Rome day 6 (continuation 4)

Oratorio (Borromini) and Il Gesù

Borromini Oratorio dei Filippini Neri
Borromini Oratorio dei Filippini Neri facade

photo: Andrea Covelli

Oratorio dei Filippini Neri and Chiesa Nuova   Connection facade Chiesa and Oratorium
Facade of the Oratorio dei Filippini Neri    Aerial picture   Oratorio and Chiesa       Wavy stairs
Lieven Cruyl Santa Maria in Vallicella  Oratorio 1665 mirror image
Oratorio dei Filippini Neri and Chiesa Nuova

photo: Dennis Jarvis


Oratorio dei Filippini Neri (left)  Santa Maria in Vallicella of Chiesa Nuova (right) and Piranesi 
Oratorio dei Filippini Neri Borromini (left)  Santa Maria in Vallicella of Chiesa Nuova (right) Rome

The floor plan of the Chiesa Nuova with the monastery complex and the Oratory and an aerial photograph of the church and the Oratory. After the decision to build the Chiesa Nuova had been made, the idea emerged to build an Oratory. It proved impossible to obtain a plot to the east of the church, but if the pope expropriated the adjacent plot to the west there would be room for an Oratory near the monastery complex. The architects Arconio and Maruscelli had already done a lot of work on the project. When Borromini was commissioned to build the Oratory in 1637 the lay out of the floor plan had for the most part already been decided. Such as the small inner courtyard in the south and the big one (number 12) in the north with the sacristy in between. The long corridor was already there too. It led to the big inner courtyard and the church.

Entrance      Wavy stairs      Facade above the entrance
Oratorio dei Filippini Borromini ingang deur

The problem that Borromini wrestled with was that the building line of the church and the Oratory were not aligned. First he wanted to put the Oratory in the middle. This idea had major disadvantages as he would have had to make Oratory smaller, which would have left no room for the door between the church and the Oratory. Borromini eventually returned to Maruscelli’s arrangement. Borromini did put a second door in the façade close to the Oratory (left).

We’ll walk to the southern small inner courtyard and take a look at a column at the corner of the stairwell. The original four columns were a little too short. To save expense, Borromini raised the plinth by adding lotus leaves, which makes the column look like the sturdy stem of some plant. This neat trick was already recommended by architects in classical times.

Oratory facade     Window   Side and facade    Corner
Youtube  facade manortiz (3.32 minutes)
Oratory facade Borromini Rome
Oratory facade Borromini Rome


Oratory facade detail Borromini Rome
Borromini’s facade design and preliminary studie
A Section was added later symmetry was lost
study facade Oratorium Borromini

Borromini admitted that his facade was not perfect, but there was no other solution because of the section that was already there and the fact that the facade’s axis in relation to the convent had to be maintained.

The final decision to build a library above the Oratory was made in 1638. This decision had major consequences. The symmetry of the facade was adversely affected. And an extra bay had to be built to support the library. Finally, another floor was added. All of this meant that the facade was no longer in balance. The cross-section of the Oratory (top of the library and on the left the extra bay that served as a buttress). After the decision to expand the library Borromini was forced to make new designs for the facade.

Naturally, Borromini again used the curved lines in his facade. Now there is a long curved façade with a convex entrance that changes to concave at the level of the library.

When you are close to the façade, you will discover that with the exception of the pilasters and the pediments no natural stone was used, but very subtle brickwork instead. Hardly any mortar was used and the bricks are very flat and uniform. Borromini said he was inspired by the old brickwork that you will find at the Porta Maggiore in Rome. The friars insisted that Borromini use ordinary bricks to ensure that the marble facade of the adjacent church would stay more prominent. The same applied to the decorations on the facade. The upper part of the facade is quite plain. Only the pediments above the windows are made of travertine. Extensive decorations are only found in the mid-section of the facade. Because it was only decided mid-construction to add a library above the Oratory, Borromini ran into issues with the construction. He had to place additional pilasters on top of the existing ones. The four corners were cut, just like in the sacristy of the San Carlino. The walls are articulated by Ionic pilasters that continue right up to the cornice. The vault is relatively low. The joists running across the celling are reminiscent of gothic joists, with the one difference that these are flat. As opposed to Gothicism, the ribs serve no load-bearing function. The galleries are for musicians and esteemed visitors. Borromini used the shape of the balusters for the first time in the San Carlino. The 16th century baluster was derived from the round shape of a vase that was usually thickest just below the middle, which made it difficult to look through the balustrade. This shape also gave a static impression. Borromini no longer based his balusters on a circle, but on a triangle, that was given a concave or convex shape. In addition, Borromini mixes things up: in alternating fashion the balusters are placed at the bottom and then at the top. The result is that the balusters not only appear more dynamic, but they allow the spectator to look through more easily.

