Quadratura and the Baroque

I am very excited because I am leaving next week to travel around Italy for two weeks.  One of the works I am looking forward to seeing again when I am in Rome is Andrea Pozzo's ceiling fresco: The Triumph of Sant' Ignazio in the church dedicated to the Saint.  In fact Art History Blogger readers may notice that I have used this work as the image behind my blog header for the reason that it is such a dynamic painting.

Pozzo (1642-1709) was an Italian Baroque painter and architect as well as a lay brother in the Jesuit order.  Due to this he was commission to create art for several Jesuit churches, both in Italy and in Vienna.  The Triumph of Sant' Ignazio is an enormous fresco, which covers the ceiling of the entire nave and perhaps the best known example of quadratura.

Andrea Pozzo,Triumph of Sant' Ignazio of Loyola, 1691-94
(Allegory of the Missionary Work of the Jesuits)
Ceiling fresco, Chiesa di Sant' Ignazio, Rome


Quadratura is a specific style of trompe-l'oeil painting which incorporates architectural elements into the work to create a convincing illusion of the expansion of the actual space into an imagined space.  In this case the painter used the actual clerestory windows (see bottom image) and painted around them.  Of course the viewer does know that the church ceiling isn't open to heaven above, but it is hard to gauge the depth of the ceiling in person or to know if the ceiling is curved.  In fact the nave ceiling of Sant' Iganizio is completely flat, but Pozzo does a very good job at creating the illusion of great depth.

Oculus from the Camera degli Sposi (wedding chamber)
Andrea Mantegna, 1465-74
fresco, Palazzo Ducale, Mantua, Italy

Quadratura had been used in a few early examples, but reached its height of popularity during the Baroque, particularly in Italy but also elsewhere in Europe.  A well known earlier example is this ceiling fresco by Mantegna created in the 15th century.  However unlike the Pozzo work, this is small and playful rather than dramatic. 

Quadratura was the perfect style of painting to tie in with the qualities in art that are associated with the Baroque: drama, theatricality, dynamic, full of excess and grandeur. 


Annibale Carracci, Triumph of Bacchus and Ariadne, begun 1597
Farnese Gallery, Rome

In 16th century ceiling paintings, such as this example by Carracci in the Farnese Gallery, there were some elements of trompe-l'oeil such as the painted cornice as a frame and the four figurative "sculptures" in the corners.  However this is not considered quadratura as Carracci wasn't attempting to create the illusion of another space that didn't exist. Viewers were meant to be delighted and amused by his work rather than awed.  The viewer would instantly recognize a painting, the figures existing in their own space.


Pietro da Cortona, The Triumph of Divine Providence, 1633-39
 Palazzo Barberini, Rome

 Another example is Pietro da Cortona's The Triumph of Divine Providence (seen below) in the Palazzo Barberini in Rome.  The subject matter is the triumph of the reign of Pope Urban VIII.  Here the viewer could see the painting as an extension of their own space.  In person it is difficult to tell which architectural details are real and what are imagined.


 Triumph of Moderation, ceiling fresco (1731) Paul Troger 
Quadratura painting around the perimeter, Gaetano Fanti
Melk Abbey, Austria

 
One reason that the style spread was through a book on painting that Pozzo wrote in Latin which was later translated into German, Tractatus Perspectivae Pictorum et Architectorum.

Later versions of quadratura were used in the 18th century in Germany and Austria and began to use lighter and brighter palates more fitting to the new Rococo style.  One such example is the quadratura painting of Fanti in the Melk Abbey, Austria (above).  The painter Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696-70) also created many ceiling frescos and paintings meant for ceilings, such as the example below.  

Allegory of Merit Accompanied by Nobility and Virtue, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo
1757, ceiling fresco, Ca' Rezzonio, Venice

While Tiepolo did use quadratura in his enormous ceiling fresco in the Wurzburg Residenz in Germany, his typical use of quadratura was more like the earlier Renaissance style.  His paintings were created to amuse the viewer, the opulent style and dramatic compositions of the Baroque now replaced with the playfulness of the Rococo.

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