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Europe 1300 - 1800

Pozzo, Glorification of Saint Ignatius, Sant'Ignazio

Fra Andrea Pozzo, Glorification of Saint Ignatius, ceiling fresco in the nave of Sant'Ignazio, Rome, 1691-94 Speakers: Dr. Beth Harris & Dr. Steven Zucker. Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

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Video transcript

(lighthearted music0 Male Voiceover: We're standing on a small circle of yellow stone in the middle of the floor of the nave of Saint Ignatius in Rome, and we're looking up at a miraculous ceiling. Female Voiceover: It really is miraculous. As we look up, we see the architecture, the plasters, the columns. The colored marble of the nave walls continue up into the ceiling, and it looks so real, but we know that it's paint. Male Voiceover: That transition between the actual stone architecture and the painted surface, it seems that its rise up infinitely into the heavens is imperceptible. I can't always make out where one stops and one begins. Female Voiceover: No, it's impossible. Male Voiceover: Even when the artist, Pozzo, is rendering figures that we know are simply paint, for instance, the angels, there is a kind of veracity, there's a kind of physicality, even as they hover. Look, for instance, at the red angel. That wing is simply coming towards us. Female Voiceover: We know that the figures have to be paint because they're not actually flying around, but it's almost impossible not to be absorbed into this illusion that we're looking up at Saint Ignatius being welcomed into heaven by Christ himself. Male Voiceover: Well, this is the point, that this erasure of the distinction between our physical world and the miraculous world of heaven, this brings us into proximity with the divine in the most direct way. Female Voiceover: Well, it's as though where a heavenly miracle is appearing before us as though we are having a spiritual vision. Male Voiceover: This is the counter-reformation. The Jesuits are at the center of the attempt by the Catholic church to reclaim their primacy. They're with the defenders and the propagators of the Catholic faith. Female Voiceover: Right, the idea of defending the faith against the Protestants at this moment, and also areas of the world that were not Christianized, and bringing them into the fold of the church, enhancing the power of the church. Male Voiceover: In fact, Pozzo, the artist, has really made that clear by representing the four great continents of the earth, Asia, the Americas, Europe, and Africa; and so this notion of the expansion of Catholicism to be come this universal truth is central to this painting. Female Voiceover: That was really what Loyola's intention was in founding the Jesuit order. Male Voiceover: What we have in this painting is a reminder of just how important it was to reassert the Catholic faith's belief in the miraculous. Female Voiceover: As we stand in the [neath], I almost feel my body rising toward the ceiling, because as we look up, we see figures who are also moving toward heaven, and I think that's something that [proregard] always does weather we're looking at Caravaggio, or Bernini, or here with Pozzo, is breaking down that barrier between our world and the world of the heavenly. Male Voicoever: In fact, what you describe is expressed directly by the artist, Pozzo, in a letter where he details what the intent of this painting was. Female Voiceover: He wrote about how he represented rays sent from heaven, caught in a shield inscribed with the name of Jesus, used to light the flames of divine love in a golden cauldron, used to be distributed by angels. On the opposite side of the vault, avenging angels threaten those who resist the light of faith with divine wrath in the form of thunder bolts and javelins. I think that this quote show us the two sides of the counter-reformation. One is to reaffirm the faith of those who believe, and the other is to attack those who went against the church. Male Voiceover: Just as the narrative of the painting describes the intention of the Jesuits, the style of the painting is a beautiful description of the concerns of the Baroque. Look at the sense of energy, the sense of theatricality, the sense of movement, the dynamism. You were mentioning the avenging angel, and look, for instance, at the diagonal of that javelin. There's nothing in this painting that is static; even God is full of movement. Female Voiceover: That's absolutely true. Even the clouds are moving before us as though we were looking up into a real sky with wind and atmosphere. Male Voiceover: So, the Baroque borrows the naturalism of the High Renaissance, but activates it and puts it to a new purpose, which is here, the reaffirming of the Catholic faith. Female Voiceover: We've reached a natural end point that began with the invention of perspective and the illusion that perspective creates, beginning with Masaccio's Holy Trinity. Here we stand in one point in the church and that whole illusion comes together for us and merges the physical with the spiritual. Male Voiceover: An important point of the art and the architecture is the blur the lines between reality and the miraculous, and to make possible the divine in our world, to make it seem as if we can pass easily from one to the other. Metamorphosis is central here; the metamorphosis of the soul is in a sense represented through the metamorphosis of material. Female Voiceover: As we walk through the church after looking up at the ceiling, I find myself questioning the reality of the space I'm walking through. I start wondering if it, too, is an illusion. (lighthearted music)