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  • Writer's pictureWill von Behr, MA

A Brief History of Sant'Ignazio in Rome

What is Sant'Ignazio?

Sant'Ignazio di Loyola in Campo Marzio (English: The Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola at Campus Martius), commonly referred to as simply “Sant'Ignazio”, is a 17th-century Roman Catholic church in Rome that’s dedicated to St Ignatius of Loyola, and which showcases the innovative painting techniques perfected by Baroque artist Andrea Pozzo.

Andrea Pozzo fesco in Sant'Ignazio

Sant'Ignazio History

During the Renaissance, artists developed a series of perspective tools to create the appearance of a three-dimensional image on what was in fact a flat surface. This technique, known as illusionistic painting, was developed during the Baroque period and used to great effect by artists to simulate architectural features, such as statues in niches or openings in roofs revealing the skies above. This method could also conveniently produce a dome when the construction of a real one was too expensive. Some of the best examples of illusionistic painting are on show in the Jesuit-built Chiesa di Sant'Ignazio, and all from the hand of the Baroque artist Andrea Pozzo.

Pozzo was a Jesuit painter from Trento in northern Italy who was particularly gifted in this novel technique. When the Jesuit Order could not afford to build grand domes in their churches, Pozzo was drafted in to create spectacular illusions in their place.

Look up at the ceiling and you will see his magisterial work, The Apotheosis of St Ignatius of Loyola, which appears as a lofty vaulted roof embellished by statues, with columns that seem to rise up and disappear into the open sky. This is known as quadratura, a technique used to make walls, ceilings and columns appear to extend beyond the actual architecture of the church into an imaginary space beyond. Above the columns, angels fly amongst the clouds, depicted to make you feel as if you really are standing underneath heaven itself.

Sant'Ignazio di Loyola in Campo Marzio

Further into the church, Pozzo created a false dome. He painted it onto the surface of the ceiling and used intricate geometrical calculations to determine a single vanishing point, so that the ceiling appears curved, when it is, of course, flat.

Although, in the side chapels, you’ll find an impressive selection of altarpieces and marble reliefs by other Baroque artists, this church is really a testament to the cutting-edge techniques perfected by Pozzo.

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