Chiesa di Sant’ Ignazio, Rome

With the plethora of churches in Rome, you might think it would be hard to have a favorite.  But, for me, The Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola at Campus Martius is my favorite.

It is a Roman Catholic titular church dedicated to Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus.

What I love about it is the ceiling fresco:

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The story of this incredible building and its surroundings begins with the gift, in 1560, from Vittoria della Tolfa, the Marchesa della Valle. She donated her family isola, which was an entire city block and its existing buildings, to the Society of Jesus in memory of her late husband the Marchese della Guardia Camillo Orsini. This was also the founding the Collegio Romano and the beginning of the building of a church with a different name from the one that is discussed in this post.

Although the Jesuits received the marchesa’s land, they did not get any funds from her for completing the church. They were able to build a church, but it would later be dismantled so that this current church could be built on the site and was used by the Collegio Romano. Over time, the old church became insufficient for over 2,000 students of many nations who were attending the College at the beginning of the 17th century.

Pope Gregory XV, who was a former student of the Collegio Romano, was strongly therefore attached to the church. Following the canonization of Ignatius of Loyola in 1622, he suggested to his nephew, Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi, that a new church dedicated to the founder of the Jesuits should be erected at this site.

The young cardinal accepted the idea, asked several architects to draw plans, among them Carlo Maderno. Cardinal Ludovisi finally chose the plans drawn up by the Jesuit mathematician, Orazio Grassi, professor at the Collegio Romano itself.

The foundation stone was laid on August 2, 1626, four years later, a delay which was caused by the fact that a section of the buildings belonging to the Roman College had to be dismantled. The old church was eventually demolished in 1650 to make way for the massive Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola, which was begun in 1626 and finished only at the end of the century. In striking contrast to the earlier Church of the Annunciation, which occupied only a small section of the Collegio Romano, the Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola took up a quarter of the entire block when it was completed.

The church was opened for public worship only in 1650, at the occasion of the Jubilee of 1650. The final solemn consecration of the church was celebrated only in 1722 by Cardinal Antonfelice Zondadari. The church’s entrance faces the Rococo Place of San Ignazio was planned by the architect Filippo Raguzzini.

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Andrea Pozzo, a Jesuit lay brother, painted the grandiose fresco that stretches across the nave ceiling (after 1685). The fresco celebrates the work of Saint Ignatius and the Society of Jesus in the world, presenting the saint welcomed into paradise by Christ and the Virgin Mary and surrounded by allegorical representations of all four continents.

Pozzo’s work seems to visually dissolve the actual surface of the nave’s barrel vault, arranging a perspectival projection to make an observer see a huge and lofty sky filled with floating figures.

A marble disk set into the middle of the nave floor marks the ideal spot from which observers might fully experience the illusion.

A second marker in the nave floor further east provides the ideal vantage point for the trompe l’oeil painting on canvas that covers the crossing and depicts a tall, ribbed and coffered dome. The cupola one expects to see here was never built and in its place, in 1685, Andrea Pozzo supplied a painting on canvas with a perspectival projection of a cupola. Destroyed in 1891, the painting was subsequently replaced.

Pozzo also frescoed the pendentives in the crossing with Old Testament figures: Judith, David, Samson, and Jaele.

Pozzo also painted the frescoes in the eastern apse depicting the life and apotheosis of St Ignatius. Pozzo is also responsible for the fresco in the conch depicting St. Ignatius Healing the Pestilent.

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It is, of course, the depiction of the American continent that delights me the most. I never tire of craning my neck to look up at this masterpiece.

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