A UTSA College of Architecture Study Abroad Program

Bernini: Before and After the Proscenium… the space of theater

Capella Raimondi in S. Pietro in Montorio

Capella Cornaro in S. Maria della Vittorio

Ecstasy of St. Theresa

S. Andrea al Quirinale (with Nancy sketching)

The proscenium in the theatrical space of Bernini – the place where the audience sits before the scene – is not quite so easy to define.  Somehow, perhaps because the dictionary offers a definition that seems so obvious, or maybe because we have all watched staged productions and thereby feel as if we know the difference between what happens on the stage and what happens off of the stage.  It is clear until we are drawn closer.

Within Bernini’s architectural work, the proscenium (and perhaps any proscenium for that matter) has layers.  Upon entering the Capella Raimondi or S. Andrea al Quirinale, we perceive the stage set before us: a re-inactment of some divine event, the presence of which seems about to unfold.  The proscenium, that surrounds and frames the scene, joins and separates two realms: the sacred and timeless and that of a temporal existence to which we cleave.  The event, however, is not confined to the aedicule (temple frame), it surrounds us. Bernini sculpts onlookers (detail above, Capella Cornaro) who seem, in their theater boxes, to be discussing the same scene that is before us.  Their questions, their dynamic presence, moves us.  The event that we are drawn into is both mythical and immediate.  It includes our presence.  The dome above encircles and its narrative of divine wisdom holds us in this moment.  The entire interior is the stage upon which we also strut and fret.  The timelessness of the unfolding scene, and the contrary, our human existence,  seem to join, infuse each other.  At this moment, a bridge is formed.  Even prior to entering the church (or the chapel), we were enveloped.  The proscenium’s layers organize a temporal sequence that brought us to the moment of unfolding, moved us from the tattered fabric of the city to the pure garments of St. Theresa…


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