Returning to Rome after many years abroad allows you to tour this marvelous (and cruel) city with the amazement of the tourist and the shrewd gaze of someone who has lived there, to observe it “anew”, interweaving memories and the present, real and ideal in Proustian style
So, almost by chance, walking through the streets of the city center, I entered the Baroque church of Sant'Ignazio di Loyola, between Via del Corso and the Pantheon, and I was left speechless. The external facade, completely white and decorated very simply, gives you no hint of what you will find (and experience) when you step inside: a sumptuous spectacle of shapes and colors, of dazzling beauty, over two thousand square meters of 3D special effects in the gigantic fresco on the vault by Alberto Pozzo, painted between 1691 and 1694 to celebrate ‘The Glory of Sant'Ignazio’.
I experienced a similar sensation of amazement when I first walked into the Mausoleum of Galla Placida in Ravenna, a small brick building, simple and bare on the outside, full of fabulous mosaics on the inside. A different era, a different art, a different city, the same magical enchantment, ‘The end, the Wonder’, as summed up by Giambattista Marino, the greatest exponent of Baroque poetry.
Pozzo's work depicts Christ who radiates the Saint with his warm light, surrounded by sacred figures and angels. The four corners of the gigantic fresco (it is almost forty meters long), feature the personification of the four continents then known: Europe as a queen on horseback dominating the world; America, an Indian woman in a crown of blue and red feathers brandishing a sword; Africa, like a black princess holding elephant tusks and a crocodile; Asia a woman with her arms raised and a camel.
The masterpiece is observed da sott-in suj – from below – and, from this perspective, the figures truly seem to come out of the walls and hover in the air. The central void and the spiral of clouds seem to break through the ceiling. The painted arches and columns merge with the real ones. There is a mirror that amplifies the three-dimensional effect that rivals something out of a Pixar film. With an offer of one euro, the painting lights up. When I looked into the mirror, it seemed like I was sinking into it; I felt dizzy, as if I were falling “into that infinite sky.”
Moving towards the altar, you find yourself under a large dome. It has a skylight, windows, it is entirely covered in frescoes. Another illusion. Never actually built, it is painted on canvas, again by Andrea Pozzo: an artistic wonder in Rome. The Wow Effect.
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