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Page revised in March 2010.
Chiesa del Gesù (Book 7) (Map C3) (Day 1) (View C7) (Rione Pigna)
In this page:
The plate by Giuseppe Vasi
Chiesa del Gesù
Palazzo Petroni, now Cenci Bolognetti
Palazzo Celsi Viscardi
The Plate (No. 135)
Giuseppe Vasi was personally involved in the marketing of his etchings and he did not refrain from making some small adjustments to the actual views in order to improve sales. The street opened by Pope Paul III to provide an appropriate entrance to Piazza del Campidoglio for a visit by Emperor Charles V, was not aligned with the steps leading to Palazzo Senatorio, but Vasi knew that by showing them and the bell tower of the building, he would have made the view more interesting. In 1756, when he published the etching, the Jesuits were not highly popular in many European countries, so he placed the street leading to Campidoglio at the centre of the view, rather than the Jesuit church.
The view is taken from the green dot in the 1748 map below. In the description below the plate Vasi made reference to: 1) Palazzo Petroni; 2) Street leading to the Campidoglio. The map shows also 3) Chiesa del Gesù; 4) Piazza del Campidoglio; 5) Casa Professa; 6) Palazzo Celsi Viscardi.
Today the street between il Gesù and Palazzo Altieri is very busy and traffic lights are necessary to allow pedestrians safe crossings, but this is the only sign of the present time. The imposing façade of il Gesù was designed by il Vignola and modified by Giacomo Della Porta who also built the dome; the construction was financed by Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, grandson of Pope Paul III; for this reason the church is also known as Tempio Farnesiano (you may wish to see its façade in a 1588 Guide to Rome).
Chiesa del Gesù
In his youth St. Ignatius was a Spanish knight and the order he founded was influenced by his background; Compagnia di Gesù, the Italian name of the order, can also indicate a body of soldiers and the saint himself defined the members of the order as soldiers of God. The Jesuits aimed at defending and propagating the Christian faith; so they were very active as missionaries in America and Asia and they were strong adversaries of Protestantism in Europe.
This introduction explains why il Gesù is not decorated with statues portraying martyrs or ecstatic saints, but rather with dramatic scenes showing the triumph of the Catholic Church over Heresy.
The façade of il Gesù reflects the initial austere Jesuit approach to art, whereas the rich decoration of the interior shows how this approach evolved in the second half of the XVIIth century; the same can be said of S. Ignazio, another large Jesuit church, which has a façade similar to il Gesù and a very richly decorated interior. In 1695-99 Father Andrea Pozzo built an altar dedicated to St. Ignatius by using the most precious stones, including lapis lazuli; the saint was portrayed in a gigantic silver statue which was melted down in 1798 to pay war compensation to France. A side chapel of the transept houses a small painting by Pompeo Batoni, which has become one of the most famous holy pictures.
The most striking feature of il Gesù is its ceiling, not only the central illusionistic painting by Giovanni Battista Gaulli known as il Baciccio, but also the gold and stucco decoration by Antonio Raggi and Leonardo Retti; the three all worked with Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
Read Henry James's account of his visit to il Gesù in 1873.
Read William Dean Howells' account of his visit to il Gesù in 1908.
Between 1599 and 1623 another Farnese cardinal, Odoardo, nephew of Alessandro, provided the Jesuits with appropriate headquarters (Casa Professa); the building designed by Girolamo Rainaldi is very wide, but probably it would have gained by being taller; it must be said that at the time the opposite palace was not yet built. Casa Professa incorporated the small house where St. Ignatius spent his last years.
Palazzo Cenci Bolognetti
Palazzo Petroni, today Cenci Bolognetti, is a minor work by Ferdinando Fuga, who was the preferred architect of Popes Clement XII and Benedict XIV; it reminds of Palazzo Odescalchi, but some details such as the portal are unusual. Roses were the heraldic symbol of the Petroni and Fuga found a way to place many of them in the decoration of the building.
Palazzo Cenci Bolognetti housed the headquarters of Democrazia Cristiana, the main Italian political party, from 1946 to 1992 and therefore Piazza del Gesù was used as a synonym for referring to the party; almost every day Italians were told what happened in Palazzo Cenci Bolognetti.
Palazzo Celsi Viscardi
In the 1880s the narrow street linking Piazza del Gesù with Palazzo Cesarini was enlarged by pulling down the buildings on its northern side. The buildings on its southern side were to a different degree modified to suit the taste of the period. Palazzo Celsi Viscardi retained its previous appearance: the building was designed in 1678 by Giovanni Antonio De Rossi for the Celsi, but the Viscardi, who acquired the palace in the early XVIIIth century, decorated it with their heraldic symbols.
Excerpts from Giuseppe Vasi 1761 Itinerary related to this page: