Andrea Pozzo
Biography of Italian High Baroque Fresco Mural Painter.

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The Apotheosis of St Ignatius
(1691-4) San Ignazio, Rome.
The finest Quadratura mural,
of the Italian High Baroque, and
one of the greatest paintings ever.

For top creative practitioners, see:
Best Artists of All Time.

Andrea Pozzo (1642-1709)

The Italian Jesuit painter and architect, Andrea Pozzo, was one of the finest exponents of illusionist mural painting of the Baroque era. Specializing in quadratura and di sotto in su (viewed from below) techniques, used to create the illusion of three-dimensional space on a flat ceiling above the viewer, his acknowledged masterpiece of Christian art is the ceiling fresco painting Triumph and Apotheosis of St Ignatius (c.1685-94) in the Church of S.Ignazio in Rome, a work which combined architecture and painting to an almost unbelievable degree, and became a texbook example of 17th century Catholic Counter-Reformation Art. Other major commissions included the altar in the St Ignatius chapel of the Church of the Gesu (1695) in Rome, and the ceiling fresco Admittance of Hercules to Olympus (1707) for the Hercules Hall of the Liechtenstein garden palace in Vienna. Regarded as one of the outstanding Italian Baroque artists of his day, his breathtaking decorations in Rome's Jesuit churches Il Gesu and S.Ignazio, had a major impact in the development of Baroque painting across Europe, being emulated in particular in a number of Jesuit churches in Italy, Austria and Germany. An advocate of Gesamtkunst (total art), his creative ideas were also spread by his theoretical treatise Perspectiva Pictorum et Architectorum (Perspectives on Painting and Architecture) (1693, 1700).

Pozzo's amazing fake dome painted on
the low vaulted ceiling of the Jesuit
Church, Vienna.


Early Life

Born in Austrian-ruled Trento, in 1659 he was apprenticed to a local painter. The name Palma il Giovane has sometimes been cited, except that he died in 1628! In 1662 he moved to the workshop of another unidentified painter, who had been trained by Andrea Sacchi (1600-61), the great Italian Baroque painter and architect and from whom he absorbed the techniques of the Roman High Baroque. On Christmas Day 1665, Pozzo joined the Jesuit Order as a lay brother. After working in Milan for a spell he continued his training in Genoa and Venice, where he came under the influence of the Lombard School (modified by elements of Rubens), exemplified by his use of rich colour and graphic chiaroscuro.

Church Mural Decorations

His entry into the world of quadratura, di sotto in su devices and other illusionistic painting techniques came about partly in response to the artistic needs of the Catholic Church's Jesuit Order, many of whose newly built churches lacked decorative interiors. As a result he began developing the trompe l'oeil techniques for which he is now world famous, such as fake gilding, marbled columns, bronze-coloured statues, fake domes on flat ceilings, and spectacular foreshortening of figures in vividly coloured frescoes.

In 1681, after decorating churches in Modena, Bologna, Arezzo, Mondovi and Turin, he was summoned to Rome by the Jesuit Superior General Padre Oliva, at the instigation of Carlo Maratta (Maratti) (1625-1713). Here he soon gained a reputation for his wall and ceiling fresco paintings - such as his trompe l'oeil architectural decorations and frescos portraying the life of Saint Ignatius in the Camere di San Ignazio (1681–1686).

Church of S. Ignazio

Pozzo's masterpiece of religious art, the illusionistic religious paintings of the dome, apse and ceiling of Rome's Jesuit church of S.Ignazio (1685–1694) were a stunning embodiment of the principles and features of the High Roman Baroque (monumental, emotional and dramatic art). Exceeding the achievements of all his predecessors, including Correggio (1489-1534) - noted for his Assumption of the Virgin (Parma Cathedral) (1526-30) - Baldessare Peruzzi (1481-1536), Giovanni Lanfranco (1582-1647), Guercino (1591-1666), and Pietro da Cortona (1596-1669), these fresco murals became the standard for the rest of Europe. In a written summary, Pozzo described the comprehensive pictorial program of the 95-feet ceiling, which is one of the best Baroque paintings of the 17th century. The work as a whole was to be seen as a glorification of the Jesuit Order. In the 55 feet wide ceiling fresco Triumph and Apotheosis of St Ignatius of Loyola (1691-4), the centre depicts a brightly lit heavenly sphere with the Holy Trinity and St Ignatius, on whose breast a beam of light emanating from Christ is streaming. (Paintings in the apse also depict scenes from the lives of St Francis Xavier and St Francis Borgia.) The personifications of the four quarters of the earth in the attic area of the fantastically painted imaginary architecture refer to the worldwide presence and missionary activities of the Jesuit Order. The design was executed so as to simulate a lofty domed roof embellished by statues, while in reality the ceiling is flat. It is this work that underpins Pozzo's reputation as the foremost quadraturista and one of the greatest visual artists within the world of trompe l'oeil.

The Altar of St Ignatius chapel (Gesu)

In 1695, Pozzo was awarded the prestigious commission for an altar in the St Ignatius chapel in the left transept of the Church of the Gesu. This magnificent structure above the tomb of the saint, made out of fine marble and precious metals, depicts the Trinity, while four columns decorated with lapis lazuli enclose a huge statue of the saint by the Rome-based French sculptor Pierre Legros (1666-1719). In 1697, he was tasked with building similar altars depicting events from the life of St Ignatius in the church of Sant'Ignazio in Rome. These altars reportedly house relics of St Aloysius Gonzaga and St John Berchmans.

Other Works

In 1681, Pozzo painted a self-portrait for Cosimo III de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany. During the late 1680s he also painted scenes from the life of Saint Stanislaus Kostka in the Jesuit novitiate of Sant'Andrea al Quirinale in Rome. In he was invited by the Austrian Emperor Leopold I to Vienna, where he decorated various churches and other religious buildings. His most important fresco painting - Admittance of Hercules to Olympus (1707) - was for the ceiling of the Hercules Hall in the Liechtenstein garden palace (1707).

In addition, Pozzo was one of the top Baroque architects, and designed several other churches and altars. But his activity in this area failed to match either his painting or engraving.


A noted theorist in both decorative art and Baroque architecture, Pozzo published his ideas in a treatise, entitled Perspectiva Pictorum et Architectorum (in 2 volumes, 1693, 1698) illustrated with over one hundred engravings. One of the earliest and most influential manuals of fine art for artists and architects, it was translated into numerous languages, including Chinese.

In 1709, shortly before his intended return to Rome, Pozzo died in Vienna aged 67. He was interred with public honours in the Jesuit church in Vienna. His legacy should not be underestimated, even today. One of the greatest Italian Old Masters of the 17th century, his work on the ceiling of the Jesuit church of S. Ignazio (1685–1694) - together with Baciccio's work in the Gesù - are seen as the highpoint of monumental Baroque painting.

Paintings by Andrea Pozzo can be seen in some of the best art museums in the world.


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