Thursday, September 16, 2004

The Jesuits: Il Gesu and Sant'Ignazio as Triumphant Churches

Helen Cicero
Honors in Rome - Summer 2004

I. Historical Information

Counter Reformation

In the early 16th century the protestant revolt was exploding throughout Europe. Widespread dissatisfaction with the leadership and policies of the Catholic Church led to the protestant reformation, and eventually the formation and spread of the Protestant faith. The church recognized its need to correct the defects that had provoked the Protestant schism, and so launched an agenda of reform and revival. This movement to counter the spread of Protestantism is called the Counter Reformation.

There were two major components of the Counter Reformation. The Council of Trent, which met intermittently from 1545-1563, worked to re-examine and redefine Catholic doctrine and the role of the clergy. The activity of the Jesuits was another important factor in the Counter Reformation.

Sant' Ignazio
Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) was the founder of the Jesuit Society.
He lived in the Basque region of northern Spain, and was a soldier in the Spanish army. He was wounded in war, and while he was recovering he started reading religious books which sparked his interest in the church. When Ignatius was healthy he moved to study the Catholic Church in Paris, and eventually drew a small band of friends whom he directed in prayer and meditation according to his book, “The Spiritual Exercises.” This book discusses the idea of self-mastery, the art of teaching people to deny themselves completely in order to give full obedience to the church. In 1537, Ignatius came to Rome and here he was ordained a priest, and finally, in 1540, Pope Paul III approved the Institute of the Society of Jesus. Ignatius was elected General Superior of the Jesuit Order and served this post until his death in 1556 at the age of 65. The chapel of St. Ignatius in Il Gesu contains his remains. mart/
Ignatius of Loyola
Saint Ignatius is the founder of the Jesuit Order.

The Jesuits
The basis of the Society of Jesus was to return to the strictest and most uncompromising obedience to the authority of the church and its ecclesiastical hierarchy. The main goals of this order were the propagation of the Catholic Faith, and the promotion of Christian piety. In addition to their three vows (poverty, chastity, obedience) they each took a fourth vow, which obliged them to travel anywhere in the world for ministry according to the Pope’s wishes. This vow extended the Jesuits influence across the world. Their success was enhanced by studying and adapting the language and culture of the countries where they worked. collections/archive...
Jesuit Priests
A picture of modern day Jesuit preists in their robes.

Education was another important aspect of the Society of Jesus. The Jesuits were called the “schoolmasters of Europe,” due to their schools, their pre-eminence as scholars, and the many textbooks they composed. Jesuit schools promoting intense academic studies became their most characteristic institutions, where scholarship, science, and exploration were the three main tenets. The Jesuits aimed to educate the sons of privileged Catholic families in order to attract the interest of wealthy patrons; they depended on wealthy donors for the financing of their building projects.

However, despite this initial success, a little over two centuries later, in 1773, the Jesuits were disbanded by Pope Clement XIV. This was a political power move on the part of the Catholic Church, who was facing international demands for the total destruction of the Jesuit Society. The property of the Society’s many schools was sold or taken over by the state, their libraries were destroyed, and books burned. However, the order survived and was formally reinstated in 1814 by Pope Pius VII. The society was flooded with requests to take over new colleges; the memory of their educational triumphs had not died.

The Jesuits were a powerful force in the Roman Catholic recovery because they truly embodied the zeal of the movement. The Jesuits became the “Pope’s army” of the Counter Reformation, armed with weapons of advanced academic studies, the education of youth, and zealous missionary activities.

Art After the Counter Reformation
The tumultuous religious environment of the 16th century caused the church to commission many major art programs. The Catholic Church began to build extravagant churches and monuments in the glory of God, in hopes of making the Catholic faith more appealing. The Church authorities realized that paintings high above the ground offered perfect opportunities to impress their viewers with the Catholic Church’s glory and power, as well as created a spiritual environment; both effects were well suited to the Church’s needs in the Counter Reformation. e/hibarock.html
The Baroque Style
This is an example of Baroqe work. It is very ornate and is crowded with decoration and color.

Jesuits were aware of the value of sacred images for both praying and for propaganda. They used the persuasive value of religious images, like graphic scenes of martyrdom, to evoke emotions. Imagery of saints was another important aspect of religious art during this time. Saints were images that the laypeople could relate with, and were very specific to the Catholic faith. The promotion of all those aspects of the Catholic Church that were rejected by Protestants became popular images as well, i.e.: angels, the Eucharist, scenes from Mary’s life, etc. e/hibarock.html
Baroque Art
This statue is an example of the emotion, drama, and realism that was captured in Baroque art.

