Thursday, May 10


Ideas, not Ornament: The Essence of the Baroque

"...of the Cornaro Chapel there Bernini exceeded even the talents of Michelangelo, for although Michelangelo had been supreme in painting, sculpture and architecture, Bernini was the first to combine all three in one work, creating a bel composto or beautiful synthesis. In so doing, he fused the arts into a statement that crossed space and indeed time, drawing the spectator [...] into a perpetual re-enactment of the mystical union of the soul with God.

"Bernini's achievement was not, as sometimes been said, a mere flouting of the rules, but rather the fruit of a long period of experimentation with the problems of drepresenting the miraculous while maintaining the distinction between truth and fiction. [...] In an affectation of modesty, Bernini describes the Cornaro Chapel as the 'least bad' of his works; it has long been seen as the definitive statement of his approach to art. What makes the chapel so stimlating and inexhaustible is its use of visual metaphors. It may be worth recalling the definition of metaphor given by the Aristotelian scholar Emanuele Tesauro in 1655: 'A metaphor packs tightly all objects into one word and makes you see them one inside the other in an almost miraculous way, and your delight is the greater because it is a more curious and pleasant thing to watch many objects from a perspective angle than if the originals themselves were to pass successively before your eyes.' [...]

"The lighting of the chapel was dimmer then [when first built], with the principle source coming from a window in the wall above the altar, while a smaller, secondary source filtered through yellow-tinted glass in the lantern above the sculpture of St. Teresa and the angel, making the chapel an illusionary experience. The vault [...] depicts light emanating from the dove of the Holy Spirit and descending through clouds to illuminate the scene below. This light melts into stucco clouds, casting a shadow on the mouldings and appearing to enter our own space. [...] Below, in the main body of the chapel, the marble figures emerge like phantasms, an effect heightened by Bernini's creation of a special alcove to house the central sculpture [...] [placing] St. Teresa's mystical experience in a realm beyond the confines of the chapel itself. The impact is cumulative because all the elements are employed to reinforce one another, thereby conveying what could be described as an irrational experience presented in a rational manner. [...]

" The most remarkable feature of the chapel is the altarpiece itself. The walls of the church aprt to disclose the saint and an angel levatating before our eyes. [...] 'The transverberation [of St. Teresa] becomes the point of contact between earth and heaven, between matter and spirit.' This is evident in the juxtaposition of the saint and the angel which constitutes a miniature bel composto in itself."

~Bruce Boucher, Italian Baroque Sculpture, 1998.

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