“The Ecstasy of Sonya”
My reflection focuses on the scene in Crime and Punishment in which Sonya fervently reads from her Russian New Testament the story of Lazarus. Because of the shared notion of sensuality between Sonya's Scripture reading and St. Teresa's spiritual experience, I personally find the scene very reminiscent of Bernini's The Ecstasy of St. Teresa. Both women convey expressions of intense concentration, as if confronting a paroxysmal revelation potent enough to bestow them both spiritual and physical pleasure.
The use of black and white for the majority of the painting serves as a simplistic reminder of the harsh setting in which Crime and Punishment takes place. Portraying Sonya in the same color scheme not only alludes to Bernini's monochrome sculpture but also fades her into the background. In the eyes of Raskolnikov, before he recognizes Sonya's unique individuality and significance in his life, Sonya is a nobody. She is a prostitute- a product of her background, her society.
The intense concentration of light that emanates on her face was inspired by Rembrandt's employment of light in his portraits to facilitate the viewer's focus. The light source is her Bible. Thus, the Scriptures enlighten Sonya's mind and are also what can set her apart from the dark background.
Furthermore, the only parts with color are Sonya's slightly curved lips and the beams of light, in gold leaf, behind her. Her mouth, slightly ajar, speaks the word of God, which has given her life and meaning in her cold world. The redness represents her revitalization from reading the story. It is a miniscule sign of life in her statue-like body. Alternatively, the redness can also highlight her depraved societal identity as a prostitute.
I believe that Bernini's sculpture illuminates the reader's understanding and appreciation of Sonya's scene in Crime and Punishment and hope that the compositional elements in this piece have effectively exhibited a very intimate, spiritual experience through Sonya's corporeal body.
Marian Guerra (CC '14) is a Political Science Major hailing from Westchester, New York, with ardent interests in visual arts, theater, and discovering the novelty in the mundane. In addition to acting in shows by LateNite Theatre and Nomads, she is currently a newswriter for the Spectator and serves as Social and Cultural Chair for Liga Filipina, Columbia's Filipino cultural club.