This painting shows the visionary St Teresa of Jesus, a sixteenth-century Spanish nun, who came from Avilà and who founded an austere monastic order called the Barefoot Carmelites.
Teresa described a vision of a dove, the traditional symbol of the holy spirit, in her autobiography, in the 1560s.
'On the eve of Pentecost after mass, I went to a very lonely spot where I often used to pray and I began to read about the feast.
Then I saw over my head a dove, very different from those we usually see, for it had not the same plumage, but wings formed by small shells shining brightly.
It was larger than an ordinary dove, and I thought I could hear the rustling of its wings.
It hovered above me during the space of an Ave Maria, but such was the state of my soul that in losing itself, it also lost sight of the dove.'
Teresa died in 1582 and the road to sainthood was a remarkably swift one.
Rubens, who lived in the Netherlands under Spanish rule, painted her several times. This canvas was probably made to commemorate her beatification in 1614, an important step towards full sainthood. She was fully canonised on 12 March 1622.
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