Bernini’s Ecstasy of St. Teresa: Orthodox or Transgressive?

Join us Sunday, September 17, 5:30 PM at Gran Gusto in Cambridge for a presentation by Professor Franco Mormando, followed by dinner and lively discussion!

The Ecstasy of St. Teresa by Gian Lorenzo Bernini is one of the artist’s most popular works but also certainly his most controversial, and this for reasons having to do not with aesthetics but with what in seventeenth-century Europe was called decorum. The debate centers on the question: Is the statue simply a faithful rendering of the saint’s own detailed description of her mystical experience, and therefore entirely orthodox and entirely blameless? Or, instead,  did the artist's radically non-traditional depiction of Teresa's transverberation transpose the scene from the sacred to the disturbingly profane, as many have charged? Examining closely both the statue and the pre-Bernini depictions of the same subject, Prof. Mormando will summarize both sides of this ongoing debate and offer his own conclusion on the matter.

Franco MormandoAbout Franco Mormando

FRANCO MORMANDO is Professor of Italian at Boston College, where he has taught since 1994. Born and raised in Manhattan, he did his B.A. at Columbia University while his two graduate degrees in Italian (M.A. and Ph.D.) are from Harvard University. He holds as well a licentiate (Master’s degree) in church history from the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, having also completed the Biennio di Filosofia program at the Gregorian University in Rome.

In 1999 he was principal curator and catalogue editor of the Boston Caravaggio exhibition, Saints and Sinners: Caravaggio and the Baroque Image. He was also originator and co-curator of the 2005 exhibition at the Worcester Art Museum entitled Hope and Healing: Painting in Italy in a Time of Plague, 1500-1800. More recently, he was a contributor to the exhibition of Roman Baroque art, The Holy Name. Art of the Gesù: Bernini and His Age, at the Fairfield University Art Museum, featuring the first appearance outside of Rome of Bernini’s marble portrait bust of Roberto Bellarmino.

Author of various interdisciplinary articles on Italian literature and history, popular religion and sermons, he has lectured extensively on the religious art and culture of early modern Italy at various universities and museums including the Metropolitan Museum and Frick Museum of New York; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; and the Galleria Borghese, Rome.

His extensively annotated English translation and critical edition of Domenico Bernini’s Life of Gian Lorenzo Bernini was published in February of 2011 by Penn State University Press. Published in October of 2011 by the University of Chicago Press was his own biography of Bernini entitled, Bernini: His Life and His Rome, and representing the first English-language account of the artist’s private life and public career. He has given many presentations for the general public on Bernini, in various venues, including the Kimbell Museum of Art (Ft. Worth, TX), the Phoenix Art Museum, the Istituto Italiano di Cultura (San Francisco), the Italian Embassy in Washington, DC., Harvard and Yale Universities.

In September 2005, in recognition of his achievements in the promotion of the Italian language and culture, he was inducted by the Republic of Italy into its honorary Ordine della Stella d'Italia with the title of “Cavaliere.”

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