Situated in the heart of the city in the shadow of the ancient Forum, the Gesù, designed by the Renaissance architects Jacopo Vignola and Giacomo della Porta, is one of the most glorious architectural monuments of Rome. Its resplendent interior is famous for the grand illusionistic fresco of the Triumph of the Holy Name of Jesus (IHS) by Giovanni Battista Gaulli (il Baciccio) in the vault—a soaring vision of an expansive, light filled heaven populated by the blessed from which expelled demons tumble forth. Gaulli was the disciple of the great Barqoue impresario Gian Lorenzo Bernini, who was associated with the Gesù and the Jesuits for much of his life. Early in his career, he carved the marble bust for the tomb of the Jesuit Cardinal and theologian Roberto Bellarmino, and his close friendship with the politically savvy Superior General of the Order, Gian Paolo Oliva, meant that he was deeply involved in the project to decorate the interior of the church. According to his son Domenico, Bernini in his later years regularly attended Mass at the Gesù and was among the faithful who flocked to the church to hear the preached sermons for which it was renowned.
Together these masterpieces tell the fascinating and intertwined stories of the church’s early history and splendid interior embellishment, and the foundational chapters of the Society of Jesus. Within this overarching narrative are a number of “sub-plots” that the exhibition also highlights: the enviable patronage of the powerful Farnese family, who championed the cause of the new order and funded the building of the Gesù (though with vexing strings attached); the long and at times challenging campaign to suitably embellish its austere and barren interior and dedicate its principal altars, and the imperative to formulate a new imagery exalting and promoting the Order’s founders, Ignatius of Loyola and Francis Xavier, following their canonization in 1622. The two other Jesuit ecclesiastical structures founded in Rome in the 17th century, Sant’Ignazio and Sant’Andrea al Quirinale (the latter designed by Bernini) are also part of this presentation.
The exhibition is organized by Linda Wolk-Simon, PhD, Frank and Clara Meditz Director and Chief Curator of the Fairfield University Art Museum.
Distinguished scholars serving on the exhibition planning committee are Christopher M. S. Johns, Norman L. and Roselea J. Goldberg Professor of History of Art, Vanderbilt University; Franco Mormando, Professor of Italian and Chairperson, Department of Romance Languages and Literatures; Boston College; John O’Malley, S. J., University Professor, Department of Theology, Georgetown University; Louise Rice, Associate Professor of Art History, New York University; and Xavier F. Salomon, Peter Jay Sharp Chief Curator, The Frick Collection, New York. Philippe de Montebello, Director Emeritus of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, is Honorary Chair of the exhibition committee.
“If I were still Director of the Metropolitan, I would be jealous of Fairfield doing this show. It’s simply incredible,” de Montebello said. “It brings to the Fairfield University Art Museum some of the greatest artists working in 17th Century Rome.”
An international scholarly symposium generously funded by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation will take place at Fairfield University on April 6, 2017, with a keynote address delivered by John O’Malley, S. J. the previous evening. For the full program and registration information, see the museum website: www.fairfield.edu/museum/gesu/
Other exhibition-related programs and education initiatives include a public lecture series generously supported by the Robert Lehman Foundation.
Art of the Gesù: Bernini and his Age Feb. 1, 5:00 p.m., Register
Inside the 17th-century Gesù: Jesuit History, Saints, Theology, and Science March 6, 5:00 p.m., Register
The Jesuits and the Arts: How and Why It Happened April 5, 5:00 p.m., Register
Musical Performance: Sacred Music in the Age of Bernini April 5, 7:30 p.m.
Bernini’s Rome: The Eternal Feast May 1, 5:00 p.m., Register
Guided tours of the exhibition will be offered for members of the public, school groups, colleges and university students. Private group tours are also available. Consult the website for details.
An exhibition app with audio tour narrated by Paul Lakeland, PhD, professor of Religious Studies and chairman of the Center for Catholic Studies, Fairfield University will be available in the galleries and remotely through the museum website.
In conjunction with the exhibition, the museum is offering a subscription lecture series with Fiona Garland: Going for Baroque—Art in Rome in the Age of Bernini and Caravaggio, Tuesdays, April 24, May 1, and May 8 at 10:00 a.m. in Bellarmine Hall, Museum Classroom.
Harnessing the senses of sight and sound, this theatrical tableau, originally installed in the late 17th century, induced worshippers to “engage in deeper contemplation” in keeping with Jesuit spirituality, as the recently retired rector of the Gesù, Father Daniele Libanori, S.J., explained in an interview in The New York Times in 2008, when the restored apparatus was unveiled. With this presentation, visitors to the exhibition will be able to experience some sense of this marvelous spectacle and appreciate the premium the Jesuits placed on affecting, artistic theater as a channel to spiritual enlightenment.
Generous support for the exhibition, publication and related programs has been provided by the Center for Catholic Studies, Fairfield University, the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, the Robert Lehman Foundation, the Robert and Mercedes Eichholz Foundation, Vanderbilt University, the Dianne Modestini Charitable Trust, The Private Art Dealers Association (PADA), Charles Scribner, Christie’s and a number of private foundations and anonymous benefactors.
Fairfield University is a modern Jesuit Catholic university rooted in one of the world’s oldest intellectual and spiritual traditions. More than 5,000 undergraduate and graduate students from the U.S. and across the globe are pursuing degrees in the University’s five schools. Fairfield embraces a liberal humanistic approach to education, encouraging critical thinking, cultivating free and open inquiry, and fostering ethical and religious values. The University is located on a stunning 200-acre campus on the scenic Connecticut coast just an hour from New York City.