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December 09, 2020

Mid-Morning Art Thread [Kris]

Gaulli Triumph1.jpg

“Triumph in the Name of Jesus & the Fall of the Damned”
Giovanni Battista Gaulli

This work crowns the nave of Il Gesu, the mother church of the Jesuits in Rome. It is Gaulli’s masterpiece. A tour-de-force of Baroque innovation and experimentation, it fuses painting and sculpture into a seamless unit to fulfill the artist’s vision of the all-mighty majesty of Jesus Christ. Commissioned by the Jesuit General, Gaulli uses extreme perspective to give the viewer a front-row seat to the Last Judgement. Jesus Christ Himself does not appear in the work. Instead, inspired by Philippians 2:10-11, the artist depicts the awesome power that even His name possesses.

Gaulli represents the abstract idea of the Name of Jesus as the monogram “IHS” with a cross intersecting the H. This is the first three letters of “Jesus” in Greek and is the insignia of the Jesuit Order. The monogram is rendered in a very pale yellow on a light gray/white background so that the effect is that the Name actually cannot be seen by the viewer on the floor far below. It radiates a light so blinding that the Damned, Sin, and Evil tumble and fall over each other to escape it. Meanwhile the angels and saints are enlivened by the light. They rise and swirl around it as though attracted to a huge gravity source. The monogram is placed off center. This allows for more space in the bottom of the frame for action and draws the viewer’s eye through the work. In a metaphorical sense, the viewer is lifted through Sin to Salvation, to the very source of that salvation Himself. Also, by replacing the figure of Jesus with an abstract representation of his power, Gaulli recalls the act of Christian faith: That one does not need to see Him to believe, and that all who call upon His name will be saved.

Gaulli breaks the frame of the canvas to allow the action to fall into the Church itself. The solid barrier of the ceiling vault dissolves into an open skylight effect. Gaulli used plaster to give a flat surface to the heavily-textured, gilded, coffered vault, and shaped and painted them to complete the illusion of the tumbling figures spilling into the Church’s nave, onto the viewer’s head. The light beaming down from the Name continues through the broken “fourth-wall” and bathes the viewer in its light. Instead of a passive observer of static art, the mortal viewer becomes part of it. Because of the extreme perspective, the light creates dramatic lights and shadows. The viewer sees an accurate representation of the undersides of clouds and figures. At the very “bottom” of the work, the Damned crawl and scramble to the underside of the vault where the light cannot go. This area is in almost complete darkness, representing the completeness of their fallen state. Their panic and desire to hide from the light is actually ironic, however. In the actual arrangement of the mural in the Church, this area is closest to the altar, where Christ dwells in the elements of the Eucharist. So in their panicked attempt to flee an abstract, they enter the actual Presence. There is no escaping God.

Gaulli also sculpted the gray angels and saints that sit around the main scene, on the windows and niches. They are meant to look like unrelated sculptural decorations like you’d see in any Roman Catholic Church. When the Last Judgement occurs, the power of God makes the inanimate statues come to life and they too react to the drama of the central scene.

Gaulli worked with Gianlorenzo Bernini in his youth and learned about the interaction of painting, sculpture and architecture from the Baroque master. The elder man’s sense of spectacle cannot be overlooked in this piece. Bernini also worshipped in Il Gesu at the time this work was being created. It’s possible he may have offered some advice or suggestions to his former assistant.

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posted by Open Blogger at 09:30 AM

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