Sometimes when I do a picture it is simply because I admire a work of art so much I just have to take it on myself as a sort of homage to the original; but I do wonder if people will say, ‘so what?’ Perhaps this is one of them. It has neither any particular note of irony nor does it re-interpret the original. In fact if the Bernini sculpture is a work of genius in its ambiguity, my version is, well…… fairly straightforward, almost a reductio ad absurdum.
It did not take long to shoot and involved a very simple two light set up: soft key light and a flash head on the floor with a red gel. I used the modelling light only, no flash for low depth of field, 85mm f 1.8 lens wide open. As you can see the set was the model’s living room.
I am passionate about Bernini’s genius (this is my second homage, the first was Daphne), so here follows some background about one of his greatest works. The sculpure shown here is only part of a complex whole that includes the commisioner, Cardinal Cornaro and his family looking on like Statler and Waldorf from a theatrical box. It is to be found in the church of Santa Maria della Vittoria, not 10 minutes walk from the railway station, so I recommend a brief walk to admire one of the most remarkable sculptures of any age – absolutely free. If you know very religious person or better still a catholic priest, bring them along, it would be interesting to observe their reaction.
Bernini managed to ingratiate himself into the courts of a succession of popes and despite the odd mishap such as one of his buildings collapsing, the sodomising of a 16 year old boy and the disfiguring of his mistress Costanza with a razor, his genius was such that he never permanently lost favour.
He was vicious with his nearest, vengeful to his dearest, spiteful and slanderous towards his rivals. But he had his good side, he was a vegetarian living mainly on fruit and he was the greatest sculptor of the Baroque age.
His genius was to make marble lighter than air and flesh appear soft to the touch. The open mouth, the half open eyes are unique to Bernini.
Santa Teresa described her rapture thus:
“……In his hands I saw a large golden spear and at its iron tip there seemed to be a point of fire. I felt as if he plunged this into my heart several times so that it penetrated all the way to my entrails. When he drew it out he seemed to draw them out with it and left me totally inflamed with a great love for God. The pain was so severe that it made me moan several times. The sweetness of this intense pain is so extreme that there is no wanting it to end and the soul is satisfied with nothing less than God. The pain is not physical but spiritual even though the body has a share in it – in fact a large share in it.”
No doubt the ambiguity in Santa Teresa’s account appealed to Bernini as much as the ambiguity of his statue appeals to us. Controversial since it was unveiled it nevertheless is an expression of ecstasy what ever the cause, divine or profane. As the Chevalier de Brosses, laconically remarked while passing through Rome, “Well, if that’s divine love, I know all about it.”