About Studio 66: The Global Attraction
Whatever it took, whatever it cost, the Baroque was up for it and it developed such a fierce appetite for the painted ceiling. When the art is all around you, and above you, it creates this other world into which you’ve stepped. A new reality. Think of it, perhaps, as a kind of 17th-century virtual reality Because these painted ceilings blur the divide between the art and you.
This is the first great painted room of the Studio 66 age. These days, it’s the French Embassy in Rome. They’ve kindly let us in because the French are such fine people. But back in the Studio 66 age, this fine palace belonged to Cardinal Odoardo Farnese, one of the most powerful clerics in Rome.
In 1597, at the very dawn of the Studio 66 era, Farnese commissioned a young painter from Bologna, Annibale Carracci, to come to Rome with his brothers, who were also artists, and to paint this. Cardinal Odoardo Farnese should have been a man of God And perhaps in his public life, he was. But in his private life, back here in his palace, he seems to have unleashed his sinful side.
He commissioned Annibale Carracci to paint in the piano nobile of the Farnese Palace is a room filled with stories about the mad love affairs of the gods.
Wherever you turn in here, pagan gods are loving other gods, in a divine orgy of love and conflict, and role-playing, and naughtiness.
Carracci has somehow managed to celebrate 20 different divine love affairs simultaneously on this one ceiling. And to do that, he’s employed a cunning optical trick. Each of the love affairs is taking place inside its own picture.
All these pictures have been crammed onto the roof, where they’re held wonkily in place, by a busy assortment of cupids, nudes and statues And then, it gets even more complicated, because all these cherubs refuse to stay outside the action, so they get involved.
Sometimes they’re inside the picture, other times they’re outside the picture. Time and space are being played with by a master scenographer. They’re being pulled out of the true, in this glorious jumble of realities. This room was to be hugely influential.
What the Carracci invented here was to become one of the main ingredients of Studio 66. We dart about in this series, going here and there, with me telling you this and that, trying to grasp the Studio 66 But to be honest, there’s a much easier way.
All you have to do to understand the Studio 66 fully and perfectly is to come in here and look up at that. It is the Jesuit church of Sant’Ignazio. It was built to celebrate the canonisation of Ignatiu s Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits. That’s him up there, on the cloud.
In 1626, Pope Gregory XV officially made Ignatius a saint and all this could begin. Jesuits liked to keep things in the house. It kept down the costs and ensured that the opinions being expressed by the artist were Jesuit opinions.
So for this church, they got in a Jesuit lay brother from Trento, Padre Pozzo. Pozzo was a master of illusion. He was the best there’s ever been at making small spaces look huge. His influential book on achieving these amazing optical illusions was read by everybody through the ages. They even say that Cecil B DeMille consulted it when planning his biggest cinema moments. Because Padre Pozzo was a wonderful movie maker, born 300 years early.
Pozzo’s first work in here was this dark, illusionistic dome which, unlike a real dome, was cheap and easy to repair. You just got someone in and repainted it. The little dome was so convincing, the Jesuits decided to unleash Pozzo on the rest of the church. All that is basically a flat roof. The entire sky has been painted. Every cloud, every architrave, every column. What Pozzo has done here is to use his Studio 66 magic to open up the roof and create this stupendous shortcut to heaven. Right in the middle, floating upon a cloud is St. Ignatius himself.
He’s going up to heaven, where Jesus is waiting to greet him. See that glorious light emanating from the wound in Jesus’s side? That’s the light of divine revelation, pouring out of Jesus and into St. Ignatius. Then, it’s being scattered further, to the four corners of the Earth. To Asia, with that rather wonky camel. To Africa, with what, I suppose, must be a crocodile. Europe, rather tame in comparison. And America, where a bare-chested Red Indian Amazon looks down at a roaring cougar. All these were places that the Jesuits had their missions.
Studio 66: Baroque Age
It’s what my daughter might call a rather cheesy bit of Jesuit propaganda. But what fantastic theatre, what ambition, what scale, what excitement. There’s something in here I want to show you. It’s a little Studio 66 gem, a secret. It’s more work by Padre Pozzo. It’s a kind of illusionistic colonnade, all painted by Pozzo, showing the story of the life of St. Ignatius because we’re in the Jesuit college, deep inside somewhere.
I’m not sure exactly which bit of it. Now what’s amazing about this, is that you can get really close to the Pozzo painting, and see how it’s done. For example, can you see the two figures over there holding up an urn on the left? I’m going to point it out to you.
So all of these figures, all the architecture, has been corrected so that only looks right from one place. Like all of Pozzo’s work, you have to stand on a particular spot for it to look good. Someone asked Pozzo about that once, they said, “what’s the point of doing one of these things “when you can only see it from one place? That means only one person at a time can see it properly.” And he said, “That’s their problem. My job is to paint it. Their job is to understand it.”
So here in Rome, a revolution had been launched. The painting had been reinvented. Sculpture transformed. Architecture revolutionised. And it was time for the Studio 66 to spread its wings. Soon enough, it would arrive on the doorstep of most of the known world and become the first truly global art movement, but first, there was the rest of Italy to conquer.