Andrea dal Pozzo was a famous Italian Jesuit painter, architect, stage designer and art theoretician of the late seventeenth century. He is noted for expounding the art of illusionist mural paintings of the Baroque era. Pozzo specialized in ‘quadratura’and ‘di sotto in su’ techniques; i.e. a system of perspective where the focal lines start from the corner and meet each other at the center of the piece (the vanishing point). This system gave the paintings a three-dimensional appearance. This marvelous baroque artist was responsible for the ceiling fresco paintings in Il Gesu and S. Ignazio, two major Jesuit churches in Rome. Several painters emulated his style in a number of Jesuit churches across Austria, Germany and Italy. Pozzo was an advocate of ‘Gesamtkunst’ or the ‘Total Art’. Most of his compositions are based on Catholic and Jesuit themes. However, he also seems to be indebted to the theatre; many of his paintings show the religious figures as actors positioned against traditional stage devices like a curtain and a proscenium arch. He collected his creative ideas on art in the theoretical treatise ‘Perspectiva Pictorum et Architechtorum’. Pozzo is not extensively studied, but his innovations regarding perspective is a major influence on modern design.
Childhood & Early Life
Pozzo was born in Trento, Italy, on November 30, 1642.
From 1661 to 1662, he was a novice in the order of Discalced Carmelites at Convento dell Laste, near Trento.
He studied Humanities at the local Jesuit High School.
Pozzo showed artistic inclinations from a very young age. At the age of 17, his father sent him for artistic training.
Records show that he initially trained under Palma il Giovane.
In 1662, he trained under an unrecognized painter from the workshop of Andrea Sacchi, who taught him the techniques of Roman Baroque art.
On 25 December 1665, he joined the Jesuit Order as a lay brother.
In 1668, he was allocated to the ‘Casa Professa of San Fidele’ in Milan. He was in charge of the decorations of the festival held in honor of St. Francis Borgia.
He continued his training in Genoa and Venice, where he was inspired by the rich graphic chiaroscuro of the Lombard School.
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Church Decoration Work
In 1675, Pozzo designed the frescoes at the Chiesa del SS. Martiri in Turin and also the frescoes at the church of San Francisco Saverio in Mondovi.
In 1676, Pozzo designed his first large fresco in the San Francis Xavier church in Mondovì. He followed the trompe-l'oeil technique which included false gilding, bronze-colored statues, marbled columns and a dome on a flat ceiling.
In 1678, he painted the ceiling of the Jesuit church of SS. Martiri in Turin. These frescoes were later replaced by new paintings because of their ruinous conditions.
In 1681, Andrea Pozzo was called to Rome by the Jesuit Superior General Padre Oliva, superior general of the Jesuits.
He gained a reputation for his designing of the Roman frescoes portraying the life of St. Ignatius in the ‘Camere di San Ignazio’ (1681-1686) in the corridor which linked the Church of the Gesù to the rooms of the saint.
Between 1685 and 1694, Andrea Pozzo created his masterpiece, the illusive perspectives in the frescoes of Rome’s Jesuit church of Sant'Ignazio.
In 1693, Pozzo published his theoretical work on art and architecture, ‘Perspectiva Pictorium et Architechtorum’. The second volume came out in 1698. The volumes were dedicated to emperor Leopold I and were one of the earliest manuals on the perspective technique.
In 1695, he won the prestigious commission for designing an altar in the St. Ignatius chapel in the left transept of the Church of the Gesù. It was a joint effort of over 100 craftsmen.
In 1697, he built similar altars showing events from the life of St Ignatius in the church of Sant'Ignazio in Rome.
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In 1681, Pozzo painted an oil on canvas self-portrait at the request of Cosimo III de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany. The portrait was included in the ducal collection, now kept in Florence.
Between 1701 and 1702, he designed the Jesuit churches of San Bernardo and Chiesa del Gesù in Montepulciano.
Andrea Pozzo moved to Vienna in 1702, on the invitation of Leopold I where he worked for the royal court and other religious churches.
In 1707, Pozzo painted a ceiling fresco in the Hercules Hall in Vienna for Prince Johann Adam von Liechtenstein. This architectural painting was greatly admired by his contemporaries. It is his most important surviving work from Vienna.
Pozzo’s accredited masterpiece is the ceiling fresco painting ‘Allegory of the Missionary Work of the Jesuits’ (1685-94) in the Church of S.Ignazio in Rome. The painting celebrates the missionary activities of the Jesuit sect and their goals of expanding Roman Catholicism. This was symbolic of the high Roman Baroque art and combined architecture and painting to create a breathtaking manifestation. This fresco became an exemplary representation of the Catholic counter-Reformation Art.
His second major work is the ceiling fresco ‘Admittance of Hercules to Olympus’ of the Hercules Hall of the Liechtenstein garden palace. This illusionist painting depicts Olympian Gods who seem to be floating, a magnificent feat in perspective.
Personal Life & Legacy
Pozzo died in Vienna in 1709 before he could return to Italy to design a new church. He was 67 at the time of his death.
He was buried with public honors in one of the Jesuit churches that he designed in Vienna.
His brother, Giuseppe Pozzo was a friar and a painter. He is famous for the design of the high altar of the Church of the ‘Scalzi’.