Andrea Pozzo bigraphy, stories - Jesuit Brother, architect and painter

Andrea Pozzo : biography

30 November 1642 - 31 August 1709

Andrea Pozzo ( Latinized version: Andreas Puteus; 30 November 1642 – 31 August 1709) was an Italian Jesuit Brother, Baroque painter and architect, decorator, stage designer, and art theoretician.

Pozzo was best known for his grandiose frescoes using illusionistic technique called quadratura, in which architecture and fancy are intermixed. His masterpiece is the nave ceiling of the Church of Sant'Ignazio in Rome. Through his techniques, he has become one of the most remarkable figures of the Baroque period. He is also noted for the architectural plans of the Ljubljana Cathedral (1700), inspired by the designs of the Jesuit churches Il Gesù and S. Ignazio in Rome.


Called to Rome

In 1681, Pozzo was called to Rome by Giovanni Paolo Oliva, Superior General of the Jesuits. Among others, Pozzo worked for Livio Odescalchi, the powerful nephew of the pope, Innocent XI. Initially he was used as a stage designer for biblical pageants, but his illusionistic paintings in perspective for these stages gave him soon a reputation as a virtuoso in wall and ceiling decorations.

The Gesù rooms

His first Roman frescoes were in the corridor linking the Church of the Gesù to the rooms where St.Ignatius had lived. His trompe l'oeil architecture and paintings depicting the Saint's life for the Camere di San Ignazio (1681–1686), blended well with already existing paintings by Giacomo Borgognone.

The St Ignatius' Church

His masterpiece, the illusory perspectives in frescoes of the dome, the apse and the ceiling of Rome's Jesuit church of Sant'Ignazio (illustrations right and below) were painted between 1685–1694 and are a remarkable and emblematic creation of High Roman Baroque. For several generations, they set the standard for the decoration of Late Baroque ceiling frescos throughhout Catholic Europe. Compare this work to Gaulli's masterpiece in the other major Jesuit church in Rome, Il Gesù.

The project had not started upon the church's completion; Sant'Ignazio remained unfinished even after its consecration in 1642. Disputes with the original donors, the Ludovisi, had stopped construction of the planned dome. Pozzo expediently proposed to make an illusionistic dome, when viewed from inside, by painting on canvas. It was impressive to viewers, but controversial; some feared the canvas would soon darken.

On the flat ceiling he painted an allegory of the Apotheosis of S. Ignatius, in breathtaking perspective. The painting, 17 m in diameter, is devised to make an observer, looking from a spot marked by a brass disc set into the floor of the nave, seem to see a lofty vaulted roof decorated by statues, while in fact the ceiling is flat. The painting celebrates the missionary spirit of two centuries of adventurous apostolic spirit of Jesuit explorers and missionaries. To modern sensitivity, this would appear to incentivate the expansion of Roman Catholicism, along with the overseas enterprises of the day, to other continents. It was also a combative Catholicism. For example, in the pendentives rather than placing the usual evangelists or scholarly pillars of doctrine, he depicted the victorious warriors of the old testament: Judith and Holofernes; David and Goliath; Jael and Sisera; and Samson and the Philistines. It is said that when completed, some said (sic)"Sant'Ignazio was a good place to buy meat, since four new butchers are now there."

In the nave fresco, light comes from God the Father to the Son who transmits it to St. Ignatius, whence it breaks into four rays leading to the four continents. Pozzo explained that he illustrated the words of Christ in Luke: I am come to send fire on the earth, and the words of Ignatius: Go and set everything aflame. A further ray illuminates the name of Jesus (2). With its perspective, space-enlarging illusory architecture and with the apparition of the heavenly assembly whirling above, the ensemble offered an example which was copied in several Italian, Austrian, German and Central European churches of the Jesuit order.

Living octopus

Living octopus

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