Sacristy of the Oratorio large size       Vaults         Lay-out number 10
Sacristy of the Oratorio Borromini Rome
Oratorio dei Philip Neri southern small courtyard
Ground map below number 10
Oratorio dei Philip Neri southern small courtyard

We’ll walk to the southern small inner courtyard and take a look at a column at the corner of the stairwell. The original four columns were a little too short. To save expense, Borromini raised the plinth by adding lotus leaves, which makes the column look like the sturdy stem of some plant. This neat trick was already recommended by architects in classical times.

Oratorio dei Philip Neri large courtyard northern Giovanni Battista Falda
Torre dell’Orologio    Ground map number 12
Oratorio dei Philip Neri large courtyard northern Torre dell’Orologio


Borromini Torre dell’Orologio
Borromini Torre dell'Orologio Oratorium

photo: Carlo Raso

Oratorio dei Fhilip Neri Archive and fireplace
Ground map number 11    Library  Vallicelliana
Oratorio dei Filippini Archief open haard Borromini

We cross the Corso Via Emanuele II and head east toward the Piazza del Gesù.

IL Gesù

Giuseppe Vasi ‘Chiesa del Gesù’ original large        Piranesi ‘Piazza del Gesù and the Il Gesù’     Lievin Cruyl ‘The Church of the Gesù 1665   
Giuseppe Vasi 'Chiesa del Gesù'

Lievin Cruyl ‘Eighteen Views of Rome: The Church of the Gesù 1665 The Cleveland Museum of Art

Il Gesù  Giacomo della Porta façade 1575-1584     IHS    Large size      Detail facade       Top view church


Entrance and side entrances

Official website Il Gesù:
1. Virtual visit
2. St Ignatius of Loyola’s rooms in the Casa Professa del Gesù
3. The museum (opening days and times)
Website Fairfield University Art Museum Gesù (Fairfield, Connecticut):
1. Virtual visit
2. Pictures
3. Video Gesu Macchina (12.42 minutes)
4. The Art of the Gesù: Bernini and his age 5 lectures scroll down

Facing this small square lies the main church of the Jesuits; Il Gesù. The founder of the Jesuit order, the Spaniard Ignatius de Loyola, in the 16th century purchased a plot in the location where we are standing now. Here is where he wanted to build a mother church for his order. Michelangelo created an initial design, but it was architect Giacomo da Vignola who designed the eventual church in 1568. The church was consecrated in 1584.

Il Gesù pulpit large size
Il Gesù pulpit

The design was strongly influenced by the Council of Trent. What was new was that the pulpit is no longer close to the altar, but to the left between the second and third chapel. This arrangement allowed the priest to really reach the average churchgoer during his sermon. This was the most important demand that the Council imposed on architecture. During the sermon, friars could celebrate mass at the altar, recite psalms or say prayers.

  Il Gesù large size             Il Gesù nave 
Il Gesù nave interior

Vignola’s design was based on the elongated form of the basilica, with a length of 200 meters. There are hardly any aisles and only one apse. The floor plan was strongly influenced by the basilica of Maxentius that you saw on Sunday; a wide nave with three arched chapels on both sides. If you walk around the church you will experience it as a strong unity, much different from the traditional basilica where the nave and the aisles have explicitly been separated into different spaces.

You saw the traditional floor plan of a basilica when we visited the San Clemente on Sunday. If you look a little closer at the floor plan, you will discover that it still strongly resembles a basilica, but that it also has elements of a central design. Vignola’s design in fact is a combination of an elongated basilica with a central design.

The floor plan of Il Gesù (Giacomo da Vignola) is a synthesis of a basilica and a central design. This church strongly influenced the design of later churches, and not just in Italy. This definitely also applies to the facade.

Entrance of the Il Gesù large size

picture: Lawrence OP

‘The facade of the Jesuit mother church, the famed Il Gesù  bears the monogram of Jesus, which is the logo of the Society of Jesus. The entrance is flanked by the arms of the City of Rome, and the arms of the reigning Pontiff, Benedict XVI. Above this is carved the name of the Farnese family in memory of Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, nephew of Pope Paul III, who financed the building of the church in 1568.’

Source: Lawrence OP

Giacomo della Porta 1575-1584 Il Gesù       Facade large size      Cartouche with IHS
 Il Gesù onderste deel van de facade Giacomo della Porta 1575-1584


Giacomo della Porta Il Gesù facade large size

Giacomo della Porta designed the facade in 1575, twelve years after the Council of Trent. This facade heralds Baroque architecture. If you stand before the church, you immediately notice the entrance. Della Porta achieved this effect by making each pair of pilasters, and finally the entablature, project further into the square, as can be seen quite well here. In addition, the columns have not been placed at the classical intervals as stipulated in the intercolumnium (a term that you had to learn in school) but have been arranged in pairs. At each end two pilasters that do not really stand out have been positioned together. Followed by again two pilasters, but with an additional half pilaster positioned behind and against the adjacent pilaster. In the middle a half column is seen on either side of the door with a pilaster beside it.

