Artibus et Historiae no. 19 (X)

1989, ISSN 0391-9064

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VERNOR HYDE MINOR - Shapes of the Invisible: Bernini's Fiery Angels in Saint Peter's

Although art historians have been reading Erwin Panofsky's essay on iconology for nearly fifty years, they still tend to split their analysis of works of art into "style" and "iconography". Panofsky's critical apparatus, whatever its limitations, has the virtue of seeking wholeness and unity. The popularity of the iconographical study does not disguise the fact that it offers but a fragment of meaning. The literature on Gianlorenzo Bernini's Cathedra Petri in St. Peter's is fairly typical of art historical studies in that complex humanistic themes have been explored in impressive detail, but largely without showing how Bernini's manner bears the meaning. This article examines the importance of Dionysius the Aeropagite's mystical theology as a text for the Cathedra, and describes how Bernini translates Dionysius' metaphorical language into visual metaphor, especially in regard to the two angels on either side of St. Peter's throne.

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