Date of Award

August 2015

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts


Art History

First Advisor

Tanya Tiffany

Committee Members

Richard Leson


Bel Composto, Bernini, Chapel, Cornaro, Teresa, Theatre


Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s sculptural altarpiece, The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, in the Cornaro Chapel of the Roman Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria (1652), is regarded as the pinnacle of Baroque “theatricality” in Bernini’s use of the bel composto, or unification of the arts. In this thesis, I argue Bernini’s representation of the mystical event referred to the Counter-Reformation’s canonization process due to the artist’s profound engagement with Teresa’s controversial autobiography, El Libro de la Vida (1562-5). Bernini presented the patron of the chapel and other esteemed members of the Cornaro family as witnesses who authorized her mystical experience. Through the bel composto and visual constructs influenced by theatrical elements, the audience is persuaded to mirror the appropriate behavior of the Cornaro family, who act as both performance and audience members.