Sant Andrea al Quirinale

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Bernini, Sant Andrea al Quirinale, 1658-1678

In 1658, Bernini received the commission from the Jesuit of the church of Sant Andrea. Although the Jesuit told Bernini that he should build it within the limited area, he managed to turn the small church into a building that resonates monumentality and delicacy.

Reflecting the roof above, the concentric stairs spill out onto the street like ripples. They create a strong sense of movement, making it a pronounced Bernini work at the first look. Walking up the stairs and  into the chamber, the oval shaped hall, which opens more broadly to the left and right, and draws viewers' eyes immediately upon the altar. In the central painting Martyrdom of St Andrew, St Andrea, the brother of St Peter, is being crucified onto an X-shaped cross. Along  glinting beams of lights, the painting seems to be lifted by a host of sculpted angels. Bernini employed an light source above the painting (which is supposedly invisible to the congregation), and just like what he did with St Teresa in Ecstasy and in St Peter's:  he made the natural lights and artificially carved lights appear in one.

The painting itself is framed in the same marble that used in the surroundings, thus creating a unity of painting, sculpture, and architecture. Speaking of material, Bernini mainly used a sort of dark salmon marble in the lower level of the chamber, which resembles the color of flesh, and thus an earthly color. However, once we roll our eyes up to the ceiling, we could only see white and gold, the colors of haven. 

Several lines lead to the center of the dome, where a holy dove rests. The stained glass windows above the dove allow only yellow light to come through, so that even in a cloudy day, it can still create a sense of the glow of the holy spirit. Also, Bernini placed a circle of cherubs looking down upon us, and like those of Mantegna's, they remind us that we are being observed just like we are observing them. Moreover, by placing figures in midway between, Bernini made it appear that the earthly and spiritual space are connected through that little window.

And the statue of St Andrea himself above the altar, breaking through the pediment, so he could embrace paradise. The great contradiction between his relief at his ascension to heaven that showed in the statue and his suffering that appeared in the painting seems to send a message that death is comforting. God's time is the best time. And again, it reassures the existence of an after life by capturing the moment of eternity. Just like John Milton said, "Eternity: a moment standing still forever."

As Howard Hibbard points out, Bernini shapes a complete, religious experience in the form of a church. The architecture itself is like a sermon. No wonder that his son recalled Bernini, in his later life, would spend hours sitting in this church, appreciating what he had achieved.

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