An Italian Sculptural Pilgrimage - part XVIII

Gian Lorenzo Bernini's "L'Estasi di Santa Teresa" in Rome (LEO Design)

Join me on my summer holiday as I travel (mostly) through Italy—as always, in search of beautiful sites, sculpture and all things sculpture-ish. 

The great Baroque "Renaissance Man," Gian Lorenzo Bernini, was kept very, very busy by Pope Urban VIII, his great (and free-spending) patron. When that pope died in 1644, Bernini found his workshop strangely underemployed—for the new pope, Innocent X, did not favor him. Suddenly, mere cardinals could now jockey to engage the lauded artist (of course, for a princely sum). Venetian Cardinal Federico Cornaro jumped at the chance to hire Bernini to build his tomb (1647-1652) in the modest church of Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome. What resulted is considered one of the great masterpieces of the High Roman Baroque.

Bernini portrays the Spanish Saint Teresa of Ávila (1515-1582)—who, though she had only recently been canonized (1622) was already highly-regarded for her theological writings, her acts to reform the clergy, and her mystical experiences (many captured in her poetic writings). Teresa was born into a wealthy family.  Her grandfather was Jewish though he converted to Christianity under the pressure of the Spanish Inquisition. Teresa's father was "accused" of having "fallen back" into the Jewish faith, though he successfully integrated, religiously and socially, into the powerful Spanish Catholic expectation.  Teresa had written eloquently of her spiritual ecstasies—experiences of physical and emotional rapture—during which she was pierced with an angel's spear. She describes it as horrifyingly painful, and yet, wonderful. Saint Teresa's intellect—and her profound impact on Catholic theology—resulted in her quick canonization and, later, being elevated to "Doctor of the Church."

Bernini carved the sensuous marble sculpture and designed the rest of the theatrical chapel in marble, stucco and paintwork. Inspired by the saint's writing, the artist captures the euphoric meeting of an earthly body being penetrated by an overwhelming, Heavenly spirit. Bernini's work—and the decision of a Venetian Cardinal—have made Santa Maria della Vittoria a much-visited church for the last  350 years.

We'll continue our summer holiday tomorrow. 


Though our Greenwich Village store is now permanently closed, LEO Design is still alive and well!  Please visit our on-line store where we continue to sell Handsome Gifts (

We also can be found in Pittsburgh's historic "Strip District" at Mahla & Co. Antiques ( or in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania at The Antique Center of Strabane (

Or call to arrange to visit our Pittsburgh showroom (by private appointment only).  917-446-4248

Follow us on Instagram: "leodesignhandsomegifts"

Follow us on Facebook: "LEO Design - Handsome Gifts"