A Tourist in Rome - Santa Maria della Vittoria

Location:Two blocks northwest of the Repubblica metro stop, along Via Vittorio E. Orlando
Metro:Repubblica
Time:about 45 minutes
Cost:Free
Hours:Monday - Saturday 8:30 AM - noon and 3:30 PM - 6:00 PM; Sunday 3:30 PM - 6:00 PM

Santa Maria della Vittoria is one of my favorite churches in Rome. It is an extremely ornate church filled with gorgeous artwork, including Bernini's incredible "Ecstasy of St. Teresa". Do not miss this church. The church is a minor basilica dedicated to the Virgin Mary, built from 1605 to 1626. Its exterior (1st photo below) is quite modest and resembles the nearby Santa Susanna. But walk inside and you are treated to the excesses of the Baroque age. This small church is actually a big work of art. The view when you first walk through the door is shown in the 2nd photo below, facing toward the altar at the front of the church. The interior has a single wide marbled nave with three chapels on each side (best shown in the 3rd photo below, facing toward the rear of the church). The three chapels on the right side of the church (when facing the altar) are shown in the 4th photo below.

    
The front exterior facade of Santa Maria della Vittoria
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The interior of Santa Maria della Vittoria, facing the front of the church and the main altar
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The ornate interior of Santa Maria della Vittoria, facing the rear of the church (mosaic of 3 images)
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Side chapels in Santa Maria della Vittoria
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The ceiling was frescoed in 1675 by Giovanni Domenico Cerrini with "the Virgin Mary Triumphing over Heresy and the Fall of the Rebel Angels"; plaster putti and angels decorate the walls under the frescoe (1st and 2nd photo below). The underside of the dome is shown in the 3rd photo below. The organ and the balcony for solo singers, above the rear door, shown in the 2nd photo below, was designed by Mattia de' Rossi, who worked with Bernini.

    
The ceiling fresco in Santa Maria della Vittoria, 'Mary in heaven among the angels, and the fall from heaven of the evil angels led by Lucifer'. by Giovanni Domenico Cerrini, painted in 1663, with early 18th century stucco putti and angels and lunette windows beneath it.
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The view from the altar toward the back of Santa Maria della Vittoria. The organ and the balcony for solo singers was designed by Mattia de' Rossi, who worked with Bernini
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The underside of the dome in Santa Maria della Vittoria
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The main altar of the church is quite ornate (1st, 2nd and 3rd photos below), with a gold sunburst breaking through the clouds.

    
The interior of Santa Maria della Vittoria, facing the front of the church and the main altar
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The main altar at the front of Santa Maria della Vittoria
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Santa Maria della Vittoria church
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A sculpture of "The Dream of Joseph" by Domenico Guidi (1st and 2nd photos below) is in the left transept, and there are several beautiful paintings throughout the church. The beautiful arch and stained glass window in the 3rd and 4th photos below is above the "The Dream of Joseph"

    
Domenico Guidi's 'The Dream of Joseph', in Santa Maria della Vittoria
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Domenico Guidi's 'The Dream of Joseph', in Santa Maria della Vittoria
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Stained glass, frescoed ceiling, and plaster figures in Santa Maria della Vittoria, above Domenico Guidi's 'The Dream of Joseph'
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Santa Maria della Vittoria church
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But the highlight of the church by far is the Cornaro Chapel to the left of the altar, designed and sculpted in 1647-1652 by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. The entire chapel is shown in the 1st photo below. The sculpture of "the Ecstasy of St. Teresa" is at the center of that photo, and shown in close-up in the 3rd photo below. Bernini's work changes stone into soft butter, doesn't it? St. Teresa of Avila lived in the 16th century in Spain, and wrote several books in which she described her visions. The white marble sculpture, carved by Bernini from a single block of Carrara marble, depicts a moment described by St. Teresa in her autobiography, where she had the vivid vision of an angel piercing her heart with a golden shaft, causing her both immense joy and pain.

Beside me, on the left, appeared an angel in bodily form.... He was not tall but short, and very beautiful; and his face was so aflame that he appeared to be one of the highest rank of angels, who seem to be all on fire.... In his hands I saw a great golden spear, and at the iron tip there appeared to be a point of fire. This he plunged into my heart several times so that it penetrated to my entrails. When he pulled it out I felt that he took them with it, and left me utterly consumed by the great love of God. The pain was so severe that it made me utter several moans. The sweetness caused by this intense pain is so extreme that one cannot possibly wish it to cease, nor is one's soul content with anything but God. This is not a physical but a spiritual pain, though the body has some share in it -- even a considerable share.
The flowing robes and contorted posture abandon classical restraint and repose to depict a state of divine (or is it orgasmic) joy. The sculpture is lit by a window hidden behind the valence above, and emphasized by the golden rays that stream down from that window. St. Teresa is shown lying on a cloud, suggesting that we are witnessing a divine apparition. But Bernini went further and turned this into theater. He sculpted other witnesses to this event beside ourselves, in the male members of the Cornaro family watching the same event as us. A theater box at the left of the sculpture, shown in the 2nd photo below, and another to the right of the sculpture, shown at in the 4th photo below, contains those onlooking family members. In both of the boxes, some of the family members are watching St. Teresa as involved witnesses to the miracle, and others are not even paying attention to the show but rather discussing the event. For example, in the right box the Cardinal Patriarch watches the saint having her ecstasy, while his three companions are ignoring her for their own conversation (that is how Italians behaved at the opera back then). But what are they talking about? Are they appalled by the mix of sacred and erotic power of St. Teresa? The onlookers seem to be alive like ourselves, belonging to our world. This is a typical feature of Baroque art, breaking down the barrier between the work and the viewer, to involve us. The main part of the show, though, the supernatural event of Teresa's vision, is removed from ours by the heavenly light. Bernini is absolutely the bomb.

    
Bernini's Ecstasy of St. Teresa with sculpted family-member onlookers in the side-boxes, in the Cornaro Chapel of Santa Maria della Vittoria (mosaic of 3 images)
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Onlooking members of the Cornaro family, to the left of Bernini's 'The Ecstasy of St. Teresa' in Santa Maria della Vittoria
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Bernini's Ecstasy of St. Teresa, in Santa Maria della Vittoria
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Onlooking members of the Cornaro family, to the right of Bernini's 'The Ecstasy of St. Teresa' in Santa Maria della Vittoria
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More photos of "the Ecstasy of St. Teresa" are below. Beneath the display, just above the floor, barely visible in the 1st photo above, is a blue and gold frieze depicting 'The Last Supper' in gilt bronze, shown in the 5th photo below.

    
Bernini's Ecstasy of St. Teresa, in Santa Maria della Vittoria
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Bernini's Ecstasy of St. Teresa, in Santa Maria della Vittoria
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Bernini's Ecstasy of St. Teresa, in Santa Maria della Vittoria
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Bernini's Ecstasy of St. Teresa, in Santa Maria della Vittoria
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The Last Supper, under Bernini's 'Ecstasy of St. Teresa', in Santa Maria della Vittoria
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The Moses Fountain is right across the street, as is San Bernardo alle Terme, and an interesting segment of the Servian Wall is a couple blocks away. The front door of Santa Maria della Vittoria is shown above the back of one of the lions of the Moses Fountain in the 1st photo below. I hope these photos of Santa Maria della Vittoria have convinced you that it's worth your while to stop in for a few minutes... in my opinion this is the best little church in Rome.

    
A lion at the base of the Moses Fountain, with the entrance to Santa Maria della Vittoria above his back
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