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Thursday, July 2, 2015

Andrea Pozzo

The Apotheosis of Saint Ignatius (nave and apse), 1685-94, Andrea Pozzo

The cover of a second edition copy
of Pozzo's Perspective Pictures and
Architecture, dating from 1741.
One would think, in pursuing the development of linear perspective down through the ages from Pompeian frescoes to what I taught for twenty-six years in a public school, that the skills involved in creating two-dimensional illusions on paper of three-dimensional objects or buildings was the sole, proprietary realm of artists (painters in particular). To some extent, in the early centuries, it was. Architects built buildings, artists drew them, making them natural looking using (mostly) one or two-point perspective. If you study the architectural drawings of virtually all the Renaissance architects, you find they mostly drew floor plans or flat elevations, only occasionally, and very timidly at that, making any effort to render depth. The fact is it took a painter to teach architects how to use linear perspective. The Baroque, artist, Andrea Pozzo, literally "wrote the book" (two actually) on the subject.

Andrea Pozzo, self-portrait, 17th-century
Pozzo's original tome was published in two volumes, the first in 1693, the second in 1698. The title page (above, left) is from a 1741 edition published after his death. The work may well be the earliest manual on perspective for artists and especially architects, having been reprinted into many editions, well into the 19th century. Thanks to Pozzo's Jesuit connection, his textbook has been translated from the original Latin and Italian into numerous languages such as French, German, English, and Chinese. Pozzo's 1685-94 The Apotheosis of Saint Ignatius (top) is a tour de force in illusionistic architectural painting. Located in Rome's Jesuit church of Sant'Ignazio, it would seem to indicate he knew what he was doing. The ceiling is flat, by the way.

Allegory of the Jesuits' Missionary Work (detail), 1691-1694, fresco
(Sant'Ignazio, Rome),  Andrea Pozzo
Andrea Pozzo was born in 1642. He grew up in the Austrian-ruled city of Trento (now in northern Italy). His education from high school through most of his early years was purely Jesuit. He passed through various apprentice workshops in Como and Milan, including that of Andrea Sacchi who apparently taught him High Baroque painting and drawing techniques, which would account for his consummate familiarity with linear perspective. In 1665, at the age of twenty-three, Andrea Pozzo joined the Jesuit order as a lay brother. His early paintings show traces of influence from the Lombard School and his admiration for Peter Paul Rubens. At the time, the Jesuit order was involved in something of an "edifice complex" with numerous church going up all over northern Italy. Their walls were seen as acutely in need of decoration. Pozzo, one of their own, was the man for the job.

False dome, Glorification of St. Francis Xavier,1676, Andrea Pozzo
Andrea Pozzo was frequently employed by the Jesuits to decorate churches and buildings including those of Modena, Bologna and Arezzo. Having "cut his teeth" on small projects under the direction of others. In 1676, Pozzo got his first big fresco commission to decorate the interior of San Francis Xavier church (above) in Mondovì (far western Italy, almost in France). In this church, Pozzo's later illusionistic techniques can be seen in areas of fake gilding, his depiction of bronze-colored statues, marbled columns, and a trompe l'oeil dome on a flat ceiling, all peopled with foreshortened figures in architectural settings. The colors employed and the architectural elements he devised are little short of phantasmagorical. Here was a rising young star on his way to bigger and better things.

Sant'Ignazio painted dome, 1685, Andrea Pozzo. If you think you know perspective, check out the drawing Pozzo worked from (above, right).
In 1681, Pozzo was called to Rome by Giovanni Paolo Oliva, Superior General of the Jesuits. Initially, the budding young ceiling painter was relegated to designing and painting stage sets for religious pageants. In Rome, his first major commission came in painting the ceiling of the corridor linking the Church of the Gesu to the apartment where St. Ignatius had lived. So well received was this effort that Pozzo was assigned the unenviable task of applying his illusionary perspective skills to canvas which was then glued to the flat ceiling. (This church was originally intended to have a real dome, but donor financing fell through.)

Trompe l'oeil ceiling fresco, 1703, Andrea Pozzo, Jesuit Church Vienna
Now at the height of his career, Pozzo moved on to painting frescoes and illusory domes in Turin, Mondovì, Modena, Montepulciano and Arezzo. In 1703, he was called to Vienna to paint the Trompe l'oeil fresco ceiling of the Jesuit Church there (above). About the same time, Pozzo was being recognized as something of an architect as well, perhaps as much for his impressive perspective drawings as for any traditional architectural talents. His single-nave Jesuit church in Dubrovnik (below) though not completed until, 1725, well after his death in 1709, indicates an instinctive understanding and appreciation for the Baroque details transformed from his many perspective drawings to the real thing. In effect, Andrea Pozzo taught architects how to draw like painters.

Dubrovnik's single-nave Jesuit church,
Andrea Pozzo, completed in 1725.


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