The Chapel of St Ignatius, which occupies the left transept of the Chiesa del Gesu, was designed by the artist and lay-Jesuit, Fra’ Andrea Pozzo (1642-1709). Pozzo, who is one of the less well-known heroes of the Baroque, was joined by more than 100 artists and artisans, who worked together from 1695 to 1699.
The Holy Trinity
The altar is crowned with the Holy Trinity. The statue of Christ is by Lorenzo Ottoni (1658-1736), while that of God the Father is the work of Leonardo Retti. The blue globe, between the two figures, was once thought to be the largest piece of lapis lazuli in the world. It is, in fact, a sphere of travertine with only a veneer of lapis lazuli.
Statue of St Ignatius
A statue of St Ignatius, the work of Luigi Acquisti (1745-1823),stands hidden behind the altarpiece. The altarpiece depicts the Commission of St Ignatius by Christ and has been ascribed to Pozzo. Pozzo also designed the mechanism by which the painting can be lowered to reveal the statue. This little piece of Baroque theatre still takes place each day at 17.30.
Altar rail detail
The extravagantly ornate bronze altar rail was designed by Pozzo, modelled by the French sculptor Pierre Legros the Younger (1666-1719), and cast by Carlo Spagna. A multitude of putti (all, bar one, with their modesty subtly preserved) frolic between the ornate lamps. One putto holds a reference to the ‘Spiritual Exercises’ of St Ignatius Loyola, a highly popular series of meditations and prayers, which he composed between 1522 and 1524.
Triumph of Religion Over Heresy by Pierre Legros the Younger
The dynamic sculptural group, to the right of the altar, is the masterpiece of Pierre Le Gros, and depicts Faith Triumphing over Heresy and Hatred. Religion hurls down thunderbolts at Hatred, who is personified by an old woman, while Heresy sprawls vanquished under her foot. A little cherub gleefully tears his heretical tracts to pieces. If you look closely at the spines of the books on the right, you will see the names of Martin Luther and John Calvin, two of the great Protestant reformers. This was not a time of inter-faith dialogue!
The Triumph of Faith Over Idolatry by Jean-Baptiste Theodon
The sculptural group to the left of the altar depicts the Triumph of Faith over Idolatry by Jean-Baptiste Théodon (1645-1713). Faith is welcoming a barbarian king, whom Idolatry is trying to stop.
Approval of the Society of Jesus by Pope Pauli III, Angelo De Rossi
The Canonisation of St Ignatius by Bernardino Cametti
Above these sculptures, and flanking the altarpiece, are two marble bas-reliefs. They depict Pope Paul III Approving the Societyof Jesus by Angelo De Rossi and The Canonisation of St Ignatius by Bernardino Cametti.
The fresco of the Apotheosis of St Ignatius (1685), in the vault, is by Il Baciccia.