Collegio di Propaganda and the Sant’Ignazio

This programme focuses on the work of the architect Borromini.

Borromini               Portrait Borromini                Opus Architectonicum frontispiece 1725

You will visit one of his churches, the San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane (Day 4: the San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane), in programme four, this has to do with the route that we follow. It would take too much time to include that church in this programme. Before us, we see the first façade that Bernini built for the Collegio di Propaganda Fide in the Piazza di Spagna.

Giuseppe Vasi ‘Piazza di Spagna’ 1747-1761 Rijksmuseum Amsterdam 
Piazza Navona Piranesi ca.1650
 Bernini Collegio di Propaganda Fide  Piazza di Spagna     Youtube  3D Collegio di Propaganda Fide Carlo Cestra (1.16 minutes)
  Bernini Collegio di Propaganda Fide Piazza di Spagna

picture: Christine Franck

This is an institute for the training of missionaries that was founded by Pope Gregory XV in 1622. The Jesuits were at the pinnacle of their power at the time. They wanted a central building from which to coordinate their activities. They already owned a substantial plot near the Piazza di Spagna, de Via di Capo le Case and the Via dei Due Macelli.

Cappella dei Re Magi map      Vaults
Cappella dei Re Magi Collegio di Propaganda Fide Borromini

The façade we just walked past in the Piazza di Spagna was designed by Bernini, who also built a church in this large complex. This church, that was built before the Sant’Andrea al Quirinale, also had an oval layout. Borromini provoked the ire of Bernini when he had it torn down (Bernini’s façade design of the Cappella dei Re Magi). He replaced with an extraordinary chapel, which is unfortunately closed to the public. We enter the Via di Propaganda where we can see Borromini’s facade.

Bernini ‘Design drawing facade of the Cappella dei Re Magi’
Bernini design drawing facade of the Cappella dei Re Magi


Giovanni Battista Falda ‘Collegio de Propaganda Fide’  1665 Rijksmuseum Amsterdam original  and large
Giovanni Battista Piranesi ‘Collegio di Propaganda Fide’   
 Borromini facade engraving    Facade  Collegio di Propaganda Fide Via di Propaganda
 Borromini facade Collegio di Propaganda Fide Via di Propaganda
 Borromini Collegio di Propaganda Fide Via di Propaganda facade
Youtube  3D Collegio di Propaganda Fide Carlo Cestra (1.16 minutes)
 Borromini facade Collegio di Propaganda Fide Via di Propaganda

Borromini put only one door in this entire façade, which strongly resembles the facade of a palace. This door was put right next to the chapel and provides entrance to not just the chapel (see floor plan) but also to the inner courtyard and via flights of stairs to the upper floors. You will see that this is a very special façade. In the centre you can see seven eye-catching bays and on both sides two wings that are not emphasised at all. The lower section of the façade is notably quiet compared to the first floor.

Upper part facade      Detail facade
 Borromini facade Collegio di Propaganda Fide Via di Propaganda

picture: Christine Franck

The bays are separated by colossal pilasters, which feature all kinds of fantastic details, for instance the guttae on the projecting cornice. Each bay features two guttae above the windows. The receding part of the central portal above the entrance has four guttae instead of two to put additional emphasis on the mid-section. The façade is relatively flat with the exception of the mid-section, but this doesn’t apply to the windows and aediculae on the first floor. The window above the door is convex, while the adjoining windows, three on each side, are all concave. The wall openings near the windows are quite extraordinary, as we will see.

From Jean Castex, ‘The Architecture of the Renaissance, Baroque and Classicism’, Sun, Nijmegen, 1987 page 290.

It is not just the central bay that was emphasised, but the central bay of the three adjoining ones was also given a strong accent. The question I will ask you when we are there is where exactly this accent by the architect can be found. Together we will try to find out why many of these details violate the Vitruvian Canon.

The windows of the seven bays seems like a fugue (a piece for two or multiple voices, in which each voice repeats the main theme, but two or more bars later). The main theme is defined by the pediment of the central window near the piano nobile (first floor) and the door underneath.

Entrance      Cherub above the window      Detail above the door     Detail door

picture: Christine Franck

If you look at the windows’ pediments, you’ll see that from left to right the first bay is repeated in the third, fifth and seventh. These pediments are all four variations on the one over the door. The pediment above the second bay from the right and the sixth on the left are variations on the pediment above the window over the door in the middle. Notable is that the undulating pediment of the central window reconciles these two movements with each other.

There is something strange going on with the colossal pilasters as well. They have all been placed differently on the wall plane, half of the pilasters were placed flush against the wall, while the other half are all turned to one side. This arrangement can also be read as a rhythm, just like the pediments above the windows on the piano nobile (turned pilaster  = /, pilaster placed flush against the wall = I), read from left to right as follows: / I I / I I

This façade is unique in history and has neither a predecessor nor a successor.

