Like the church of Santa Susanna across Piazza San Bernardo, this church was designed by Carlo Maderno, but this one is best known for Bernini's sumptuous Baroque decoration of the Cappella Cornaro (Cornaro Chapel, the last on the left as you face the altar), which houses his interpretation of divine love, the Ecstasy of St. Teresa. Your eye is drawn effortlessly from the frescoes on the ceiling down to the marble figures of the angel and the swooning saint, to the earthly figures of the Cornaro family (some living, some dead at the time) who observe the scene from the opera boxes on either side, to the two inlays of marble skeletons in the pavement, representing the hope and despair of souls in purgatory.
As evinced in other works of the period, the theatricality of the chapel is the result of Bernini's masterly fusion of sculpture, light, architecture, painting, and relief; it's a multimedia extravaganza, and one of the key examples of the Roman High Baroque. Bernini's
audacious conceit was to model the chapel as a theater. The members of the Cornaro family meditate on the communal vision of the great moment of divine love before them: the swooning saint's robes appear to be on fire, quivering with life, and the white marble group seems suspended in the heavens as golden rays illuminate the scene. An angel assists at the mystical moment of Teresa's vision as the saint abandons herself to the joys of heavenly love. Bernini represented this mystical experience in what, to modern eyes, may seem very earthly terms. Or, as the visiting French dignitary President de Brosses put it in the 18th century, "If this is divine love, I know what it is." No matter what your reaction, you'll have to admit it's great theater.