Religious themes were vital to sculpture in the 17th Century due to the Baroque style becoming popular. Bernini was one of the great sculptors and three sculptures by him which are religious are; ‘David’ 1624 (part of a commission to decorate the Borghese Villa), ‘Monument to Urban VIII’ (a work which took 19 years to complete) 1647, and ‘Ecstasy Of St Teresa’ (the work which furthered his career after the death of his key patron Urban VIII) 1652 which all have strong ties to religion and religious purpose through their composition, figure handling, materials, size and subject matter. Bernini managed to make his pieces unique with interesting poses and intense drama which conveyed religious themes in a new way and gave the public renewed religious purpose. Bernini was a great practitioner of the Baroque style which was about high drama, clear narrative, and involving the audience so that they would be inclined to be more religious, these ideas were drawn up by the Council of Trent in 1545 and 1563.
Bernini’s version of ‘David’ from the Biblical story of ‘David and Goliath’ was a revolutionary because of the high drama and the way that it captured attention and made you think about the story. Bernini’s composition is complex to draw the viewer into the piece and capture their attention making them think of God. The intense frown upon David’s face stares out as if Goliath was before him and makes the viewer feel as if the story is happening now, bringing the religion alive and conveying religious purpose. The dramatic angle of David’s twisted, muscular form makes the piece exciting and shows his strength from God to the viewer, inspiring them to think about God. The arc of David’s arm and back combined with the extended left leg which stretches back make him appear to be moving through the air and reinforce God’s presence. The naturalism of the piece makes it believable and helps to bring across the message of the story.
The simplicity of the form makes David seem like a real person and people could relate to him and it made them want to be religious. The use of white marble makes it appears holy and clean, and it shines as if God’s light shines upon it. It symbolises the purity of God, and that David walks in the light because he believed in God, inspiring people to be like David. The sculpture is life-sized which means that it’s not overwhelming, instead it’s relatable and people felt as if they could be blessed by God and overcome barriers by turning to religion. The narrative is clear because Bernini captures David at the vital moment where he is about to fire the stone at Goliath and kill him so there is tension and drama throughout. The public would have known the story of David and Goliath and they would know what happens next making the work exciting, and inspiring to them to be religious.
Monument to Urban VIII is another religious work by Bernini. It is the Tomb for Pope Urban VIII, one of Bernini’s key patrons, in St Peters. Urban VIII’s support of Bernini gained commissions and expanded his fame. The composition of the piece is complex because of the multiple figures triangular composition. The work contains four key figures; the central figure, raised above the others is Urban, showing that he is important and close to God. The skeletal figure below him is Death who writes onto the list of the deceased. The placement of Death below Urban shows Urban has defeated Death and is rising above him to Heaven. To either side of Death are the virtues Charity and Justice. Charity was one of the key Christian values and Justice was a chief Cardinal value so their inclusion shows Urban as a very holy man. The figures in this piece are detailed to make the piece believable. The representation of Death as a skeleton served as a warning to viewers that if you weren’t devout you would end up like Death.
The covered face and the placement of Death upon a sarcophagus made viewers uneasy and the inscription ‘Urbanus VIII Barberinus Pont Max’ in gold draws the viewer to the name, making them realise the Pope is dead. However, the sculpting of Urban himself seems to contradict this as he raises his hand in benediction and appears to be rising up from his billowing folds. This makes people think about how he is being welcomed by God and appears to be reaching for Him. His authority is shown from his upright pose and his downwards stare, the rest of his form is flowing clothing which gives him a weightless look as if floating upwards towards Heaven. The two Virtues relatable because of their realistic clear depiction so the viewer feels more connected to the religion through them.
Charity holds a baby to her breast and is turned away from Urban looking down to another child who cries whilst Justice leans on the side of the sarcophagus and stares towards the Pope. These varied poses add drama to the work and help guide the viewer around the piece making them take in all the religious aspects. Bernini uses bronze for Death, Urban and the sarcophagus, with Barbernini Bees upon it, to show the links with passing but the Virtues are shown in a white marble to separate them and instil religious purpose within the viewer to be charitable and show justice in their beliefs. The figures are life-sized to make them relatable and easy to interpret as the Council of Trent suggested.
The ‘Ecstasy of Saint Teresa’ was done for Cardinal Cornaro after Urban died and the new Pope did not appreciate Bernini. The statue of St. Teresa is a magnificently dramatic scene which exuberates the miracle of God. The composition is a complex weave of a cloud, angel and St. Teresa blossoming out from a marvellous architecture. Beams of light come down from above and the hidden oculus above lights the work making it more dramatic and showing viewers the beauty of God. The entire work is framed by large Corinthian columns and a large, highly ornate entablature. There are relief carvings on either side of the chapel showing the Cornaro family as if they are at a theatre watching the scene with more ornate architecture carved behind them. The whole scene is overwhelming and exciting and makes the viewer feel overcome by the miracle before them and the religion. Bernini portrays realistic figures and the intense look upon the angel’s face as he goes to stab Teresa with his arrow containing God’s love is welcoming as he brings her to God. Teresa’s face is relaxed and euphoric in longing to be welcomed by God and her open mouth and dangling foot show her surprise and the drama of the scene as it happens before the viewer’s eyes, making them feel as if they too are being welcomed.
The curls of the angel’s hair and the folds of Teresa’s clothes are realistic and make the piece believable and giving credibility to the miracle. The Cornaro family are also realistic. Bernini has experimented with materials and uses white marble for the two central characters and the Cornaro family as they are important and they show the miracle. The architecture around them is coloured marble making it seem grand and luxurious and the beams of light are gilded metal which shine bright with the light, giving the feeling of God’s presence to all who enter the chapel. The figure sizes are realistic making it relevant to the audience, and the grand scale of the architecture around expands the piece and makes it more dramatic, more loving and full of religious purpose. The story of Teresa is that she was struck with the love of God as she walked along, and because she was a ‘modern miracle’ people would know her story and believe it and relate to her more than an ancient biblical story.
Bernini’s three works all contain many qualities which instil religious purpose within the mind and heart of the viewer and make them appreciate belief and religion more even if they were not previously religious right up to today.