The Ecstasy of St Teresa (1647-52) by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680) is one of the masterpieces of the Roman Baroque.
The sculpture was commissioned by Cardinal Federico Cornaro (1579-1653), who, in 1647, acquired the patronage of the left transept of Santa Maria della Vittoria, the newly-built church of the Order of the Discalced Carmelites.
Bernini transformed the transept into an intimate little theatre, the private preserve of the Cornaro family, who look on from either side. The patron, Cardinal Cornaro, occupies the right box. Staring straight out at us, he is the second figure from the right.
St Teresa of Ávila (1515-82) was a prominent Spanish Carmelite nun and mystic, who was canonised by Pope Gregory XV in 1622.
The sculpture illustrates St Teresa's vision of religious ecstasy in an encounter with an angel, which she recounts in her autobiography:
"I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it..."