This Church of the Gesu altarpiece by Jesuit artist Andrea Pozzo, S.J. (1642-1709), featuring Ignatius Loyola with his Red Standard, and reported by an article in the June 14, 2008 New York Times, was effectively buried about 1908, shortly prior to the rise of various 20th century political movements employing this Standard of a Red Flag.
Lost Baroque Work Is a Spectacle Again
By ELISABETTA POVOLEDO
ROME — Every afternoon at 5:30 sharp, the “ta-da” moment arrives at the Chiesa del Gesù, the mother church of the Jesuit order.
As choral music fills the church, a meticulously choreographed light show begins in the left transept of the Chapel of St. Ignatius of Loyola. During the startling crescendo, a painted altarpiece descends slowly, exposing a deep niche in which a majestic silver statue depicts St. Ignatius, founder of the Jesuits, jetting into heaven.
It is a quintessential Baroque spectacle, one that fell out of favor about a century ago. At the time, the church’s caretakers retired the canvas altarpiece, which depicts Christ presenting a royal standard to St. Ignatius, and the mechanical apparatus that lowers and raises it, so that the silver statue could remain on display.
Note that this article, though reporting on the discovery of the alter painting, goes on to discuss the silver statute.
“That was the taste of the time,” the Rev. Daniele Libanori, the church’s deputy rector, said of that early-20th-century decision. He is not a huge fan of the larger-than-life sculpture, which was designed around 1698 by Pierre Le Gros the Younger. (What’s on display today is actually a 19th-century stucco copy plated in silver. The silver original was melted down in 1798 during an occupation by Napoleon’s forces.) “The statue’s a little over the top, but it does make a big impression,” he said.
Father Libanori much prefers the altarpiece, which he discovered five years ago, after he first arrived at the church and started exploring its nooks and crannies. He found the enormous canvas, painted around 1695 by Andrea Pozzo, a Jesuit lay brother, under the altar, still wedged into a frame that had been constructed so it could be raised by pulleys. It had been pretty much ruined by mold, he said.
In addition to the thrill of finding a lost work by Pozzo, known as one of the Baroque period’s greatest trompe l’oeil specialists, Father Libanori was excited by the prospect of restoring the transept to the way it was conceived in the 17th century. With the altarpiece back in place, the chapel becomes a spiritual itinerary as well as “the highest expression of the union of all the arts,” he said in a recent interview in his office.
“There’s a buildup of anticipation, to know what’s behind the altarpiece,” he said of the sound and light show.
The daily spectacle at the Gesù is an object lesson in the religious culture of the Baroque era, when the Roman Catholic Church encouraged artists to stir the emotions of the spectator and the Jesuit order reveled in using theater as a pedagogical tool.
“The Baroque was the century of marvels,” said Marcello Fagiolo, a professor at La Sapienza University of Rome and a leading expert on such theatrical displays. It was not uncommon, he noted, for churches to incorporate elaborate stage sets and use machines and lighting “at times to amaze, and at times to strike terror at God’s punishment.”
The idea was to “involve all the senses, manipulate them in an exaggerated manner and heighten sensations through emotion,” Mr. Fagiolo said.
The Pontifical Commission for the Church’s Cultural Heritage enlisted sponsors to finance the restoration of the Baroque machinery, among them Enel, Italy’s largest electricity company, which paid for the lighting.
Francesco Buranelli, the commission’s secretary, said the restored chapel, which was inaugurated in April, now “offers a moment of spiritual contemplation as well as powerful emotion.” He added, “Such moments are good for the heart and the soul.”
The chapel’s iconography centers on the ascent of St. Ignatius from his earthly mission to instill belief in Jesus Christ to his final glory in heaven.
The daily sound and light show might be considered the Baroque equivalent of a director’s cut. The spoken words — Bible texts and the writings of St. Ignatius, read in Italian — are intended to help the visitor “engage in a deeper contemplation,” Father Libanori said, in line with the mission of the Jesuits.
The music is by Domenico Zipoli, an 18th-century Jesuit who ended up in South America doing missionary work.
It helps that Pozzo, a master of illusion and the author of a renowned treatise on perspective, designed the entire chapel. His theories are most evident in the breathtaking vault of the Church of St. Ignatius, another Jesuit church in Rome.
At the Gesù, the Baroque apparatus once relied on muscular power to raise and lower the painting, but that is now accomplished by pressing a button. “It’s the same mechanism as a garage door opener but attached to pulleys and a weight,” Father Libanori said.
The spectacle does not actually end with the unveiling of the statue. The show goes on, ultimately illuminating the entire nave of the church, where St. Ignatius is welcomed into an illusionistic vision of heaven where figures spill out onto stucco clouds painted by G. B. Gaulli, known as Baciccia, and then into the church’s dome, where he is united with God.
“People tend to leave after the statue is revealed, and I try to stop them — I say, ‘Stay, stay, the best is yet to come,’ ” said Edenia Sinigaglia, a volunteer at the church. “They always thank me afterward.”
The article fails to discuss the symbolism of the altarpiece itself, and thus ignores the matter of such a painting being hidden within the time numerous other manifestations of this Jesuit Standard would arise. If it has been hidden for about a single century, that would place it’s disappearance only a few years before the rise of such major Red Flag entities of the USSR, the 3rd Reich and Mao’s China.
Lenin took power 1917
Hitler took power 1933
Mao took power 1949
Born October 7, 1866
According to Tupper Saussy, in his essay 15 Brienner Strasse:
Wlodimir Ledochowski was a Polish aristocrat who by 1906 had demonstrated such exceptional skills in international diplomacy that Jesuit Superior General Franz Xavier Wernz (under whose tutelage Pacelli had done his prost graduate research in canon law) appointed him Consultor General for Germany, Austria-Hungary, Russia, Bosnia, Serbia, Croatia, and Poland, as well as Belgium and the Netherlands.
According to Malachi Martin, in The Jesuits: The Society of Jesus and the Betrayal of the Roman Catholic Church at page 221:
It was during the twenty-seven year Generalate of Father Wlodzimierz Ledochowski (1915-1942) that the traditional character of the Society received the firmest stamp and clearest definition since the Generalate of Claudio Acquaviva in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. One might even say that Ledochowski insisted on fidelity to the structure of Jesuit obedience, was an almost merciless disciplinarian,and maintained a stream of instructions flowing out to the whole Society about every detail of Jesuit life and Ignatian ideals. He know exactly what Jesuits should be according to the Society’s Constitutions and traditions; and under strong hands of two quite authoritarian Popes, Pius XI and Pius XII, he reestablished the close ties that had once linked papacy and Jesuit Generalate. Ledochowski, in fact, gave renewed meaning to that old Roman nickname of the Jesuit Father General, “the Black Pope. Just as Pius XII can be described as the last of the great Roman Popes, so Ledochowski can be called the last of the great Roman Generals of the Jesuits.
There seemed, indeed, during those years of Ledochowski, Pope Pius XI, and Pius XII, no real limit to what both Jesuitism and overall Roman Catholicism could achieve. Even – especially, we should say – in the afterglow of Ledochowski’s long reign and into the Generalate of his successor, Belgian Jean-Baptise Janssens, the magic power of momentum seemed to continue.
Was this alterpeice stashed by Ledochowski for him not wanting the public display of something so associating the Jesuit Order with that political standard of the Red Flag?