‘The facade of the Jesuit mother church, the famed Il Gesù bears the monogram of Jesus, which is the logo of the Society of Jesus. The entrance is flanked by the arms of the City of Rome, and the arms of the reigning Pontiff, Benedict XVI. Above this is carved the name of the Farnese family in memory of Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, nephew of Pope.” Source Lawrence OP
Facing this small square lies the main church of the Jesuits; Il Gesù. The founder of the Jesuit order, the Spaniard Ignatius de Loyola, in the 16th century purchased a plot in the location where we are standing now. Here is where he wanted to build a mother church for his order. Michelangelo created an initial design, but it was architect Giacomo da Vignola who designed the eventual church in 1568. The church was consecrated in 1584.
Giacomo della Porta designed the facade in 1575, twelve years after the Council of Trent. This facade heralds Baroque architecture. If you stand before the church, you immediately notice the entrance. Della Porta achieved this effect by making each pair of pilasters, and finally the entablature, project further into the square, as can be seen quite well here. In addition, the columns have not been placed at the classical intervals as stipulated in the intercolumnium (a term that you had to learn in school) but have been arranged in pairs. At each end two pilasters that do not really stand out have been positioned together. Followed by again two pilasters, but with an additional half pilaster positioned behind and against the adjacent pilaster. In the middle a half column is seen on either side of the door with a pilaster beside it.
The arrangement of a big opening in the middle, flanked by two smaller openings is repeated in the upper section of the facade, but this time in the shape of a big window and two small niches. Looks familiar? This is simply a design from antiquity that we have already seen in the arches built by Septimius Severus and Constantine. The big pediment in the shape of an arch with a smaller triangle inside puts emphasis on the façade’s midsection. You can also draw a vertical line from the entrance to the big cross on top of the tympan. And finally, the scrolls turn inward at the sides.
The design was strongly influenced by the Council of Trent. What was new was that the pulpit is no longer close to the altar, but to the left between the second and third chapel. This arrangement allowed the priest to really reach the average churchgoer during his sermon. This was the most important demand that the Council imposed on architecture. During the sermon, friars could celebrate mass at the altar, recite psalms or say prayers.
Vignola’s design was based on the elongated form of the basilica, with a length of 200 meters. There are hardly any aisles and only one apse. The floor plan was strongly influenced by the basilica of Maxentius that you saw on Sunday; a wide nave with three arched chapels on both sides. If you walk around the church you will experience it as a strong unity, much different from the traditional basilica where the nave and the aisles have explicitly been separated into different spaces.
You saw the traditional floor plan of a basilica when we visited the San Clemente on Sunday. If you look a little closer at the floor plan, you will discover that it still strongly resembles a basilica, but that it also has elements of a central design. Vignola’s design in fact is a combination of an elongated basilica with a central design.
The floor plan of Il Gesù (Vignola Wikipedia) is a synthesis of a basilica and a central design. This church strongly influenced the design of later churches, and not just in Italy. This definitely also applies to the facade.
The church was to intended to make an overwhelming impression on the faithful. Art was employed to overwhelm the visitor and spread the Jesuit message. Its interior is quite Baroque.
Our tailor, or cobbler, Pasquino, gave a somewhat different interpretation of the abbreviation I.H.S (above main altar): ‘Iesuiti habent satis’ or ‘the Jesuits have plenty’. If you look at Ignatius de Loyola’s grave in the left transept, St. Ignatius Chapel, I think you will agree with Pasquino. It was made of the most precious materials, such as gemstones, gold, a huge piece of lapis and a globe made of semiprecious stones.
The sacrilegious books of Luther, Calvin and Zwingli
“The seventeenth-century altar of St Ignatius of Loyola, by Andrea Pozzo (1642-1709), the Jesuit brother who painted the beautiful perspective painting in Sant’ Ignazio, is the richest Baroque monument in Rome. The statue of Saint Ignatius by Antonio Canova wears a silver chasuble. Originally, there was a statue by Pierre Legros in solid silver, but Pope Pius VI had it melted down in 1798 to cover his war debts to Napoleon. In Legros’ allegorical sculpture to the right of the altar (‘Faith conquers heresy‘), a putto (a little angel, bottom left) tears out pages from the sacrilegious books of Luther, Calvin and Zwingli [to the left of the altar “Triumph of Faith Over Idolatry“]. It would appear that a painting of Saint Ignatius by Pozzo used to be mechanically lowered in front of the statue [nowadays, the painting is lowered daily at 17:30, and a replica of the statue can be seen with a light show and music]. The blue globe with the Holy Trinity at the top of the altar is known for being the largest known block of lapiz lazuli. Recent studies however confirmed that it’s a block of cement that’s covered with lapis lazuli.” Cited and translated from: Luc Verhuyck ‘Anekdotische reisgids voor Rome’ Rainbow bv, Amsterdam en Uitgeverij Athenaeum -Polak& Van Gennep, Amsterdam 2001 uitgave in Rainbow 2019 p. 94
When the famous Jesuit, Cardinal Robert Bellarmine (Wikipedia) dies in 1621, it is decided to erect a tomb (reconstruction) in the apse of the Il Gesù. Pietro Bernini, the father of Gian Lorenzo, designed the allegories of Faith and Wisdom. Gian Lorenzo Bernini made the cardinal’s portrait bust. In 1843 the tomb was demolished during a major renovation. A neoclassical frame with a recess was added in which the baroque portrait bust of Robert Bellarmine was placed (Wikipedia).
If you look up at the ceiling, you will see a huge illusionistic painting glorifying Christ.
Finally, we will take a brief look at a curious painting painted by Pompeo Batoni in 1760. This is the first painting of Christ with the Holy Heart. This image became extremely popular and is still being painted today in numerous variations (San Crisogono Trastevere), but also in three-dimensional form.
We again walk to the southwest, this time to visit the Campo dei Fiori. You really have to visit this great market in the morning. We will take a break here.