of Florida, Ms. Bell has focused primarily on Roman Baroque art, benefiting from the scholarship of Drs. Robert H. Westin and Elizabeth Ross. After completing the M.A. in art history in May 2008, Ms. Bell plans to pursue her Ph.D. 93