The views of ancient and modern Rome by Giuseppe Vasi usually focused on the monuments of the Eternal City and they rarely sketched
daily life; this 1759 etching is an exception to the previous statement because it gives relevance to a luxury coach with a collapsed axle; maybe Vasi had in mind an actual event which involved someone he knew,
but in the text accompanying the plate he did not provide any clue to explain his choice.
Traffic in XVIIIth century Rome is a page with a small selection of traffic scenes taken from Vasi's etchings.
The view is taken from the green dot in the 1748 map below. In the description below the plate Vasi made reference to: 1) Part of Collegio Romano; 2) Oratorio del Caravita; 3) Buildings forming a theatre opposite the church. 1) is shown in another page. The map shows also 4) S. Ignazio. The dotted line in the small map delineates the borders among Rione Pigna (lower section), Rione Colonna (upper section) and Rione Trevi (right side).
The view in July 2010
The original project for the fašade of S. Ignazio was modified during its construction and the planned height was raised by some 15 feet. The tall fašade was completed in 1650 and it would have required a large square in order to be properly viewed. The Jesuits who owned the church asked to be allowed to pull down existing buildings to create that square, but in 1727 they had to accept the decision by Pope Benedict XIII who authorized the redesign of the area with only a small square opposite the church.
From the point of view chosen by Vasi it is not possible to see the entire fašade of S. Ignazio and Oratorio del Caravita (in the narrow street leading to Piazza Sciarra) at the same time.
Detail of the fašade; the inscription celebrates the role of Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi, nephew of Pope Gregory XV
In 1562-1566 a church was built on the site of today's S. Ignazio;
it was dedicated to S. Maria Annunziata and its fašade can be seen in a 1588 Guide to Rome. The church however did not meet the
requirements of Collegio Romano, a Jesuit public school which was attended by some 2,000 students and in 1626 it was pulled down to make room for a larger church. The construction was financed by
Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi. The new church was dedicated to St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order, who was canonized in 1622.
Orazio Grassi, who taught mathematics at Collegio Romano, designed the new building and his project was endorsed by a commission which included Carlo Maderno, the leading architect of the time. The fašade follows the pattern established by Il Ges¨, the first large church of the Jesuits.
(left) Model of the planned dome; (right) painted dome by Andrea Pozzo seen from the nave
The initial design of the church included a dome, but when in 1685 the rest of the building was completed, the Jesuits had not enough money left for its construction and in addition there were some worries about the solidity of the walls which should have supported it. At this point Andrea Pozzo, a Jesuit Brother who had acquired fame by designing stages for religious representations and by decorating the rooms where St. Ignatius lived at Casa Professa, suggested to temporarily complete the interior of the church by painting an illusionistic view of the dome on canvas. His knowledge of perspective led to a very successful result and the matter was settled for good.
(left) Another view of the painted dome; (right) pendentives by Andrea Pozzo: (above) Jael and Sisara; (below) Judith and Holofernes (see other scenes of Torture and Death in the Churches of Rome)
In the nave a circular slab of yellow marble indicates the point selected by Pozzo to develop his calculations; moving away from there, one gradually notices that the church has a rather unusual dome. Pozzo completed the illusionistic dome by decorating its pendentives. Very often the four pendentives of a dome were decorated with frescoes or mosaics depicting the Four Evangelists (as at S. Pietro), but Pozzo selected other subjects. He surely took this decision with the agreement of the Superior General of the Society of Jesus, yet many criticized the choice to portray Biblical heroines in the act of killing enemy generals in their sleep. The meaning of the paintings was to highlight the victory of Religion over Heresy.
Details of the nave ceiling by Andrea Pozzo: (left) first part of a quotation from Luke 12:49 "Ignem veni mittere in terra"; (right) Allegory of America
The church seemed to be purposely somewhat darkened,
so that I could not well see the details of the ornamentation, except the frescoes on the ceiling of the
nave, which were very brilliant, and done in so
effectual a style, that I really could not satisfy myself
that some of the figures did not actually protrude
from the ceiling; in short, that they were not
coloured bas-reliefs, instead of frescoes. No words
can express the beautiful effect, in an upholstery
point of view, of this kind of decoration.
Nathaniel Hawthorne - French and Italian Notebooks - 1883.
The Jesuits were so satisfied with the fake dome that they asked Pozzo to decorate the large ceiling of the nave (you can see the entire fresco in a page with other ceilings). It depicts the Glory/Ascension of St. Ignatius and the activities of the Order.
