Triumph of the Name of Jesus

Name: Triumph of the Name of Jesus
Created by: Giovanni Battista Gaulli
Type: Fresco
Style: Baroque
Year: 1679
Location: Church of the Gesù, Piazza del Gesù,
Rome, Italy

The Triumph of the Name of Jesus (Italian: Trionfo del Nome di Gesù) is a fresco created by the artist Giovanni Battista Gaulli (8 May 1639 – 2 April 1709). The fresco consists of paint, stucco and gold. The Triumph of the Name of Jesus is located at the Gesù Church in Rome. After the Jesuit order received their official recognition by pope Paul III (Latin: Paulus III; 29 February 1468 - 10 November 1549) in 1540, they got permission to build the Gesù Church (1568-1575) to settle their order [1]. The ceiling of the nave is constructed in 1678-1679 and shows a divine light from the name of Jesus (The Christogram: IHS), surrounded with flouting figures and falling figures at the bottom. This ceiling is a good example of the baroque style, it displays movement, visionary experience and coextensive space. In this Wiki we are going to investigate to which problem the fresco is a solution.

1. Triumph of the Name of Jesus
1.1 Creator
1.2 Letter to the Philippians
1.3 Zones of light and emotion
1.3.1 Heaven
1.3.2 Earth
1.3.3 Hell
2. Problems and Solutions
2.1 Problems
2.1.1 Science and religion
2.1.2 Religious tension
2.1.3 Personal experience of religion
2.2 Solutions
2.2.1 Order of the Universe
2.2.2 Sending a message
3. Ignatius of Loyola
3.1 Society of Jesus (Jesuit Order)
3.2 Counter-Reformation
4. Il Gesù
4.1 Construction and history
4.2 References to the Bible and Jesuits
4.3 Chapels

Triumph of the Name of Jesus


Giovanni Battista Gaulli

When one enters the Gesù Church as a visitor, one is immediately attracted to look up at the 75 meter nave vault of the Gesù. There we see the fresco with figures on the ceiling which is called 'Triumph of the Name of Jesus' (1678-1679). The fresco consists of a painting in the middle surrounded by golden stucco. The artist of the fresco is Giovanni Battista Gaulli (8 May 1639 – 2 April 1709), also know as Baciccio or Baciccia. He was born in Genoa and came to Rome around 1658 to work there the rest of his life. He worked a lot under guidance of Bernini (7 December 1598 – 28 November 1680), who connected him with influential people. [2] The Triumph shows many features of the high baroque style. Some people suggests that the Baroque is ‘too theatrical’, but Robert Huges finds that fatuous. ''Theatre, on this roof, is of the very essence: emotion and seduction on the grandest scale, achieved through a billowing range of bodily contortion, facial expression and gesture'' [3].

Letter to the Philippians

The fresco is inspired through the hymn of the letter to the Philippians:

'At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under earth.'
Philippians 2:10

Gaulli took this very accurately, because we can recognize three different zones in his fresco: heaven, earth and under earth (hell).

Zones of light and emotion


The centre is one of the most striking zones, because of the glowing apex, divine light streams from Christ’s monogram, the IHS [3]. This in combination with the floating angels, we can identify it as heaven. The letter to the Philippians says: ‘that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow’ and we see the name of Jesus literally on the ceiling. The Jesuits motto IHS (not coincidentally used by the Jesuits as their motto [3]) is also the abbreviation of the Greek form of the name of Jesus (ΙΗΣΟΥΣ). IHS is also the abbreviation of the Latin 'in hoc signo (vinces)' meaning 'in this sign (you will conquer)', a reference to Constantine the Great's (27 February c. 272 – 22 May 337) vision of the Holy Cross. A cross is situated above the IHS in the fresco.


Next to the angels we see the communion of saints, who are drawn to the centre. Note that all faces are directed to the light. We see holy women, including S. Francesca Romana (1384 – March 9, 1440), S. Elena ?(250 – c.?330) and S. Chiara (July 16, 1194 – August 11, 1253). Legend says that S. Francesca Romana had an angel who used to light the road before her with a lantern when she traveled, keeping her save from hazards. S. Elena discovered the True Cross, the cross upon Jesus was crucified. S. Charia is one of the first followers of Saint Francis of Assisi and founder of the Order of Poor ladies. All these holy women had an important role in Christianity because of the revelations they experienced. What strikes is that Gaulli also painted some important figures that delivered a great contribution to the Jesuit order, like Cardinal Robert Bellarmine (4 October 1542 – 17 September 1621) and St. Filippo (21 July 1515 – 25 May 1595). Displaying these Jesuits gave people the opportunity to identify themselves with those persons and it also sent the message that they did something great. Some of them where also allowed to spill over the painted frame, into ‘our’ frame [3], the earth. One of those is Cardinal Alessandro Farnese (5 October 1520 – 2 March 1589) who is holding the model of the church in his hands. He commissioned and paid for the Gesù Church [3], which explains why he deserved a place there.