 Borromini facade Collegio di Propaganda Fide Via di Propaganda

picture: Christine Franck

We keep going straight for a little while and then turn right. We are now at the palazzo on the Via della Mercede where Bernini used to live as you can read on the sign on the façade.

Via del Corso large size
Via del Corso Rome

Photo: Peter Sigrist Wikipedia

We take the Via della Mercede and walk toward the west and arrive at the centre street of the trident: the de Via del Corso. Here we cross the street and follow the sign that says Pantheon to get to the Piazza di San Ignazio, which was designed by Filippo Raguzzini between 1717 and 1728. The Piazza di San Ignazio was not designed to be looked at both up close and from a distance like the Spanish Steps. The square in front of the church of St Ignatius is quite small, as a result, the church can only be looked at from nearby. Walking around in the plaza does not add new impressions the way a walk round St Peter’s square or the Cordonata would. We will later compare this square with the Piazza in front of the Santa Maria della Pace, where the architect, Raguzzini, created an inversion of the projecting convex church of Santa Maria della Pace. The residential building in the middle has a concave rather than a convex shape. There are, however, clear similarities between the Spanish Steps and this square. In both situations curved lines moving inward and outward again play a dominant role.

Piazza di Sant’Ignazio large size      Rear site      Via de Burro    



Piazza di San Ignazio       Map       Houses            
Piazza di San Ignazio Rome

We now enter one of the most important churches of the Jesuit order:

Sant’Ignazio     Lieven Cruyl ‘Eighteen Views of Rome: The Church of Sant’Ignazio’ 1665      G. B. Falda ‘Sant’Ignazio’  1667-1669
Sant'Ignazio Rome

picture: Hans
Lieven Cruyl ‘Eighteen Views of Rome: The Church of Sant’Ignazio’ 1665, Paper: 38.4 x 49.4 cm, The Cleveland Museum of Art

Sant'Ignazio interior Rome


The dome of the  Sant’Ignazio trompe-l’oeil
the dome of the  Sant'Ignazio trompe-l'oeil

This church was designed by two monks, the architect Orazio Grassi and the painter Andrea Pozzo. Click here for a diagram of the frescos on the ceiling. When we are in the nave, we will walk exactly down the middle and halt at a marker, a red porphyry disc in the marble floor. From this point you can see the church’s dome really well and also the big ceiling. If you continue walking, still down the middle of the nave, something strange happens, but you will be able to observe this when you are there.

Andrea Pozzo ‘Self-portrait’ ca. 1687 detail Uffizi in its entirety
Andrea Pozzo ‘Self-portrait’ 1703, Museum Kunstpalast Düsseldorf
Andrea Pozzo 'Zelf portret' ca. 1687 detail Uffizi


‘Pozzo depicts himself in his Self-portrait in a rotated posture, pointing to the false dome [in the Sant’Ignazio] that he has just painted, but which is surprisingly not depicted on the canvas. He points to the ceiling with his right index finger, while his left hand rests in the entire work on his writings on illusionary perspective painting and the use of trompe-l’oeil. “A. Pozzo, “Perspectiva pictorum et architectorum “ 1642-1709

Cited  from Wikipedia Dutch and translated

This church is mainly famous because of the fresco on its ceiling by the Jesuit friar Andrea Pozzo. He depicted the founder of the order, Ignatius de Loyola, as he enters paradise. It is a beautiful example of Baroque painting with a cleverly thought out perspective.  Wikipedia has many pictures of the ceiling.

1. Youtube  Khan Academy Andrea Pozzo (5.40 minutes)
2. Youtube Empire of the Eye: The Magica of illusion (3.17 minutes)

Scheme ceiling:
Ceiling in its entirety
Central part: Saint Ignatius in Glory

Ceiling fresco    Large size

pictures: sarahtarno and (mouseover) Steven Zucker

If you walk into the aisles, you will find that much of what you saw when you stood near the porphyry stone was just an illusion. This is the limitation of perspective; it works from one point only.

Main altar and apse large size

Scheme altarpieces (e, f and g) and the frescos apse, choir, transepts and pendentives:
e Dispatch of Saint Francis Xavier to India      Large size
f  Vision at La Storta     Large size
g Induction of Saint Francis Borgia into the Societas Jesu     Large size

Saint Ignatius Helping the Sick and Poor (Apse calotte) Pozzo
Vision of Saint Ignatius at the Battle of Pamplona (Choir) Pozzo
Assumption of the Virgin (left transept) Mazzanti
Vision of Saint Luigi Gonzaga in glory (right transept) Pozzo
Ira Divina  Pozzo
a Judith and Holofernes (pendentive)
b David and Goliath (pendentive)
c Jael and Sisera (pendentive)
d Samson and the Philistines (pendentive)

We head west and cross the Piazza Navona into the Via di Tor Millina and turn right into the Via della Pace.

Via di Tor Millina 
Via di Tor Millina Rome

picture: Paul (and Mike)

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