Ecstasy in the eye of the artist

Words by Davide Emanuele Nappi
Photography by Jordi A. Bello Tabbi
All clothing by Matteo Fortini, “Ophelia”, Accademia Costume e Moda

Data Humanism - Refik Anadol

Escape, isolation, completeness, lightness.

As opposed to the oppressive obligation of being, “ex-stasis” is being outside oneself and the world. An emotion, a feeling, that, like all things relegated to the irrational universe, cannot be explained to those who do not experience it. Yet there is perhaps a hope for an insight, for an identification, a moment of common resonance, which is to stand before a work of art and be overwhelmed by emotional sharing.

The history of art is littered with attempts to depict ecstasy, especially related to Christian iconography, which has been trying to induce the same state of psychological suspension in the beholder since as early as the 1600s.

Even before the Baroque era, in fact, works by renowned artists tell us about this phenomenon. They are, however, works that I would call deictic, descriptive, full of signs and references, as was customary in the tradition. It probably took the restless soul of Caravaggio to open a season of different ecstatic works. Compare, for example, Raphael’s The Ecstasy of Saint Cecilia (1516-17) with Caravaggio’s Mary Magdalene in Ecstasy (1606). The first painting by the painter from Urbino depicts the Saint in ecstasy in a composed and delicate figure, in keeping with the Renaissance tradition, so that no tension or pain or pleasure is perceived, but a calm serenity and bliss. What he had in mind to elicit was a distant admiration and adoration, as befitting the figures of saints. Now instead we look at Caravaggio’s painting. Real, forthright, raw, intense. There is no trace of traditional elements; the Saint is painted in her ecstasy in her being simply a woman before a Saint. Her eyes half-closed, her mouth slightly open, her head completely relaxed backwards, slumped and without strength, consumed by ecstatic pleasure. This is a painting that does not speak, does not describe, this is a painting that sculpts through vibrations.  

And if ecstasy is to be sculpted, then evidently it was destined to be sculpted by Bernini. If his only purpose on this earth was to sculpt The Ecstasy of St. Theresa (1647-52) it would still have been a sufficient purpose. 

“One day an angel appeared to me, beautiful beyond measure. I saw in his hand a long spear, at the end of which seemed to be a point of fire. This seemed to strike me several times in the heart, so that it penetrated me. The pain was so real that I groaned aloud several times, however, it was so sweet that I could not wish to be free of it. No earthly joy can give such fulfilment. When the angel drew his spear, I was left with a great love for God.”

Here is the work of art, here is the living work, in the presence of which, in silence, one feels ecstasy, even if one has never experienced it, even if one does not grasp the references, even if one does not believe in it, even for just a moment.

He read this from the Saint’s diary and turned it into marble. The group is uniquely beautiful and intense, resulting not only from the sculptor’s technical skills, but from a living sense of empathy and compassion.

Here is the work of art, here is the living work, in the presence of which, in silence, one feels ecstasy, even if one has never experienced it, even if one does not grasp the references, even if one does not believe in it, even for just a moment.

Ecstasy cannot be understood, perhaps, and cannot be explained. This is the ground without substance on which art moves, and it shows itself to us as it is, without pretending to be rationalised. It shows itself to us so that it arouses warmth, chills, nameless emotions. Emotions somewhere between those you know and those you would like to feel.

Escape, isolation, completeness, lightness.

Data Humanism - Refik Anadol

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