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Brother Andrea Pozzo, S.J.
and Perspective Geometry

Andrea Pozzo (1642 to 1709)

Brother Andrea Pozzo, S.J.

Andrea Pozzo, S.J. was a Jesuit Coadjutor Brother who wrote of perspective geometry which was "meant to aid artists and architects". His book Prospettiva de' pittori et architect (Rome, 1693-1700) was one of the earliest on perceptivities and was meant to aid artists and architects. It has gone into many editions, even into this century, and has been translated from the original Latin and Italian into numerous languages such as French, German, English and Chinese, but he is best known for his masterful applications of his perspective art, the cupola, the apse and the ceiling of St. Ignatius Church in Rome

One of the most remarkable sights in Rome is this perspective painting on the ceiling of St. Ignatius Church. On the flat, massive ceiling of the church he painted a fresco, in perspective, of the missionary spirit of Jesuit Society, thereby expressing Jesuit identification with the baroque spirit of Rome. The beautiful ceiling celebrates two centuries of adventuresome Jesuit explorers and missionaries. His theme is the missionary spirit of the Society. Light comes from God the Father to the Son who transmits it to St. Ignatius as it breaks into four rays leading to the four continents.

Andrea's famous perspective drawing on the ceiling of St. ignatius

On the apse, Andrea depicted scenes from the life of Ignatius. His rendering of Ignatius' vision at La Storta is referred to as: "one of the dominant notes of the art of Catholic reform."

Although several books have been written about Pozzo's contributions to Jesuit iconography, he is best remembered as one of the most influential perspective theorists of the 17th century. His famous book has been reissued as recently as 1971. In it he demonstrated how an irregular space could be represented on a stage by using wings obliquely. Pozzo emphasized the theoretical possibilities of perspective geometry and his works concerned one focal point (such as the circle of red marble on the floor of St Ignatius Church, which serves as the focal points for viewing the ceiling). Pozzo expressed a new tendency in freer use of decorative elements in stage design. He tried to find a focal point of the perspective out of sight of the audience by displacing it to one side, thereby creating a more realistic effect. Three centuries later the cinema would put into practice some of his principles. Pozzo fulfills the legacy of past Jesuits' contribution to Baroque stage design.

Andrea's ingenious cupola

Horace Grassi, S.J., the chief architect of St. Ignatius Church in Rome initially planned a cupola, but died before accomplishing it and the money for it had been used up. Thirty years later superiors decided to ask the renowned architect/artist and expert in perspective art, Brother Andrea Pozzo, S.J. to come to their aid. He would paint a cupola on a flat ceiling. He began in October 1684 and he was asked to have it finished by the next feast of St. Ignatius, 31 July 1685. He made the deadline and on the 1685 feast of St. Ignatius the public filled the church. The "dome" surprised and filled the Romans with enthusiasm. Pozzo's perspectives which drew the eye upward emphasized the columns which rose up boldly in keeping with the lines of the church. The sight prevented many visitors from recognizing the optical illusion. Since that opening day many artists have studied Pozzo's drawings and have put them in their works on perspective. Because of centuries of smoke from candle wax, along with accumulated water damage, the "cupola" was restored in 1962, at which time engineers appreciated Pozzo's ingenuity in the construction of his ingenious frame with its the network of metal tubes to support the imitation dome and wondered how he was able to move it with the primitive tools available in 1684. It is said that when asked if he had abused the freedom of baroque by putting the vaulted columns on simple brackets Pozzo replied with a smile: "If my brackets give way and the columns start to fall to the ground, you will easily find some painters among my friends to remake them and remake them better".

