Five hundred years after the birth of St Teresa of Avila (1515-82), Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s emotive Baroque sculpture of the Spanish nun experiencing religious ecstasy has been restored. Conservators cleaned almost two decades of grime from statues in the Cornaro chapel of the Santa Maria della Vittoria church in Rome, including the angel poised to pierce the saint’s heart with a golden arrow and, on either side, relief busts of members of the Cornaro family, Bernini’s patrons. The project extended to Bernini’s architectural setting for the sculpture: the altar and inlaid floor were treated and the leaking oculus above the group was sealed up. The last major restoration took place in 1996.
Bernini's The Ecstasy of St Teresa after restoration
The year-long, €21,000 project—funded by the municipal heritage authorities and organised in collaboration with the church’s Carmelite religious order—also reversed a previous attempt to mask the travertine base of the central sculpture. Restorers discovered that part of the stone had been crudely painted to match the polychrome marble of the wall panel behind. The layers of pigment and stucco were removed after analysis revealed that the imitation marble was not original but a later addition. Now whitewashed, the base reveals the unity of Bernini’s design. The sculptor worked the stone to blend in with the single block of carved white Carrara marble above, creating the illusion of a floating cloud bearing up the angel and saint.