Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Ecstasy of St. Teresa of Ávila



The emergence of Baroque art in the 17th c (1600 – 1700) was driven in part by the Protestant Reformation. The Catholic Church responded to the Reformation movement by propagating Baroque art with its flamboyance and theatricality, in order to engage the faithful through religious art and architecture and bring back erring believers to the Church.


The Cornaro Chapel is inside the Church of Santa Maria della Vittora in Rome. Here is Baroque art at its finest. St. Teresa of Ávila, a nun from the 16th century, is seen with an angel who has pierced her heart. Rays of light emanate from the heavens to illuminate the scene. On the side walls of the altar are theatre boxes where spectators (modeled by the Cornaro family) are watching the scene unfolding in front of them. St. Teresa is experiencing an intense spiritual vision that leaves her “utterly consumed by the great love of God”. Here is St. Teresa’s account of her vision:

It was our Lord's will that in this vision I should see the angel in this wise.  He was not large, but small of stature, and most beautiful--his face burning, as if he were one of the highest angels, who seem to be all of fire: they must be those whom we call cherubim. Their names they never tell me; but I see very well that there is in heaven so great a difference between one angel and another, and between these and the others, that I cannot explain it.

I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the iron's point there seemed to be a little fire.  He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it.  The soul is satisfied now with nothing less than God.  The pain is not bodily, but spiritual; though the body has its share in it, even a large one.  It is a caressing of love so sweet which now takes place between the soul and God, that I pray God of His goodness to make him experience it who may think that I am lying.

During the days that this lasted, I went about as if beside myself. I wished to see, or speak with, no one, but only to cherish my pain, which was to me a greater bliss than all created things could give me.”
Excerpt from Project Gutenberg's “The Life of St. Teresa of Jesus", by Teresa of Avila, Chapter 29 - Of Visions. The Graces Our Lord Bestowed on the Saint. The Answers Our Lord Gave Her for Those Who Tried Her



There are several highlights in the chapel that's worth a second look. The first of these is the architectural frame of the altar. Corinthian columns stand on both sides of the white marble statues of St. Teresa and the angel. These columns of breccia stone set the stage so to speak but more importantly, it says a lot about its builder, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the engineer of the colonnades of the Vatican. Secondly, natural light emanates from a window hidden high above the chapel and which creates "divine light". Thirdly, the balconies are positioned on the side walls as they normally are in a theatre. The viewer, standing or kneeling in front of the altar would still have the best view in the house. This harks back to the essence of Baroque art: to engage the worshipper and make him/her part of the "play". Members of the Cornaro are carved in low relief inside the boxes. They are even identifiable. One of them is Federico Cornaro, Cardinal of Venice, who is seen second from right in animated conversation with other family members. There are also architectural details in the boxes such as the vaulted ceiling and the columns behind the figures. Bernini leaves no stone unturned.
The Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria has many other artistic attractions, not the least of which is its beautiful ceiling with a fine fresco by Giovanni Domenico Cerini. More on this in an upcoming article.

Cornaro Chapel
Santa Maria della Vittoria
Via XX Settembre 17, Rome
free entry

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Images by Charie

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Michaelangelo in Rome

"Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the job of the sculptor to discover it." Michaelangelo Buonarotti

Moses - Church of St. Peter in Vincoli

The statue of Moses at the basilica of San Pietro in Vincoli was to have been part of a grandiose monument and tomb for Pope Julius II, a patron of Michelangelo Buonarotti. But this same pope pulled Michelangelo to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel (1508-1512), a project that lasted four years. Not surprisingly, the scaled down version of the tomb was not completed until 1515. At eight feet in height, Moses is an all powerful figure, his muscles bulging from his arms and legs and transparent through the folds of his gown. He has a crown of horns symbolizing the “ray of light”, a misinterpretation of the Hebrew word karan which may also refer to horn depending on how it is read.

Pieta

The Pieta in the Basilica of St. Peter's was once the object of a madman who hammered away at Mary's nose, arm, hand and eyelid. This was in 1972 and it was painstakingly restored to its current state. Today the Pieta is behind a bullet proof acrylic glass panel for its own protection.

Michelangelo created the Pieta between 1498-1499 for a French cardinal, Jean de Billeheres, who commissioned it for his own tomb. It is carved from Carrara marble. In this pyramidal sculpture, Mary supports her lifeless son on her lap. Her youthful face is calm despite her suffering  over the death of her son. Michelangelo masterfully echoes the turmoil within Mary in the heavy folds of her gown. This is the only piece of work that Michelangelo has ever signed.

Christ Bearing the Cross

Inside the Church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva in the neighborhood of the Pantheon, the statue of Christ Bearing the Cross stands to the left of the main altar. This statue was started by Michelangelo while in Florence and was later left with one of his apprentices to finish when he moved to Rome. The apprentice, Pietro Urbano, damaged the statue and he was replaced by Federico Frizzi. The drapery over the naked Christ was added during the Baroque period.

This statue seems pale in comparison to the figures of Moses and the Pieta. Perhaps the intrusion of other hands to finish this piece and having to cover up the damage done by Urbano may have altogether altered the work started by Michelangelo.  

Michelangelo (1475-1564) was a true Renaissance man. He was not only a sculptor, he was an exceptionally gifted painter. He painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and the Last Judgement on the altar of said chapel. He also designed the dome of St. Peter's Basilica and the uniform of the Swiss Guards is attributed to him as well. And to cap his many talents, he wrote poetry. 

Despite his impressive body of work, Michelangelo had this to say about his oeuvres“If you knew how much work went into it, you wouldn't call it genius.” 

Moses
St. Peter in Chains
Piazza San Pietro in Vincoli, 4/a
Metro: Colosseo or Cavour
free admission

Pieta
St. Peter's Basilica (see also the dome designed by Michelangelo)
Vatican
free admission

Christ Bearing the Cross
Santa Maria Sopra Minerva
Piazza Minerva
(near the Pantheon)
free admission

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Images by Charie

Monday, September 02, 2013

Random Rome


I spied this courtyard filled with antique statues on my way to Santa Susanna. It would have been lovely to take Venus or one of the busts home with me to adorn my ho-hum garden. How many interesting conversations it would have started! But I console myself that I didn't have to pay extra for excess baggage.


These two turbaned gentlemen in orange robes sit here all day in perfect balance across from the Pantheon. One man holds the stick on which the second sits in mid air. Total concentration and control are needed to maintain this stance. Most importantly, how can they keep cool in the scorching summer heat? They must be thinking about winter!


Yes, it's a pedal car but not for a child. I wonder if all the knock off bags and scarves hanging from the rack will be packed away in the back of this motorized tricycle? A smart car indeed!


A piece of wall, a reminder of Rome's storied past, preserved in the center of the city and just down the street from Santa Maria Maggiore. In Rome, the past is in the present.


"To have and to hold." Its always touching to see a newly married couple. There go the bride and groom through the main door of the Basilica of St. Peter's. The bridal gown is caught in a mirror of light. How absolutely stunning!


There was a large turnout for Rome's Gay Pride 2013 parade along Via Merulana.


As we ran to the top of the Spanish Steps, we had a glimpse of this unforgettable sunset framed by a Roman obelisk (which was moved to this spot in 1789 from the Palace of Sallust).

"Rome - the city with a visible history, where the past of a whole hemisphere seems moving in a funeral procession, with strange ancestral images and trophies gathered from afar". George Eliot 

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Images by Charie