Al this, as his critics have shown, in Pluto and Prosperina, where god is carrying off a terrified maiden, flesh yielding beneath his grasp is quintessential Bernini: highly theatrical sculpture of overstatement. Bernini’s oen grasp towards the heaven whereby the roots of heaven were made of stone. It was Counter Reformation art, and Bernini kept undisputed control over artistic life for more than half a century with it and for merited reason. He had the hand of a sculptor and the instincts of a scenic designer.Not only are Bernini’s religious figures intended to communicate intense devotion, but the composition of the chapels inside the churches served as a link for the faithful between heaven and earth. This is particularly striking in the chapel designed for the Cornaro family in the church of Santa Maria della Vittoria. In the center of the chapel there is the white marble group composed of Saint Theresa and the angel. But flanking the group on either side are marble members of the Cornaro family, sitting in loges like first-nighters, watching rather distractedly the performances of the saint and the angel. Some are chatting, others reading books- missals, one hopes. Light filters over saint and angel from a hidden source. From the earthly involvement of the Cornaros, so like our own, to the painted stucco clouds on the ceiling, Bernini covers the whole religious experience, from life to life after death.
The popes were delighted with Bernini’s work. In exchange for subsidies and favors that made him the peer of princes, he flattered them with busts while they lived and immortalized them with chapels after they were dead. He also found admirers in the College of Cardinals, source of potential popes. When he had finished the bust of the Spanish jurist, Pedro de Foix Montoya, Cardinal Barberini came to admire it and said, “It is Montoya petrified.” Montoya wandered in at precisely that moment, and Barberini said, pointing at him, “This is the portrait of Monsignor Montoya,” and than, pointing to the bust, “This is Montoya.”