“The Holy Name: Art of the Gesù: Bernini and His Age” recently opened at Fairfield University Art Museum. The exhibition features treasures from Rome’s Church of the Gesù, which have never before traveled to America, including one of Bernini’s marble sculptures. The exhibit will be on view at Fairfield University’s Bellarmine Hall Galleries through May 19.
The exhibition’s focus is the Church of the Gesù in Rome, which itself is an impressive example of Baroque architecture and is Rome’s most important Jesuit church. Founded in 1540 by Ignatius of Loyola, the church served as the center for newly founded Society of Jesus (the Jesuits), which had been recognized that year by the Pope Paul III. St. Ignatius did not live to see the church’s construction, but he was buried under the altar, making the church an important shrine for pilgrims to this day. It is the first church ever to be named after Jesus.
Designed by Jacopo Vignola and Giacomo della Porta, the unique artistic richness that defines the Baroque style makes the Church of Jesus an important chapter in the history of art and a popular destination for visitors to Rome. The façade of the church reflects the Jesuit’s austere approach to art; however, the interior reveals lavish decoration from the second half of the 17th century. The most striking feature of the interior decoration is the ceiling fresco of the Triumph of the Holy Name of Jesus painted by Giovanni Battista Gaulli ‘Baciccio’ between 1676 and 1679. Baciccio was recommended by the great Gian Lorenzo Bernini, who was associated with the Jesuits for much of his life.
One of the biggest attractions is Bernini’s bust of the patron saint of Fairfield University – Cardinal Roberto Bellarmino. The bust has never left Rome before and was brought to honor of the University’s 75th anniversary. Other masterpieces in the exhibition include Giovanni Battista Gaulli’s monumental painted wood model of the apse; a gilt bronze altar sculpture by painter, draftsman and sculptor Ciro Ferri; the three-piece jeweled cartegloria from the altar of St. Ignatius and the magnificent embroidered chasuble of the church’s benefactor, Alessandro Farnese. These masterpieces are displayed along with paintings, drawings, sculptures, rare books and historical objects on loan from museums and private collections, including The Met, the Art Institute of Chicago and Princeton University Art Museum. Together these masterpieces tell the fascinating and intertwined stories of the church’s early history and splendid interior embellishment and the foundational chapters of the Society of Jesus.
The Fairfield University Museum is located at 200 Barlow Road in Fairfield, Connecticut. The exhibitions hours at the Bellarmine Hall Galleries are Tuesday through Saturday from 11:00 am – 4:00 pm. Visit their website to find out more about upcoming lectures and symposiums at www.fairfield.edu/museum/gesu.