Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Baroque and St. Teresa of Avila

The October issue of The New Criterion has an article by F.H. Buckley, "Men of the Baroque: the sculptor & the poet"; you have to subscribe to The New Criterion to see the article on-line. Buckley examines the Baroque interpretation of St. Teresa of Avila's great ecstasy in the sculpture of Bernini and the poetry of Crashaw.

Allow me to share a couple of quotations:

As a style, the Baroque was not rude and irregular, like the Gothic; nor was it refined and simple, like the High Renaissance Palladian; nor had it the Rococo's affectation and irony. Like the Gothic it communicated a sense of awe, but with an exuberance entirely foreign to the Gothic, Like the Palladian it adhered to classical forms, but with a transcendent vision the Palladian lacked. It shaded into the eighteenth-century Rococo, but had a symmetry and grandeur that the Rococo mocked. (pp. 33-34)

Discussing why the Baroque style is not well represented the United States, Buckley comments that it "pre-dated the American colonies" and "as an expression of the Catholic Counter-Reformation is was wholly alien to the country's religious traditions" because it was too triumphalist and sensual for Catholics in America, who were "tinged with an austere Jansenism" (p. 35).

He points out two examples of the Baroque in the United States: Frederick Hart's Ex Nihilo at Washington's National Cathedral and St. Xavier del Bac in Tucson, Arizona.
Reading this article lead me to find a book about the connections between the saint, the sculptor and the poet: The Art of Ecstasy: Teresa, Bernini, and Crashaw by Robert T. Petersson (New York: Atheneum, 1974)--first published in 1970 and winner of the National Catholic Book Award in 1971. Professor Petersson retired from Smith College in 1985 and died in 2011. He also wrote a book about Sir Kenelm Digby, son of one of the Gunpowder Plotters (Sir Everard Digby, cousin of Anne Vaux).

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