Fra Andrea Pozzo (1642-1709) was a master of ceiling decoration. He was monk of the Jesuit order. He was able make ceilings seem to “extend” so convincingly because he was a master of perspective (in fact, he understood the use and application of perspective in art so well that he wrote a very influential treatise on the topic). Using his knowledge on perspective and painting, Pozzo skillfully designed and executed the vast ceiling fresco Glorification of Saint Ignatius for the church of Sant’Ignazio in Rome.
The church of Sant’Ignazio in Rome was a very important church because it was dedicated to the founder of the Jesuit order, Saint Ignatius. The Jesuits played a major role during the Counter-Reformation, sending many missionaries outside of Europe, to the New World and to Asia.
In this impressive ceiling painting, Pozzo created the illusion that Heaven is opening up above the viewer in the nave of the church, who, at the time of this painting, would have been a worshipper. To accomplish this huge feat, Pozzo took advantage of the church’s architecture, painting an extension of it in the ceiling. As Heaven and Earth blend, Christ receives Saint Ignatius. Figures from the four corners of the world, scattered throughout the painting, watch this event. In the nave of the church, a disk marks the spot where the viewer should stand in order to experience the entire illusion.
I am very amazed by Pozzo’s skills. Evidently, he understood perspective very well and was able to apply it effectively in his paintings as well. He could not have achieve such an illusion without his understanding of perspective. Pozzo’s painting really gives the appearance that the roof has been lifted off. I am in awe of the ceiling just seeing it in photos. I can’t even imagine the experience of standing on the disk in the nave and seeing it above my head in person.
* To see another painting such as the one above, in which the ceiling seems to open up towards the heavens, check out the work of Andrea Mantegna.