Wednesday, March 19, 2014

40 Days of Paintings - Glorification of St. Ignatius (Andrea Pozzo)

Today, I give you the most remarkable ceiling painting of the Baroque age, and certainly among the top 5 ceilings in the whole history of Western Art, period.  The "Glorification of St. Ignatius," also known as "Allegory of the Jesuits' Missionary Work" was painted by Andrea "Padre" Pozzo in 1691-94, pretty late in the Baroque period. 
So, where to begin with this... Well, Pozzo was a master of illusion, and this fresco demonstrates that spectacular trompe l'oeil effect of making the ceiling vanish so that we're looking at infinite sky above.  For those of you out there wondering who invented the effect of creating a 3-dimensional illusion by skewing the image so that the illusion works at a certain angle (like the famous contemporary street drawings and paintings that seem to create a hole in the ground), Andrea Pozzo was one of the first to master this technique.  He wasn't the earliest to use the technique, however (see Hans Holbein's "The Ambassadors, 1533).  In some places where Pozzo's work is housed, there are permanent markers set in the flooring that are indications of where to stand to get the best view of the illusion.
The St. Ignatius fresco is located in the Sant'Ignazio in Rome, and it shows various representations of the continents where Jesuit missionaries had taken the Gospel.  And in the center, reminiscent of Michelangelo's "Creation of Adam" in the Sistine Chapel, there is St. Ignatius receiving a divine beam of light from Christ.  And speaking of Michelangelo's ceiling, if you look closely you can make out certain poses of the figures that may, or may not, have been borrowed from that series of frescos.  That'll be up to you to judge, but I can kind of see it.
Everything about Pozzo's work here is considered the epitome of Baroque painting.  There's no question of its grand scale and the seeming endless floating and flying figures that seem to disappear in the aerial perspective of a celestial sky.  But also the architecture that Pozzo has depicted in the painting.  While working on this fresco, Pozzo began work on writing and publishing his ideas on art called "Perspectiva pictorum et architectorum."  In it, he explains his technique of using illusion to create a sense of space and perspective, made famous in this fresco.

Glorification of St. Ignatius

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