Fairfield University Art Museum Presents THE HOLY NAME Art of the Gesù: Bernini and his Age

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Fairfield University Art Museum Presents


 Art of the Gesù: Bernini and his Age

A major international loan exhibition featuring masterpieces from The Church of the Gesù in Rome—one of the most celebrated architectural monuments of the late Renaissance—never before seen in America.

FAIRFIELD, Conn. (July 27, 2017) — The Fairfield University Art Museum is presenting a major international loan exhibition—The Holy Name.  Art of the Gesù: Bernini and his Age, which will be on view in the museum’s Bellarmine Hall Galleries from February 1 through May 19, 2018. Its focus is the Church of the Gesù (Chiesa del Santissimo Nome di Gesù all’Argentina) in Rome, the principal or mother church of the Jesuits, one of the new religious orders that gained ascendancy during the Counter-Reformation following its founding by Ignatius of Loyola in 1540.

Situated in the heart of Rome in the shadow of the ancient Forum, the Gesù, designed by the architects Jacopo Vignola and Giacomo della Porta, is one of the most glorious architectural monuments of the Italian late Renaissance. Its resplendent interior houses the grand illusionistic fresco of the Triumph of the Holy Name of Jesus (IHS) by Giovanni Battista Gaulli (il Baciccio) in the vault and other celebrated works of art from the Baroque period. This major international loan exhibition, organized to commemorate Fairfield University’s 75th anniversary, features masterpieces from the Gesù itself, never before seen in America—including Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s marble bust of Cardinal Roberto Bellarmino (Robert Bellarmine is the patron saint of Fairfield University), and Gaulli’s monumental painted wood model of the apse—in addition to more than forty paintings, sculptures, objects, drawings, prints and illustrated books by Bernini, Gaulli, Ciro Ferri, Carlo Maratti, and Fra Andrea Pozzo, among others, from museums and private collections around the country.

Together these masterpieces tell the fascinating and interwoven stories of the Church’s early history and splendid interior decorations, and the foundational chapters of the Society of Jesus: the long and at times challenging campaign undertaken by the Jesuits and their patrons to build the Gesù—a monument to the power and prestige of the new religious order and the militant Church reborn—and embellish its austere and barren interior, and the imperative to formulate a new imagery exalting the Order’s founders, Ignatius of Loyola and Francis Xavier, following their canonization in 1622.

This landmark exhibitionwill give visitors to the museum an unparalleled window onto the extraordinary works of art found within the walls of the Gesù, the immensely talented artists who created them, and the powerful and strong-willed personalities whose ambitions—and financial means—made it all possible.

The exhibition is organized by Linda Wolk-Simon, PhD, Frank and Clara Meditz Director and Chief Curator of the Fairfield University Art Museum.

Distinguished scholars serving on the exhibition planning committee are Christopher M. S. Johns, Norman L. and Roselea J. Goldberg Professor of History of Art, Vanderbilt University; Franco Mormando, Professor of Italian and Chairperson, Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, Boston College; John O’Malley, S. J., University Professor, Department of Theology, Georgetown University; Louise Rice, Associate Professor of Art History, New York University; and Xavier F. Salomon, Peter J. Sharp Chief Curator, The Frick Collection, New York.  Philippe de Montebello, Director Emeritus of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, is Honorary Chair of the exhibition committee. 

“If I were still Director of the Metropolitan, I would be jealous of Fairfield doing this show. It’s simply incredible,” de Montebello said. “It brings to the Fairfield University Art Museum some of the greatest artists working in 17th Century Rome.”

Exhibition Catalogue

An exhibition catalogue comprised of essays by leading experts on the art (extant, lost, and ephemeral) of the Gesù and the first two centuries of the Society of Jesus in Rome and illustrated entries on the works in the exhibition, edited by Linda Wolk-Simon, will be published by St. Joseph’s University Press in Philadelphia.  Authors are Gauvin Alexander Bailey, Laura Giles, Andrew Horn, Christopher M. S. Johns, Evonne Levy, Franco Mormando, John O’Malley, S. J., Louise Rice, Betsy Rosasco, Xavier F. Salomon and Linda Wolk-Simon.


An international scholarly symposium generously funded by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation will take place at Fairfield University on April 6, 2017, with a keynote address delivered by John O’Malley, S. J. the previous evening. For the full program and registration information, see the museum website: fairfield.edu/museum.

Other exhibition-related programs and education initiatives include a public lecture series generously supported by the Robert Lehman Foundation.

Thursday, February 1

5:00 p.m., Diffley Board Room, Bellarmine Hall

Art of the Gesù: Bernini and his Age

Gauvin Alexander Bailey, Professor and Bader Chair in Southern Baroque Art, Queen’s University, Ontario


Tuesday, March 6

5:00 p.m., Diffley Board Room, Bellarmine Hall

Inside the 17th-century Gesù: Jesuit History, Saints, Theology, and Science

Evonne Levy, Professor of Renaissance and Baroque Art, University of Toronto


Thursday, April 5

6:00 p.m., Dolan School of Business Dining Room

The Jesuits and the Arts: How and Why It Happened

John O’Malley, S. J., University Professor, Department of Theology, Georgetown University


A musical event presenting sacred music in the Age of Bernini is being planned for late March.  See the museum website for further information.

Guided tours of the exhibition will be offered for members of the public, school groups, college and university students, and private group tours are available.

An exhibition app with audio tour narrated by Paul Lakeland, PhD, Chairman of the Department of Catholic Studies at Fairfield University will be available in the galleries and remotely through the museum website.

Finally, Fairfield University is undertaking a project to film the “sound and light” spectacle enacted daily at 5 p.m. in the Gesù, which will be screened in the museum classroom throughout the run of the exhibition. As the lights in the nave dim, a monumental altarpiece by Andrea Pozzo is dramatically lowered to reveal a colossal silver sculpture of St Ignatius in Ecstasy designed by Pierre Le Gros, accompanied by music by an 18th-century Jesuit missionary, Domenico Zipoli, and readings from the Bible and the writings of St. Ignatius.

Harnessing the senses of sight and sound, this theatrical tableau, originally installed in the late 17th century, induced worshippers to “engage in deeper contemplation” in keeping with Jesuit spirituality, as the recently retired rector of the Gesù, Father Daniele Libanori, S.J., explained in an interview in the New York Times in 2008, when the restored apparatus was unveiled. With this presentation, visitors to the exhibition will be able to experience some sense of this marvelous spectacle and appreciate the premium the Jesuits placed on affecting, artistic theater as a channel to spiritual enlightenment.

Vol. 50, # 11

Fairfield University is a Jesuit University, rooted in one of the world’s oldest intellectual and spiritual traditions. More than 5,000 undergraduate and graduate students from 36 states, 47 foreign countries, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico are enrolled in the University’s five schools. In the spirit of rigorous and sympathetic inquiry into all dimensions of human experience, Fairfield welcomes students from diverse backgrounds to share ideas and engage in open conversations. The University is located in the heart of a region where the future takes shape, on a stunning campus on the Connecticut coast just an hour from New York City.

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