The arrangement of a big opening in the middle, flanked by two smaller openings is repeated in the upper section of the facade, but this time in the shape of a big window and two small niches. Looks familiar? This is simply a design from antiquity that we have already seen in the arches built by Septimius Severus and Constantine. The big pediment in the shape of an arch with a smaller triangle inside puts emphasis on the façade’s midsection. You can also draw a vertical line from the entrance to the big cross on top of the tympan. And finally, the scrolls turn inward at the sides.

IL Gesù interior
Il Gesù interior church Rome

photo: Bruce Coleman

The church was to intended to make an overwhelming impression on the faithful. Art was employed to overwhelm the visitor and spread the Jesuit message. Its interior is quite Baroque. The 19th century Dutch author Louis Couperus, who attended mass here on 1 January 1911, described this church as follows:

Of barbaric splendour and oriental, Byzantine mysticism […] the eyes roam around, even if the body is at rest.]

Quoted from: Georgina Masson, Rome, page 150

Our tailor, or cobbler, Pasquino, gave a somewhat different interpretation of the abbreviation I.H.S.: ‘Iesuiti habent satis’ or ‘the Jesuits have plenty’. If you look at Ignatius de Loyola’s grave in the left transept, St. Ignatius Chapel, I think you will agree with Pasquino. It was made of the most precious materials, such as gemstones, gold, a huge piece of lapis and a globe made of semiprecious stones.


Andrea Pozzo Sint Ignatius chapel large size      The crowning glory of the altarpiece      Saint Ignatius     Detail
Video Khan Academy (3.47 minutes)        Video the surprise: lowering the painting 
Andrea Pozzo Sint Ignatius kapel Il Gesu

photo: Steven Zucker

Saint Ignatius chapel   Top    Bottom
Sculpture  Saint Ignatius behind the painting
Saint Ignatius chapel Il Gesu


Apse main altar large size    Left from the altar a bust of cardinal Robert Bellarmine Gian Lorenzo Bernini
Il Gesù apse main altar Rome


G.B. Gauli ‘Robert Bellarmine’  large size
G.B. Gauli 'Robert Bellarmine'  h. 171 x b. 116 millimetres 1678  The British Museum 

G.B. Gauli ‘Robert Bellarmine’  h. 171 x b. 116 millimetres 1678  The British Museum

Bernini ‘Cardinal Robert Bellarmine’ 1623-24 large size
Face           Side
Gian Lorenzo Bernini 'bust of Cardinal Robert Bellarmine' 1623-24 Il Gesù

When the famous Jesuit, Cardinal Robert Bellarmine  dies in 1621, it is decided to erect a tomb (reconstruction) in the apse of the Il Gesù. Pietro Bernini, the father of Gian Lorenzo, designed the allegories of Faith and Wisdom. Gian Lorenzo Bernini made the cardinal’s portrait bust. In 1843 the tomb was demolished during a major renovation. A neoclassical frame with a recess was added in which the baroque portrait bust of Robert Bellarmine was placed. (Wikipedia)

Andrea Sacchi ‘Urban VII visits the Il Gesù’ large size
Andrea Sacchi Urbanus VII bezoekt de IL Gesù  1641-1642

Andrea Sacchi Urban VII visits the Il Gesù 1641-1642 before ceiling paintings by il Bacicci

If you look up at the ceiling, you will see a huge illusionistic painting glorifying Christ.

Giovanni Battista Gaulli  ‘The Dome’  large size
Giovanni Battista Gaulli  'The Dome'' Il Gesu

Photo: Lawrence OP

Il Baciccio, also known as Giovanni Battista Gaulli  Triumph of the Name of Jesus 1672-1685 large size      Trompe l’oeil     Detail
Giovanni Battista Gaulli  Triumph of the Name of Jesus 1672-1685       Youtube Khan Academy frescos ceiling Il Gesù (8.07 minutes)
il Baciccio, also known as Giovanni Battista Gaulli Triumph of the Name of Jesus 1672-1685 Il Gesu

Finally, we will take a brief look at a curious painting painted by Pompéo Batóni in 1760. This is the first painting of Christ with the Holy Heart. This image became extremely popular and is still being painted today in numerous variations, but also in three-dimensional form.

Chapel of the Sacred Heart Pompeo Batoni Christ 1760    Large
 Pompeo Batoni Christus 1760 Il Gesu

We  again walk to the southwest, this time to visit the Campo dei Fiori. You really have to visit this great market in the morning. We will take a break here.

picture: nessuno di

Giuseppe Vasi ‘Campo de’Fiori’ 1740
Giuseppe Vasi Campo de' Fiori 1740
Campo de’Fiori    Aerial picture     Livecam

picture:  stephen sommerhalter

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