Precursors of the Roman Baroque: Vignola to Carlo Maderno
The great church of Il Gesù occupies a pivotal position between the Renaissance and the Baroque. Built as the Mother Church of the Jesuit Order between 1568 and 1575, the Gesù looks back to prototypes in the Renaissance and ahead to countless Baroque derivations. Nonetheless, its somber, restrained appearance is wholly in keeping with the asceticism of its own age. More than the periods which immediately preceded or followed it, the late sixteenth century was an age that preferred sobriety and orthodox conformity to lively invention in church architecture.
The Gesù was the first of many Counter-Reformation churches built in Rome, and throughout, it reflects the practicality and decorum so strongly urged in the final decrees of the Council of Trent. The plan (2) differs sharply from the centrally planned circumfluent schemes so common in the Renaissance and so ingeniously adapted in two earlier Roman churches designed by its architect, Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola ( 1507-1573). 1
Vignola used the longitudinal basilican plan in the church at the request of his patron, Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, who wrote to his architect stressing the desirability of such a capacious and acoustically effective space. While possessing a strong sense of the practical, the designers of most churches of the time also recognized the symbolic value of architectural form, and the centrally planned church came to be regarded as iconographically inappropriate for Christian worship. Several tracts of the late sixteenth century argued that the traditional Latin Cross plan was the most suitable to express a church's symbolic