Cornaro Chapel

Rome; S. Maria della Vittoria, left aisle


The Cornaro Chapel, in the left transept of the Church of S. Maria della Vittoria in Rome, is the greatest single commission of the Cornaro family outside the field of architecture and one of the most inspired monuments of art history.

Cardinal Patriarch Federico Cornaro (G-17) acquired the chapel rights in January 1647 and commissioned its design and execution by Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini, 1647-52. Janson in History of Art describes Bernini [p. 410] as "the greatest sculptor-architect of the century" and proclaims the Cornaro Chapel "his masterpiece."

Ecstasy of S. Teresa of Avila

The centerpiece is The Ecstasy of S. Teresa di Avila, a large statue [height 3.5m] designed to be illuminated by reflected light from a hidden window. The statue depicts a remarkable mystic experience related by S. Teresa herself:

Beside me on the left appeared an angel in bodily form . . . He was not tall but short, and very beautiful; and his face was so aflame that he appeared to be one of the highest ranks of angels, who seem to be all on fire . . . In his hands I saw a great golden spear, and at the iron tip there appeared to be a point of fire. This he plunged into my heart several times so that it penetrated my entrails. When he pulled it out I felt that he took them with it, and left me utterly consumed by the great love of God. The pain was so severe that it made me utter several moans. The sweetness caused by this intense pain is so extreme that one can not possibly wish it to cease, nor is one's soul content with anything but God. This is not a physical but a spiritual pain, though the body has some share in it -- even a considerable share.

Left balconyRight balconyThe figures of S. Teresa and the angel are seen upon a stage, witnessed by Cardinals and Doges of the Cornaro family looking on from flanking balconies.

The chapel is decorated with stuccos and frescos executed by Guidobaldo Abatini to Bernini's design.


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