The Catholic Church was influential in the progress of Baroque art and architecture. The church used emotional, realistic, and dramatic art as a means of propagating the faith; opposite from the simplicity Protestants chose to use in their art and architecture. Decadence, preoccupation with the potential of light, contrast of light and dark, sense of movement, energy, emotion, realism, intense spirituality (martyrdoms, ecstasies), and infinite space were all Baroque techniques adopted by the Church. The use of perspective to create an illusion of depth and space was another favorite Baroque technique. Italian Baroque religious art depended on the drama and theatricality of individual images as well as the interaction and fusion of architecture, sculpture and painting; creating visual unity was the goal.

II. The Church of Il Gesu


The full name of Il Gesu is Santissimo Nome di Gesu, meaning, the Most Holy Name of Jesus. Construction of Il Gesu began in 1568 and the church was consecrated in 1584. It is the main and first Jesuit church in Rome (the “mother church” of the Jesuits), and served as an architectural pattern for Jesuit churches that were set up throughout Europe during the Counter Reformation and Baroque period. The church occupies the site St. Ignatius chose for his headquarters of the Society of Jesus. Ignatius placed a great deal of emphasis on the location of churches; Il Gesu is in the heart of downtown which is a very visible and accessible location. Gesu%20Vignole/Facade.jpg
Facade of Il Gesu

Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, nephew of Pope Paul III, was the major benefactor of the church. His name is predominately displayed across the façade and in various locations inside the church. Farnese was said to have owned the three most beautiful objects in Rome: his family palace (Palazzo Farnese), Il Gesu, and his daughter. He intended the decoration of Il Gesu to be as important as the architecture and wanted the paintings, architecture, and sculpture to be conceived as one unit. T/titian/titian47.html
Portrait of Cardinal Alessandro Farnese
Farnese was the main patron of Il Gesu.

Church Layout / Interior Decoration
Il Gesu has a single aisle-less nave with short transepts, a shallow apse, and is flanked by side chapels; there is an emphasis on, and use of wide open space. The focus is set on the high altar which is visible from all parts of the church. The layout of Il Gesu suggests the Jesuit Church’s two major goals: a large nave with side pulpits for preaching to great crowds (sermons were very important), and a main alter as the centerpiece for the celebration of mass. Il%20Gesu%20Plan.jpg
Plan of Il Gesu

The interior decoration of the church employs grand opulence and colors which are in keeping with the Jesuit goal of attracting worshippers by grand spectacle. Since this church is built in honor of Jesus, his name is predominantly incorporated throughout the church decoration. The idea of Baroque theatricality is also prevalent, with dramatic and showy decorations. The theatricality would have been enhanced during the 16th century with religious music playing and incense burning, thereby employing multiple senses, and enhancing the spiritual effect of the church. library/images/033bg.jpg
Interior of Il Gesu
The altar is the main focal point of this church.

The interior of the original Il Gesu, however, was vastly different than that which we see today. The nave and barrel vault were white washed, and the decorations simple. Not until almost a century later, when the Jesuits had accumulated more patrons, is much of the decoration done.

Adoration in the Name of Jesus
The ceiling painting of the nave, entitled "Adoration in the Name of Jesus," was done by Giovanni Battista Gaulli, otherwise known as Baciccio (1639-1709). Baciccio became a protégé of Bernini, and was recommended by Bernini to paint Il Gesu. He was famous for his use of perspective to create illusion and received many commissions from the church throughout his life. The majority of the decoration in Il Gesu was done by Baciccio, including the nave ceiling, the dome, the half dome, and the stucco figures. He began the nave fresco in 1676, almost a century after the church was completed, and finished three years later in 1679. programma.htm
Portrait of Baciccio
He designed and executed the nave painting in Il Gesu.

In the painting Baciccio represented Jesus as a barely visible monogram, IHS (the abbreviation of the Greek form of the name Jesus). The letters emit a blinding light that floats heavenward. In contrast, sinners and heretics are violently thrown back down to Earth. Baciccio painted many of the sinners on three-dimensional stucco extensions which project outside of the painting’s frame to exaggerate the illusion. The nave fresco celebrates the name of the society with its focus on, and adoration of Jesus. Ceiling.html
"Adoration in the Name of Jesus" fresco
The illusion Baciccio created does not photograph well, but is amazing in real-life.

The painting seems to break through the vault and open up a hole in the ceiling – a window to heaven. This incorporated the drama and magnificence that the church was looking for, and created the feeling of being in a spiritual realm. Again, the church is using extravagance and splendor as propaganda to attract followers.

