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Abstract

How does one achieve unity, both of form and meaning, in the visual arts? Gian Lorenzo Bernini's Cornaro Chapel in the Carmelite church of Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome surely comes close to answering this question. Indeed it represents the culminiation of the art historical concept of the bel composto. The term, which can be translated as "beautiful whole" refers to the simultaneous use of painting, sculpture, and architecture to enhance the viewer's experience of the piece represented. I was particularly fascinated by the spatial and rhetorical relationship between the different mediums used in the chapel. The techniques Bernini used are so different, yet they unite to form a coherent whole that can be referred to as an indivisible unit both in space and in meaning. This is perhaps due to the fact Bernini employed these different mediums for a common purpose, namely to lead the viewer to experience a greater sense of devotion through wonder and astonishment. The awe one feels when looking at the chapel is such that it is fair to say he achieved this goal. I was drawn to analyze the holding stone that enables the viewer to enter the indivisible unit depicted in the chapel and to comprehend its meaning. That holding stone can be found in a sculptured group located on the left and right wall of the chapel. To understand the way in which this acts as such, I had to visualize the way in which an actual visitor woudl experience the chapel. This analysis truly reveals the sheer brilliance of Bernini's design for the Cornaro Chapel. The meaning conveyed by the chapel, the salvation of mankind, is represented in such a way that the visitor cannot remain indifferent.

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