The Power of Absolution

Lara Belfield


In his time, Gianlorenzo Bernini was renowned as a great sculptor, able to create life-like figures that encapsulated a sense of movement and weightlessness from heavy marble.  Many of his more famous sculptures were based on religious themes or experiences.  The sculptures of St. Jerome and St. Mary Magdalen, still present in their original location in the Chigi Chapel in Siena Cathedral, exemplify both Bernini’s talent in creating life-like figures and the way in which he expressed powerful emotions through facial expressions and postures.  The St. Mary Magdalen (fig. 1) is outwardly expressing her sorrow for the physical sins, while the St. Jerome (fig. 2) is acknowledging his intellectual sins more inwardly.

Bernini's Mary Magdalen Photo Credit: Dadu1207

Figure 1: Bernini, “St. Mary Magdalen,” 1661-1663, Chigi Chapel, Siena Cathedral, Siena.                        Photo Credit: Dadu1207

Each of the saints was well-known in Bernini’s time as a symbol of absolution and forgiveness.  However, the ways in which chose artists chose to depict St. Jerome and St. Mary Magdalen often differed from Bernini’s representation. Unlike other artists, Bernini depicted St. Jerome and St. Mary Magdalen at the moment of powerful religious experiences that would shape their lives. Other artists were more focused on the periods of time either before or after these powerful visions.  Comparing Bernini’s sculptures with other portrayals of the saints may shed light on the artists’ changing motivations and styles throughout the centuries.

Bernini's St. Jerome Photo Credit: The Road Goes Ever On

Figure 2: Bernini, “St. Jerome,” 1661-1663, Chigi Chapel, Siena Cathedral, Siena.  
Photo Credit: The Road Goes Ever On