POZZO, Andrea
(b. 1642, Trento, d. 1709, Wien)

Altar of St Ignatius Loyola

Marble, bronze
Il Gesù, Rome

The most important sculptural commissions of the late seventeenth century in Rome came from the Jesuits, who embarked upon the transformation of the Gesù and sant'Ignazio in the full flood of triumphalism in the 1680s and 1690s. The stimulus came from a gifted Jesuit lay brother with a flair for illusionistic painting and design, Andrea Pozzo. In 1695, Pozzo obtained the commission for one of the most splendidly extravagant of Baroque altars, that of the Jesuits' founder, St Ignatius Loyola, in the church of the Gesù.

Embracing the whole of the left transept, the altar assumes the form of an undulating aedicule which breaks open to reveal a statue of the saint (actually a stucco copy of the original, silver and gilded copper statue, destroyed in 1798) beneath a representation of the Trinity; this central group is surrounded by gilt-bronze and marble reliefs illustrating scenes from Loyola's ministry as well as large marble tableaux of the triumphs of Faith and Religion. The whole is further enriched by the profusion of rare marbles and lapis lazuli as well as gold and silver, all intended to evoke admiration and wander.

Some one hundred artists and artisans worked on the altar, and the most important commissions went to two Frenchmen. Jean-Baptist Théodon (1645-1713) and Pierre Le Gros the Younger (1666-1719). Théodon executed the over life-size marble group of the Triumph of Faith over Idolatry and Le Gros the Religion Overthrowing Heresy and Hatred, both archetypal images of the Church Triumphant. The initial conception for each sculpture would have been supplied by Pozzo, whose earlier fresco in Sant'Ignazio essayed similar themes, but the sculptors must have been given a fairly free hand in realizing such abstract ideas.