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Bernini’s Saints at the Kimbell

Posted Wednesday, Feb. 06, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

"Bernini: Sculpting in Clay"

Through April 14

Kimbell Art Museum

3333 Camp Bowie Blvd.

Fort Worth


817-332-8451; www.kimbellart.org

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St. Valentine, the patron saint of the Hallmark holiday, was, um, well, no one is really sure.

The Roman Catholic Church recognizes three possible contenders named Valentine or Valentinus. The most likely suspect was a third-century priest who performed marriages against the wishes of Emperor Claudius II, who wanted his soldiers single. This Valentine had the requisite grisly death for a martyr -- stoned, then beheaded. It was not enough for true liturgical veneration, though. Valentine was dropped from the Catholic calendar of saints in 1969. He was a lightweight.

Saints of the first order are more extreme. Their sufferings are so acute that wrapping a chocolate holiday around their deaths would be a hard sell.

Take, for example, the saints on display at the Kimbell Art Museum in "Bernini: Sculpting in Clay," the comprehensive new exhibit of terra-cotta models by 17th-century sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

Head of Saint Jerome

St. Jerome was a fourth-century scholar with a vituperative pen. He translated most of the Old Testament from Hebrew into Latin and was the self-appointed expert on all things religious. He also was quick to correct anyone whom he felt was going astray.

In 365, he was converted to Christianity and baptized in the faith. He became so immersed in the teachings of the Bible that he lived as an ascetic hermit for many years, repenting his early youthful transgressions. Upon returning to Rome, he gathered a number of followers, among them several young female students. Jerome was forced to leave Rome after allegations were brought by the clergy that he had improper relations with a widow. She financially supported Jerome in his last years as he wrote his vitriolic screeds.

Bernini depicts him as an old man weighted by a lifetime of sorrows.

Saint Teresa in Ecstasy

This is the model for Bernini's most famous Baroque sculpture, which fills the altar of the Cornaro Chapel in Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome. He depicted the self-mutilating saint at her moment of greatest pain, when she recounted her vision of a seraph that pierced her heart repeatedly with a lance, infusing her with the divine. The memory of this episode inspired her to various tortures and mortifications of the flesh for the rest of her life.

Bernini's terra-cotta model shows Teresa in absolute agony and the seraph with a beatific smile as he prepares to pierce her heart again.

The Blessed Ludovica Albertoni

Ludovica Albertoni Cetera was a young woman from a wealthy Roman family who desired a life dedicated to the church, but her parents married her off. Her husband died when she was 33 years old, and Ludovica spent the remainder of her life and her fortune caring for the poor. She was famous for her religious ecstasies, which included levitation, and for being a miracle worker. She has been beatified, so she is called blessed, but not canonized, so she has not reached full saint status.

Bernini depicts her in her final death throes. Since the marble's unveiling in 1674, numerous copies of it have been made in bronze, marble and terra cotta. The model's head has been damaged, which is a shame, as her expression is quite profound. It portrays her suffering but also her anticipated release.

Saint Longinus

Longinus was the aging, almost-blind soldier who pierced the side of Jesus as he was hanging from the cross. Miraculously, Longinus' sight was returned when some of Jesus' blood fell into his eyes. He converted immediately, left the army and became a monk. For his troubles, he had his teeth forcibly removed and his tongue cut out. But he continued to speak clearly, another miracle, and was then beheaded.

Bernini envisioned Longinus mimicking Christ's position on the cross, so with his arms outstretched, he holds the spear in his right hand. The terra cotta was gilded at one point, and the monk's face and hands have been damaged, not unlike the torture committed on the saint during his life.

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