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Pierre Le Gros the Younger, Stanislas Kostka on his Deathbed

Pierre Le Gros the Younger, Stanislas Kostka on His Deathbed, 1703, upstairs at Bernini's Sant'Andrea al Quirinale Speakers: Frank Dabbell, Beth Harris and Steven Zucker A Smarthistory.org video. Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

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Video transcript

(bouncy piano music) >> We go upstairs into the rooms of the noviciate, that is for the novices who are joining the Jesuit Order. Now in the 1500s, this was a new order of religion founded by Ignatious Loyola who died in 1556. We've stumbled into a room. It's almost an act of shock, certtainly suprise to see what appears to be a young man on his death bed. In fact, sometimes in the gloom entering this room, you really think someone is in front of you, lying on a couch, a sort of day bed. This is Stanislas Kostka. He's a young, Polish novice of the Jesuit Order. He died only aged 18 and he bore his terrible illness with great humility and strength and died with a vision of the Virgin Mary before him. This was made before he was officially declared a saint. This was made in 1703. What we see is a very richly carved and very detailed statue of a young man lying very naturalistically on a bed Now everything is color here. It's all made of stone, but we have Sicilian Jasper. We have ocher colored marble. We have a deep black stone marble for the clothing that he wears because he's a member to be of the Jesuit Order wearing black and white pillows and of course, the flesh is done in white marble. He's holding an image of the Virgin and a crucifix and he would have originally had a halo which would have picked up that sense of yellow and gold even more. As I said, he's naturalistic. He's not lying as if he has died and we're watching a lying in state here. He is still alive or he's in the moment of passing and this was something that fascinated Baroque artists. Bernini, who had died by the time this was done, was really one of the pioneers in showing the transition, the trappasso as it was called, from life to death, those moments that you go from the earthly to the spiritual, from life to death, but death is a comforting eternal thing to look forward to. This is very intimate and that's why it has shocked in a good way so many visitors who come into this room; it's a very intimate space. It's the quiet side of the Baroque. Baroque doesn't necessarily mean loud. It's life size. it's as if we are attending personally to this young man's death and this was part of the art of the Jesuit persuasiveness or the art of persuasion. through example, through art, again through readings of course as well, you were brought close to what matters about the passing from life to death. In this case, humility and absolute, unshakable faith. >> The realism of this is just so moving and upsetting in a way, the way he lifts his arm up to hold this framed image of the Virgin and clasps with his other hand the rosary and the cross. It's that moment of something happening in front of you; it's so theatrical. >>That we could reach out and touch. In the 18th, I think in the 19th Century, there was a railing around it because they didn't want people touching it. Now it's a matter of trust. We're not touching it, but we could. I'm just stretching my arm. I could practically shake his hand. The crucifix is a separate carved object and the rosary is a real rosary, but if you look closely, details such as the eyes and the nails of fingers and toe nails are carefully incised. So this is a very detailed work of art, while the flow of the drapery and the bed itself is slightly more dramatic and loosely carved. >> I think that that's right; this is a work of art that's meant to be seen up close and I was really struck by the thinness of the cloth as it's represented of his undershirt of the collar. Just the way in which it's not different from the collar that I'm wearing. There's this kind of immediacy. >> The pioneer in that sense had also been Bernini. >> We do feel privileged in that this is a very private moment that we're given access to. >> It's so interesting because during this moment, during the Baroque, you have grandeur, you have the operatic, and then you have this sweetness and this intimacy and this really sort of internal experience, but it's not a conflict. It's a spectrum of experience. >> Exactly. It's arranged like an ordinary life that can go from quiet to loud and then back to quiet, from intimate to public. (bouncy piano music)