Rome: Vincenzo Mariotti, 1697.
Single sheet etching: 38 x 63 cm. First Issue. Signed in the lower margin “Vincentius Mariottus Romanus delin. et sculpsit Romae, Cum superiorum Facultate” and, in the image, along the base of the pedestal, “Andreas Puteus Soc. Iesu Pictor et Architectus inv. an. 1693” and higher up, “Io. Baps Gaullus Inv. et pin. An. 1685”. A fine copy with good margins, two mended tears in the margins (not entering the plate).
A splendid, large etching showing the chapel of Sant’ Ignazio in the left transept of il Gesù, the mother church of the Jesuit Order. The chapel, which houses the body of Ignatius, was designed by the lay Jesuit Andrea Pozzo (1642-1709). It features marble sculptures by Pierre II Le Gros’ (1666-1719) and Jean-Baptist Théodon (1645-1713), and Le Gros’ magnificent silver and bronze statue of Saint Ignatius. The sarcophagus holding Ignatius’ remains is situated at the base of the monument.
The copper plate for this engraving, preserved in the Calcografia di Roma, was commissioned on 20 May 1695, when Pozzo won the competition to remodel the altar, and was printed in 1697 (although the chapel would not be finished until 1704.)
Pozzo’s chapel, a tour-de-force of marble, bronze, silver, gold, and lapis lazuli, is a masterpiece of the high Baroque and reflects the artist’s experience as a theatrical designer and master of trompe l’oeil effects. In the chapel’s finished form, the statue of the saint was concealed by a painting (attributed to Pozzo) of Ignatius kneeling before Christ. A mechanism allowed the painting to be lowered, revealing the resplendent, larger-than-life statue.
The cult statue of Ignatius is accompanied by gilt-bronze and marble reliefs illustrating scenes from Loyola's ministry. The central aedicule is flanked by two large marble sculptural groups, Religion Overthrowing Heresy and Hatred (by Le Gros) and Triumph of Faith over Idolatry (by Théodon).
Today, much of the décor of the chapel, including the statue of Ignatius, is a 19th c. reconstruction, the precious materials of the original (depicted in this print) having been plundered by Napoleon in 1798.
“The church of Il Gesù in Rome is the mother church of the Society of Jesus, the religious order founded by Ignatius of Loyola in 1540 in the charged religious and political climate of the incipient Counter-Reformation. This was a period when the Catholic Church undertook to reassert its authority and hegemony in the wake of grievous challenges posed by the Protestant Reformation in the north, the ongoing Turkish threat from the east, and the cataclysmic sack of Rome—the seat of papal authority—by rampaging Imperial troops in 1527. Rising in the very center of the city in the shadow of the ancient Forum and Capitoline Hill, its imposing profile dominating the surrounding urban landscape, the Gesù was intended as a formidable symbol of the Church resurgent, and a testament to the power and prestige of the new Jesuit order.
“The Gesù’s great benefactor was the immensely wealthy and powerful Cardinal Alessandro Farnese (1520-1589), grandson of Pope Paul III (r. 1534-1549), who funded its construction and, with a frequent disregard for the Jesuits’ expressed preferences, dictated many of its architectural features. His beneficence is recorded on the façade in the commemorative inscription that surmounts the shield with the IHS Christogram, symbol of the Society of Jesus, over the central portal (the name FARNESIVS, not accidentally, hovering directly above it). The Gesù was understood by contemporaries to be a Farnese “property”—the inscription on Brambilla’s engraving refers to it as the “Farnese Temple” and the Farnese heraldic fleur-de-lis is ubiquitous in the interior and exterior—and was regarded as such by Cardinal Farnese himself, who is buried before the high altar.” (Linda Wolk-Simon, Director and Chief Curator, Fairfield University Art Museum, "Art of the Gesù exhibition", 2018)
The planning stages for the church began in 1550. Work on the church began in 1568, under the patronage of Cardinal Alessandro Farnese. The architect chosen for the project was Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola (1507-1573), who directed construction of the church until his death. Given that Cardinal Farnese was enthusiastically in favor of Vignola's design for the church (which the Jesuit Order had reluctantly accepted), his decision in 1571 to have a façade executed based on a design by Giacomo Della Porta must have aroused surprise.
Della Porta also took over as overseer of construction following Vignola's death, and was responsible for the church's barrel vault (both the façade and the vault were completed in 1577), and the ongoing construction until completion of the church in 1584. Della Porta made Il Gesù’s façade dramatic and lively by gradually increasing the number of architectural elements toward the center of his design, thus creating a sense of tension released by entrance into the building’s seemingly vast interior.
“The façade is as bold as the plan, although it has its earlier sources. The paired pilasters and broken architrave on the lower story are clearly derived from the colossal order on the exterior of St. Peter's, and with good reason, for it was Della Porta who completed Michelangelo's dome. In the upper story the same pattern recurs on a somewhat smaller scale, with four instead of six pairs of supports. The difference in width is bridged by two scroll-shaped buttresses. This novel device, also taken from Michelangelo, forms a graceful transition to the large pediment crowning the facade, which retains the classic proportions of Renaissance architecture (the height equals the width).
“What is fundamentally new here is the integration of all the parts into one whole. Della Porta, freed from classicistic scruples by his allegiance to Michelangelo, gave the same vertical rhythm to both stories of the facade. This rhythm is obeyed by all the horizontal members (note the broken entablature), but the horizontal divisions in turn determine the size of the vertical members (hence no colossal order). Equally important is the emphasis on the main portal: its double frame—two pediments resting on coupled pilasters and columns—projects beyond the rest of the facade and gives strong focus to the entire design. Not since Gothic architecture has the entrance to a church received such a dramatic concentration of features, attracting the attention of the beholder outside the building much as the concentrated light beneath the dome channels that of the worshiper inside.”(Britannica).
Richard Bosel & L. Salviucci Insolera, 'AP pittore e architetto Gesuita', Rome 2010, cat.03.05 e 08.07.