I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled!, a quotation from Luke 12:49 (ESV), was the theological background out of which St. Ignatius told his Jesuits to Go, set the world on fire and in flame when they departed for foreign missions. The Jesuit missionary presence in the world was celebrated by the depiction of allegories of the four continents known at the time.
Because of the size of the ceiling Pozzo understood he needed to guide the viewer and help him in fixing his attention on the various scenes. He did so by painting a gigantic open building having two triumphal arches at its long ends. It is regarded as the finest example of quadratura, a deceptive technique based on feigned architecture and scientific calculations.
In 1693 Pozzo summarized his studies on perspective in Perspectiva pictorum and architectorum, a text which had a great influence on the decoration of XVIIIth century palaces, e.g. the Belvedere Palace in Vienna, and churches throughout Europe.
An impressive altar was dedicated to St. Aloysius Gonzaga, a Jesuit who died in 1591 at the age of 23 while caring for the sick during a pestilence; he was canonized in 1605, before the founder of his Order (St. Ignatius of Loyola, canonized 1622). Pozzo emphasized the illusionistic effect of the ceiling above the altar by positioning St. Mary Magdalene de' Pazzi (1566-1607), a Carmelite nun known for her repeated ecstasies, outside the scene.
The fame acquired by Pozzo was such that he was asked to decorate other Jesuit churches, as at Frascati; in 1703 he went to Vienna where he decorated Jesuitenkirche. Fake domes were painted also by other artists e.g. at Gozo, one of the Maltese Islands.
Pozzo was involved in the design of the altar, but perhaps because the church was already too full of colours it was decided to decorate it with a large marble relief (you may wish to see a page on these altarpieces). Piere Legros (or Le Gros) was a French sculptor who attended the courses of Accademia di Francia. In 1695 he prepared a clay model for a statue (Religion Crushes Heresy) for the Altar of St. Ignatius at il Ges¨, which he eventually made in marble, thus becoming a favourite artist of the Jesuits.
In 1709 Legros received a very important commission by the Ludovisi who wanted to build an imposing funerary monument to Pope Gregory XV and Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi. It was completed by Pierre-Etienne Monnot, another French sculptor, after Legros had a rift with the Jesuits in 1713. The image shown in the background of this page shows a detail of the monument. Another detail showing the tomb of Cardinal Ludovisi can be seen in a page covering Symbols of Death in Baroque Rome.
(left) Oratorio del Caravita; (right) detail of the fašade with dedicatory inscription to St. Francis Xavier
The oratory was built in 1630-1633 at the initiative of Father Pietro Gravita, a Jesuit in charge of Missione Urbana i.e. of preaching to the farm labourers of the Roman Campagna, especially to those who worked on a seasonal basis. The oratory became known as Oratorio del Caravita, a corruption of Father Gravita's surname; the building was used for musical performances, educational plays and the worship practice known as Macchina delle Quarant'Ore.
(left) Interior (prior to a meeting of the Caravita Community - it opens in another window); (right) XVIth century wooden crucifix
A famous educational play which was performed in this oratory was Dialogo tra il Sapiente e l'Ignorante in which the two actors impersonating a savant and an uneducated man explained the basic aspects of religion and provided the audience with simple to understand answers to their questions. This method was not developed by the Jesuits, but they found ways to make these plays very amusing.
(left) XVIIIth century baptismal font with a crab holding a crucifix, a reference to a miracle which occurred to St. Francis Xavier; (right) Allegory of Africa by Lazzaro Baldi ca. 1673
The houses which stood opposite the church were redesigned in 1727-1728 by Filippo Raguzzini, the preferred architect of Pope Benedict XIII;
they did not belong to important families and they were split into flats. Raguzzini arranged them in a way that they resemble the stage of a theatre.
The buildings surrounding the square were regarded as examples of bad taste by Francesco Milizia, a neoclassic art historian, and foreigners before the XXth century did not talk about them in their travel accounts, but today's guidebooks describe the square as delightful and a "theatrical" masterpiece.
Excerpts from Giuseppe Vasi 1761 Itinerary related to this page:
Il Card. Lodovico Ludovisi nipote di Gregorio XV. eresse questo vasto tempio lĺan.
1626. col disegno del P. Grassi Gesuita, cavato quello del Domenichino, e dell'Algardi,
di questo per˛ Ŕ disegno il prospetto. E' notabile, che cavandosi i fondamenti verso la
chiesa di s. Macuto, fu trovata la statua di Minerva, e fu ancora scoperto parte di un
acquedotto, che fu creduto dell'acqua vergine; e perchŔ era incrostato di marmi, e ornato
di colonne, e di statue, si credette, che ivi facesse la principale sua comparsa.