A page from Pozzo's bookTitle page
Pozzo's arch of the St. Ignatius apse
Pozzo's apse in St. Ignatius Church
Part of Pozzo's Spread of the Society
One of Pozzo's designs for a Jesuit theater
One of Pozzo's decorations for the the Gesù Church done in 1695


Archivum Historicum Societatis Iesu ( AHSI ) Rome: Institutum Historicum
Bangert, William A History of the Society of Jesus. St. Louis: St. Louis Institute, 1972uis, 1810
Boyer, Carl A history of mathematics. New York: Wiley, 1968
Burke-Gaffney, M. W. Kepler and the Jesuits. Milwaukee: Bruce, 1944,
Cajori, Florian A history of mathematical notations 2 vols. Chicago: Open Court, 1928
Encyclopedia Britannica. 24 vols. Chicago: Benton, 1959
Gallagher, Louis China in 16th Century: journals of Matthew Ricci New York: 1953
Gillispie, Charles. C. ed., Dictionary of Scientific biography. 16 vols. New York: Charles Scribner and Sons, 1970
Oldenburg, Henry ed. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. vols. 1-30. London: 1665-1715
Reilly, Conor "A catalogue of Jesuitica in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London" in A.H.S.I. vol. 27,1958, p. 339-362
Sarton, GeorgeThe study of the history of mathematics. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard, 1936
Sommervogel, Carolus Bibliothèque de la compagnie de Jésus. 12 volumes. Bruxelles: Société Belge de Libraire, 1890-1960
{Two entries are found in Sommervogel; an example is the following: Perspectiva Pictorum et Architectorum 2 vol. (Rome, 1693-1700)}
Struik, D. J. ed., A source book in mathematics, 1200-1800. New Jersey: Princeton, 1969
Wallace, William Galileo's early notebooks. Notre Dame: Notre Dame Press, 1977

Adventures of Some Early Jesuit Scientists

José de Acosta, S.J. - 1600: Pioneer of the Geophysical Sciences
François De Aguilon, S.J. - 1617: and his Six books on Optics
Roger Joseph Boscovich, S.J. - 1787: and his atomic theory
Christopher Clavius, S.J. - 1612: and his Gregorian Calendar
Honoré Fabri, S.J. - 1688: and his post-calculus geometry
Francesco M. Grimaldi, S.J. - 1663: and his diffraction of light
Paul Guldin, S.J. - 1643: applications of Guldin's Rule
Maximilian Hell, S.J. - 1792: and his Mesmerizing encounters
Athanasius Kircher, S.J. - 1680: The Master of a Hundred Arts
Francesco Lana-Terzi, S.J. - 1687: The Father of Aeronautics
Francis Line, S.J. - 1654: the hunted and elusive clock maker
Juan Molina, S.J. - 1829: The First Scientist of Chile
Jerôme Nadal, S.J. -1580: perspective art and composition of place
Ignace Pardies, S.J. - 1673: and his influence on Newton
Andrea Pozzo, S.J. - 1709: and his perspective geometry
Vincent Riccati, S.J. - 1775: and his hyperbolic functions
Matteo Ricci, S.J. - 1610: who brought scientific innovations to China
John Baptist Riccioli, S.J. - 167I: and his long-lived selenograph
Girolamo Saccheri, S.J. - 1733: and his solution to Euclid's blemish
Theorems of Saccheri, S.J. - 1733: and his non Euclidean Geometry
Christopher Scheiner, S.J. - 1650: sunspots and his equatorial mount
Gaspar Schott, S.J. - 1666: and the experiment at Magdeburg
Angelo Secchi, S.J. - 1878: the Father of Astrophysics
Joseph Stepling, S.J. - 1650: symbolic logic and his research academy
André Tacquet, S.J. - 1660: and his treatment of infinitesimals
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S. J. - 1955: and The Phenomenon of man
Ferdinand Verbiest, S.J. - 1688: an influential Jesuit scientist in China
Juan Bautista Villalpando, S.J. - 1608: and his version of Solomon's Temple
Gregory Saint Vincent, S.J. - 1667: and his polar coordinates
Nicolas Zucchi, S.J. - 1670: the renowned telescope maker

Influence of Some Early Jesuit Scientists

The 35 lunar craters named to honor Jesuit Scientists: their location and description
Post-Pombal Portugal opinion of Pre-Pombal Jesuit Scientists: a recent conference
Seismology, The Jesuit Science. a Jesuit history of geophysics

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Jesuit history, tradition and spirituality

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