III. The Church of Sant' Ignazio


The church of Sant’Ignazio was built half a century later then Il Gesu, with construction beginning in 1626 and finishing in 1650. It was built as the church of the Collegio Romano, a Jesuit college, in order to honor St. Ignatius and his canonization. The Jesuits now had their own saints to honor, and this serves as propaganda for the faith. Sant’Ignazio is entirely baroque in style, and its grandeur represents the power, following, and money that the Jesuit Order had gained in a century. images/Benno_Kuppler_Rom...
Facade of Sant'Ignazio

Pope Gregory XV’s nephew, Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi, was the major benefactor of Sant’Ignazio and emblazoned his name and family crest on the façade and throughout the church. A chapel inside Sant’Ignazio even houses an elaborate funerary monument to both Ludovisi and his uncle. The following quote of Ludovisi demonstrates how proud he was of his generous patronage to the church, “One raised St. Ignatius to the alter, while the other raised alters to Ignatius.” requiem/galerie/S-Ignazi...
Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi
Ludovisi was the main benefactor of Sant'Ignazio and this image is from his funerary monument in the church.

Church Layout / Interior Design
The interior of Sant’Ignazio is in the shape of a Latin cross (the length is equal to two times the width) with a wide nave and apse. Like Il Gesu, this emphasizes large open space, and creates an optimum environment for giving sermons. A large cupola was planned for the nave but the Jesuits ran out of money so it could not be completed. Instead, Andrea Pozzo painted a false dome – the ceiling is really flat. The optimum spots for viewing the false dome and nave ceiling painting are indicated by small yellow circles inlaid in the church floor. The illusion of perspective is most realistic at these two points. Theatricality is also prevalent in the grand and impressive Baroque decoration of this church. mathematik+kun...
The False Dome
This dome, painted by Pozzo, was done on a flat surface and demonstrates his mastery of illusion.

Triumph of Sant' Ignazio
Fr. Andrea Pozzo (1642-1709) designed the “Triumph of Sant’Ignazio” nave painting for this church. Pozzo, an ordained member of the Jesuit order, was famous for his mastery of perspective painting, and like Baciccio, had many religious art commissions. He won a competition to design and execute the nave painting of St. Ignatius, which took three years to complete (1691-1694). The dome, transept chapels, and apse are also decorated by Pozzo.

At the center of this expansive fresco Pozzo places Jesus with his cross. A ray of light travels from God, to the heart of Jesus, to St. Ignatius, who is carried on a cloud up to heaven. Ignatius acts like a mirror here, reflecting divine light out to the rest of the heavenly figures. Below Ignatius and to the right, is St. Francis Xavier, one of the original Jesuits, who is known for his missionary work in the Far East. The faithful followers of Jesus rise to the center of the fresco, while heretics are turned away and tumble downwards. In the four corners are women personifying the four continents of the known world: Europe with a horse, Asia with a camel, Africa with a crocodile, and America with a mountain lion. Jesuit missionary activity was occurring during this time in these areas. classics/HUMAN2RC3.HTML
"Triumph of Sant'Ignazio" fresco
Painted by Pozzo, this ceiling creates the illusion that heaven is opening up over the heads of the congregation.

The ceiling of Sant’Ignazio appears to soar to the heavens, which again, creates the feeling of truly being in the presence of heaven and the spiritual world. Pozzo strengthened this illusion of the nave by continuing the Church’s architecture into the painting which makes the roof extend even further upward. The four personified women depict the worldwide victory of the Catholic Church in missionary work. Both of these aspects serve as propaganda for the Church.

IV. The Church Triumphant

The Holy Crusades

During the 16th century the Church had felt the impact of the protestant reformation and was filled with pessimism and insecurity. However, in the second half of the 17th century a new spirit of optimism and self-confidence invigorates the Church. The term, “the church triumphant,” refers to this new period of hope and assurance. What brings about this change from grief to hopefulness for the Church? large_images/scg-s52c.jpg
Helmet from the Holy Crusades
Notice the crosses on this helmet; obviously the gear of a Christian soldier.

The Holy Crusades were one element that was crucial to the idea of the church triumphant. The Crusades were largely the product of Pope Innocent XI, whose goal was to unite the nations of Christian Europe in a holy war against the Muslim Turks. He achieved remarkable success in these wars, due in large part to his regime of reducing the Vatican’s debt. All the battles the Church won against the Turks were received with wild rejoicing, and served to build the strength and popularity of the church. The Crusades captured the support of the people as the militant Catholics were victorious again and again against the forces of Islam.

