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

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Fairfield University Art Museum Presents


Art of the Gesù: Bernini and his Age


A major international loan exhibition featuring artistic masterpieces from the glorious Church of the Gesù in Rome—one of the city’s most celebrated architectural monuments—never before seen in America.

FAIRFIELD, Conn. (October 11, 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 Society of Jesus, which was founded by Ignatius of Loyola in 1540 in the charged religious and political climate of the Counter-Reformation, the Gesù is a testament to the power and prestige of the new religious order, its edifice a formidable symbol of the militant Church reborn. The long and at times fraught campaign to erect the church and embellish its interior, the imperative to formulate an imagery celebrating the order and its newly canonized saints, the competing visions of the Jesuits and their strong-willed patrons, and the boundless creative energies of the artists who realized the vastly ambitious project are all explored.

Situated in the heart of Rome in the shadow of the ancient Forum, the Gesù, designed by the Renaissance architects Jacopo Vignola and Giacomo della Porta, is one of the city’s most glorious architectural monuments. Its resplendent interior is famous for the grand illusionistic vault fresco, the Triumph of the Holy Name of Jesus (IHS) by Giovanni Battista Gaulli (il Baciccio)—a soaring vision of an expansive, light-filled heaven populated by the blessed from which demons tumble forth–and other celebrated works of art from the Baroque period.  Gaulli was the disciple of the great impresario Gian Lorenzo Bernini, who was associated with the Gesù for much of his life. Early in his career, Bernini carved the marble bust for the tomb of the Jesuit Cardinal and theologian Roberto Bellarmino, and his close friendship with the Superior General of the Order, Gian Paolo Oliva, meant that he was deeply involved in the project to decorate the church’s interior decades later.  According to his son Domenico, Bernini in his later years regularly attended mass at the Gesù and was among the throngs of the faithful who flocked there to hear the preached sermons for which it was renowned.

This landmark exhibition, organized to commemorate Fairfield University’s 75th anniversary, features artistic masterpieces from the Gesù itself, never before seen in America: Bernini’s bust of Roberto Bellarmino (the patron saint of Fairfield University), Gaulli’s monumental painted wood model of the apse, a shimmering gilt bronze altar sculpture by the versatile painter, draftsman and sculptor Ciro Ferri, the stunning jeweled cartagloria from the altar of St. Ignatius—a consummate example of Baroque goldsmith’s work—and the magnificent embroidered chasuble of the church’s great benefactor, Cardinal Alessandro Farnese.  These treasures will be joined by more than forty paintings, sculptures, rare books, precious objects, drawings, and prints by Bernini, Domenichino, Gaulli, Ciro Ferri, Carlo Maratti, and Andrea Pozzo, among other luminaries of the Baroque period, generously lent by numerous American museums and private collections.

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.  Within this overarching narrative are a number of “sub-plots” that the exhibition also highlights: the enviable patronage of the powerful Farnese family, who championed the cause of the new religious order and funded the building of the Gesù (though with vexing strings attached); the push to suitably embellish its austere and barren interior and dedicate and outfit its principal altars, and the creation of a new imagery exalting and promoting the Society’s founders, Ignatius of Loyola and Francis Xavier, following their canonization in 1622. The two other Jesuit churches founded in Rome in the 17th century, Sant’Ignazio and Sant’Andrea al Quirinale (the latter designed by Bernini) are also part of this presentation.

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 illustrious and strong-willed personalities whose ambitions—and financial means—made it all possible.

The exhibition is organized by Linda Wolk-Simon, Ph.D., 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. Essay authors are Gauvin Alexander Bailey, Andrew Horn, Christopher M. S. Johns, Evonne Levy, Franco Mormando, John O’Malley, S. J., Louise Rice, Xavier F. Salomon, John Beldon Scott 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:

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

Thursday, February 1

5:00 pm, 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 pm, 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

5:00 pm, 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

(co-sponsored by the Center for Ignatian Spirituality, Fairfield University)

Guided tours of the exhibition will be offered for members of the public, school groups, and college and university students. Private group tours are also available. Consult the museum website for details.

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

In conjunction with the exhibition, the museum is offering a subscription lecture series on Donatello, Michelangelo and Bernini, and a concert of sacred music in the Age of Bernini.  Consult the museum website for details.

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.

Generous support for the exhibition, publication and related programs has been provided by the Center for Catholic Studies, Fairfield University, the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, the Robert Lehman Foundation, the Robert and Mercedes Eichholz Foundation, Vanderbilt University, the Dianne Modestini Charitable Trust, and a number of private benefactors.


Vol. 50, # 59

Fairfield University is a modern Jesuit Catholic university rooted in one of the world’s oldest intellectual and spiritual traditions. More than 5,000 undergraduate and graduate students from the U.S. and across the globe are pursuing degrees in the University’s five schools. Fairfield embraces a liberal humanistic approach to education, encouraging critical thinking, cultivating free and open inquiry, and fostering ethical and religious values. The University is located on a stunning 200-acre campus on the scenic Connecticut coast just an hour from New York City.

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