Wednesday, June 04, 2008

"Baroque Cinema" Restored to Il Gesù, Rome

Recently the altarpiece of the altar of St. Ignatius of Loyola by Andrea Pozzo in the church of the Most Holy Name of Jesus in Rome - commonly known as "Il Gesù" - has been restored. The interesting thing is not just the painting itself, but that the baroque machinery which was designed for it has also been put to use again. The painting is covering the famous gilded Legros statue of St. Ignatius, but can mechanically be lowered to reveal the statue. Underneath the statue are the remains of St Ignatius in an urn. Pozzo had been given the commission for the altar of St. Ignatius in 1695.

(Click on the picture to view a - much - larger version)

Here is an NLM translation of an interview which the Italian edition of Radio Vatican conducted with the rector of "Il Gesù":

Presentation of the Restoration of the Altarpiece by Andrea Pozzo in the Church of "Il Gesù" in Rome

The fascination, the marvel and the scenography of the baroque come to life again in the church of "Il Gesù" in Rome. Yesterday [22 April], on the occasion of the Feast of Mary Mater Societatis which commemorates the canonical birth of the Society of Jesus in 1541, the presentation took place of the restoration of the altarpiece with the mission of St. Ignatius and of the machine which moves the canvas of Brother Andrea Pozzo. In the afternoon, there was a Mass celebrated by Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Commission for Cultural Heritage of the Church. Anyone can admire, accompanied by sound and light, the Baroque machine of the altar of St. Ignatius each day at 5:30 pm in the Church of "Il Gesù". Paul Ondarza interviewed Father Massimo Taggi , rector of the Church of "Il Gesù".

Fr Taggi: What we have restored is unique ... the machine is like a cinematographic device for that epoque, and had an entirely didactic character. So there is the painting by Pozzo which shows the mission that St. Ignatius receives and then, when the statue is uncovered, St. Ignatius who has accomplished his service and enters into the glory.

Q: The presentation of the restoration coincides with the celebration of the feast of "Mary Mater societatis" ...

Fr Taggi: It's practically the day of the effective birth of the Society of Jesus: 22 April, 1541. By taking the first vows in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, Ignatius and his companions form the first nucleus of the Society.

Q: What did Brother Andrea Pozzo want to communicate with this picture?

Fr Taggi: He wanted to communicate the vocation and the mission of St. Ignatius. In the picture one sees Ignatius receiving this mandate. Brother Pozzo was a Jesuit and hence refers to the spiritual exercises.

Q: Since then centuries have passed. Does this painting still speak to us today?

Fr Taggi: Certainly it does: the classical things always speak to us. But is not perceived in the same way by the people of that time and today. That is why we have ventured to install an artistic lighting which in those days was unthinkable, but which allows today's visitors to enjoy the work of art.

Q: In addition, here we are in a church and to art is joined the fascination of the sacred and of prayer ...

Fr Taggi: That is right, yes. Many people also come here for activities that are in between culture and prayer. A church like this, which is a from a few centuries ago, attracts a continuous flow of faithful, tourists, schoolchildren, students ... Precisely one of the things we are trying to promote is to send a message through culture, but to talk - at the bottom - also about the reality of the Faith.

The picture above was taken by Fr Doll SJ at the General Congregation of the Society of Jesus earlier this year, where the restored altarpiece and machinery had a "preview".

Some more information - in Italian - can be found at the official site of "Il Gesù" here.

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