The Jesuit church of Sant’ Ignazio di Loyola is home to one of the most jaw-dropping frescoes in Rome.
The Glory of St Ignatius (c. 1688-94), which fills the entire vault of the nave, is the work of Andrea Pozzo (1642-1709), a painter and mathematician, who was also a Jesuit lay-brother. When viewed from the correct spot, which is marked by a small marble disc in the pavement, the perspective takes your breath away!
At either end of the ceiling are groups of angels starting a fire. At the altar end the inscription reads: IGNEM VENI METTERE IN TERRA (I came to send fire on the earth), while at the other end it reads: ET QUID VOLO NISI UT ACCENDETUR (And what do I want except that it burns). Ignem is, of course, a pun on the name Ignatius.
In addition to depicting the apotheosis of St Ignatius, the fresco also exalts the activity of the Jesuit Order in the four corners of the world with allegories of the four continents then known: Africa, Asia, America and Europe.
Pozzo's skills as a master of perspective came in handy when he was asked to paint a fake dome. The church was designed to have a dome over the crossing, but money ran out and so Pozzo came up with a painting that creates the illusion of a dome!
My name is David Lown and I am an art historian from Cambridge, England. Since 2001 I have lived in Italy, where I run private walking tours of Rome.
Search Walks in Rome: