Sculpture Journal

Mystics and politics: Bernini’s Transverberation of St Teresa and its political meaning

Sculpture Journal (2018), 27, (2), 193–204.

Abstract

Bernini’s Transverberation of St Teresa in the Carmelite church of Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome is usually interpreted as a masterpiece of religious art. We can, however, ask whether this exhausts its significance, or whether it is possible to argue that the commission also possessed political value. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine that a representation of a Spanish saint in papal Rome could be politically neutral. It is instead quite probable that its donor, Cardinal Federico Cornaro, used the statue both in order to embody his positive attitude towards the Spanish party, which dominated the conclave and could help him to be elected the next pope, and to demonstrate his loyalty to the cardinals appointed by Urban VIII. To these ends, Bernini used the whole space of the church to lead the visitor to the proper view of his sculptural and architectural ensemble – and of Federico, whose portrayal appears within it.

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Author details

Kalina, Pavel