Optical Illusion in the Dome of Saint Ignatius

Optical Illusion in the Dome of Saint Ignatius

The Church of Saint Ignatius of Loyola is the second Jesuit church of Rome and it is a stunning baroque building, located in the homonymous square. It is dedicated to Saint Ignatius, founder of the Jesuits and the Society of Jesus. It was built in 1626 by the Jesuit Orazio Grassy for the will of the Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi. 

The artist who conceived and directed the decoration of the church was a specialist in painting optical illusions. He marked on the floor the most appropriate spots to admire his work. We are talking of Fra Andrea Pozzo, the famous author of trompe-l’oeil frescoes. 

The first point marked with a golden disk offers the best view of the vault, where Pozzo built another temple on top on the real one, with columns rising up in the void. 

At the center, Saint Ignatius ascends to heaven under the gaze of Christ crucified and four figures that symbolize the continents then known. 

The painting would represent the Jesuit epic in the conquest of the four continents. Going a little further, on the floor another point is marked. From there you have to look up towards the dome and you will see it soaring above the ceiling, towards the altar. Actually, after a few steps, you realize that the dome is not real, but a successful pictorial fiction.

It is said that the inhabitants of the neighborhood themselves asked not to build a dome that would have taken away the sun from them. Not satisfied, Andrea Pozzo put four false straight columns into the apse in a curved surface. Between tricks and pictorial virtuosities, the Church of Saint Ignazio presents itself as one of the most representative of the spirit of Baroque, the artistic movement that tended to amaze the observer with acute expedients.