Friday, April 25, 2008

The Glory of St. Ignatius Loyola

Andrea Pozzo (Italian, 1642-1709)
The Glory of St. Ignatius Loyola and the Missionary
Work of the Jesuit Order
(called The Apotheosis of
St. Ignatius
), 1688–94
17 x 35 metres (56 x 115 ft.)
Church of S Ignazio di Loyola, (the Gesu), Rome

The real walls of the church continue in painted illusion until vast open space is seen in the centre of the painting, with the saint situated in glory with the Blessed Trinity.

The three stages of the spiritual life as described by St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Ávila, are dramatised in the painting.

On the foreground edges of the painting, giants, representing ignorance, are seen fighting a losing battle with angels, who throw the former into Hell. This represents the purgative stage of the spiritual life, in which faults and sins are avoided.

Angels bringing the fire of illumination to the faithful, and helping them climb upward, represent the illuminative way, in which the faithful grow closer to God by accepting light concerning their state of soul, and turn more and more to Him and their practice of virtue. Deep despair is illuminated by inspirational insights into the ways of God among men.

The last stage of the spiritual life is the unitive, in which the soul becomes one with God. It is represented in the painting by St. Ignatius united with the Blessed Trinity in the centre of the ceiling, where is situated the vanishing point of the perspective lines.

By the skilful use of linear perspective, light, and shade, he made the great barrel-vault of the nave of the church into an idealised aula from which is seen the reception of St. Ignatius into the opened heavens.

The beautiful ceiling celebrates two centuries of adventuresome Jesuit explorers and missionaries. A major theme is the missionary spirit of the Society of Jesus. Light comes from God the Father to the Son who transmits it to St. Ignatius as it breaks into four rays leading to the four continents.

According to the then current Jesuit ideas, the space within a church was a single area in which the faithful congregated. In Sant'Ignazio space is stretched before exploding into light and glory. The impression is one of exuberance and freedom. In reality, it was worked out to a very careful design and plan using scientific criteria.

Designed to be viewed from a point in the centre of the nave, which is marked by a white stone, Pozzo's ceiling produces the illusion of a palace opening on the sky.

Pozzo's work on the ceiling of the nave in S. Ignazio is regarded as the one of the high points of monumental Baroque painting.

It is not a work for prayerful contemplation. It is glorification similar to the Apotheoses of the period of civil powers: such as Sir Peter Paul Rubens` Apotheosis of James I for the ceiling of the Banqueting House, Whitehall and Francesco Villamena's Apotheosis of Alessandro Farnese.

For a 9.9 billion pixel digital image of the fresco where one can zero in on any painted detail contained within the entire 6440 square feet of fresco, see the HAL9000 website here and follow the links.