An example of this triumphal art is the “Adoration in the Name of Jesus” fresco on the nave vault of Il Gesu. The juxtaposition of the “adoration” and the “fall of the rebel angels,” though not from the same Biblical passage, complement each other perfectly in this fresco. Representing the triumph of good over evil, the angels over the demons, the Church over the Turks; this fresco embodies the spirit and feeling of the Catholic Church’s triumph.

Missionary Work
One of the most important factors in understanding the concept of the Church Triumphant is the missionary work of the Church. The Catholic Church looked to the lands beyond Europe to spread their faith and gained a large kingdom this way. This recruitment gave the Catholic Church a new vigor and pride, which was needed since the protestant reformation had resulted in so many losses. The church spread out to almost every corner of the world including: India, Japan, China, Philippines, the New World, and Mexico. ../images/mricci.gif
Jesuit Missionary Work
This piece of art symbolizes Christianity being spread to China.

An example of this triumphal art is the “Triumph of Sant’Ignazio” fresco on the nave vault of Sant’Ignazio. This fresco depicts the triumph of the Jesuits in spreading the Catholic faith to the four corners of the known world. The triumph here is that of the Catholic missions, which ultimately, is a triumph for the Church.

V. Conclusion

The two frescos from Il Gesu and Sant’Ignazio both have the elements of drama, emotion, theatricality, and illusion that characterized baroque art. The paintings each create the illusion that Heaven is opening up onto the heads of the congregation, and this helps to generate a sense of spirituality and divine presence. Also, radiant light is the most important agent in each fresco. Ultimately, the church was using the magnificence and brilliance of these two ceilings to impress their followers with the power and brilliance of the Catholic Church. The high and splendid baroque ceilings of Il Gesu and Sant’Ignazio serve as church propaganda, and reflect the concept of the Church Triumphant: the victory of the faith.

The following quote is fitting to describe the influence Saint Ignatius had on the revival and reconstruction of the Catholic Church, “Some say Ignatius built the Jesuit society brick by brick rather then soul by soul.”

VI. Personal Observations

In researching for this presentation I really enjoyed learning about the Jesuit Order. Their role in missionary work, the academics, and the Counter Reformation were so crucial to the survival of the Catholic Church. It would be a very different history for the church without Sant’Ignazio and the Order he created. I also liked learning about the Baroque style. The drama, emotion, and color of Baroque art really captivate me. Il Gesu has been my favorite church in Italy thus far.

My first visit to the two churches was also really surprising. The outside of both Il Gesu and Sant’Ignazio are deceiving because they give no clues as to what the inside of the church will look like. When I stepped into Il Gesu for the first time I was in awe of the grandiose and ornate adornments, the bright colors, the decoration cluttering almost every square inch of space, and of course the nave painting. The photographs of the ceiling don’t do justice to the illusion of perspective that Baciccio has created. Also, the different components of Il Gesu (architecture, painting, sculpture) really do work together and emit a sense of unity. I also really liked the statues in the Chapel of Sant’Ignazio that were flanking the urn of Saint Ignatius.

When I entered the church of Sant’Ignazio I expected the interior to look very similar to Il Gesu. I was surprised however, by the differences between the two. Sant’Ignazio seemed brighter than, and not as crowded with decorations as Il Gesu. Standing on the yellow disk in the middle of the nave I could really experience the effect of Pozzo’s painting, but once I moved from that spot, the perspective was thrown off and something just did not quite fit. Pozzo’s false dome was amazing as well; at first, I did not believe that the surface was completely flat.

VII. Bibliography

Baroque Art and Architecture, Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2004., accessed on: July 27th, 2004.

Engass, Robert. The Painting of Baciccio: The Church Triumphant (1964). Chapter 3. pg 54-67.

Evonne, Levy. A Noble Medley of Concert and Materials and Artifice: Jesuit Church Interiors in Rome, 1567-1700. pg: 47-59.

Gardner, Helen. Gardner’s Art through the Ages: The High Renaissance, Baroque Art of the Seventeenth Century. Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace College, 2001. pg. 636-637, 739-741.

Grove Dictionary of Art: Jesuit Order, Il Gesu. v. A7, 1996. pg: 508-512, 822-824.

Hager, June. "Il Gesu and S. Ignazio." Rome, 1993., accessed on: July 27th, 2004.

Hibbert, Christopher. Rome: The Biography of a City. London: Penguin Books, 1987. pg: 227-229, 353-354.

Jesuit Conference: Society of Jesus USA. “The Roots of the Society of Jesus.”, accessed on: July 27th, 2004.

Macadam, Alta. Blue Guide: Rome. London: A & C Black Publishers Limited, 2003. pg: 146-148, 199-200.

MacDonnell, Joseph S.J. Fairfield University: A Brief Jesuit History., accessed on: July 27th, 2004.