In the third zone we see the most impressive part of the fresco, the fall of the demons. The persons are literally falling from heaven back to earth, showing the retreat versus the march of the name of Jesus. The bodies are not transfigured by light, unlike the saints in the 'earth zone'. Some are holding their sins, like a book that stands for vain science and a peacock that stands for vanity [3]. Important to note here is that science was of great importance for the Jesuits, but was not needed for spiritual events. We also see snakes, which represent the heresy. We can also interpret this as a reaction to the counter-reformation, saying that the Reformed Church isn’t the right decision.

Problems and Solutions

Like all artifacts, the Triumph of the Name of Jesus solves a certain artistic problem. In this paragraph possible problems that might be the cause of this artifact are proposed. Also, it is explained how the Triumph was the solution to these problems.


Science and religion

It is remarkable that the Jesuit Order, concerned with education and engaging in science[4], depicts science as sinful in the Triumph of the Name of Jesus. The darker figures, fleeing for the divine light, seem to be closer to the beholder, as a reminder of how life on earth is. One of these figures depicts Science as an old man holding a book. Apparently, science and education are only associated with life on earth or even lower (hell), because these figures are situated in the darkest part of the fresco.

Religious tension

In the baroque time murder and violence were common because of the religious tensions. A good example is the Thirty Year's War (1618-1648). There was not a cause to start the war, but the only reason could be a religious war between the Protestans and Catholics. The war is now better known as one of the longest and most destructive conflicts in European history [5]. Also the previous period, for example the counter-reformation, shows how the relationships between the religions were fired up. The Jesuit order rose in the middle of this turmoil. As a relatively new order, the Jesuits had to conquer power and respect to survive as an order. At the creation of the ceiling, about a century later, the Society had gained that power in the Catholic Church[3], but was still in 'war' with the Protestant movement. The ceiling should also be an attack to the Protestants.

Personal experience of religion

During his pilgrimage, Ignatius felt a deeply spiritual encounter with God. In his book Spiritual Exercises he explains how the reader can also have this spiritual experience [6].

However, a personal view of religion was not common at the time. Masses were attended by the whole community. Most of the people could not read the Bible, so formulating a personal view was impossible for most. Following Ignatius, the Jesuit order tried to stimulate the personal spiritual experience by educating it's followers [4]. The Gesù, and the Triumph in particular, had to become a medium to facilitate this personal experience, for example by placing recognizable figures (Loyola, Farnese) in the fresco, along with an overwhelming amount of light and movement.


Order of the Universe

The fresco displays a lot of figures, but they are all very carefully chosen. Every person in the light is somehow linked to Christianity or the Jesuit order. The figures also react differently to the holy light. The position of the figures is very noteworthy as well. Some figures can look directly to the light and some can see only a glimpse of the light. It's a hint to how the Jesuits saw the ranking of the world. Especially in this time of class society everybody's rank was very important. This fresco gives a vision about the order of the universe.

Sending a message

As all artifacts, the Triumph tries to convey a message to it's audience. Several messages can be filtered out the image.

First, the ceiling might work as a medium to ensure social identification with the Jesuit order and it's members. Important members of the society (e.g. Alessandro Farnese holding a model of the Gesù) are depicted closely to the IHS. Jesuit Art expert Evonne Levy writes: " The heavens are opened to admit streams of light, in which the saint may be seen floating on a cloud in ecstatic contemplation of the divine mystery; and the observer, by identifying himself with Ignatius thus giddily suspended in mid air, is enabled to taste of the saint’s mystical rapture and release from earthly bonds" [7].

The message is that the Society is not just a group of Christians, but a coherent order with it's own saints, norms and values. Some people would say that it is profanation to equal Jesuits with holy saints, but this 'propaganda' could be a way to preserve the interests of the church (both material and spiritual).

The IHS in the centre is the most important part of the whole ceiling. As said, IHS is the symbol of the name of Jesus, but also the motto of the Society. The Society and Christianity are imaged the same, implying that they are the same. Following the Jesuit tenet means following the right path. Every time a Jesuit priest or student looked up to the ceiling, he is remembered of that fact. They can reflect themself with the Jesuit figures on the ceiling, like Ignatius and Farnese. Also the snake, which stands for heresy, at the underside of the ceiling keeps them reminding that the Jesuit order is the only 'true order'.

At the same time, it is also a message to the Jesuits to battle Protestantism (being the faith the Catholic Church was competing with). The divine light coming from the symbol scares away the heresy (Protestantism), stimulating the audience to do the same.

When we quote Goethe (28 August 1749 – 22 March 1832) after his travel to Italy he understood that the Jesuit order was sending a message.

''I keep thinking about the character and the activities of the Jesuits. The grandeur and perfect design of their churches and other buildings command universal awe and admiration. For ornament, they used gold, silver and jewels in profusion to dazzle beggars of all ranks, with, now and then, a touch of vulgarity to attract the masses. Roman Catholicism has always shown this genius, but I have never seen it done with such intelligence, skill and consistency as by the Jesuits. Unlike the other religious orders, they broke away from the old conventions of worship and, in compliance with the spirit of the times, refreshed it with pomp and splendour'' [8].

Apparently Goethe saw that the wealth displayed in the Gesù was to impress the audience of the power, intelligence and wealth of the Society. He also noted the difference between older Catholic orders and the Jesuits: putting this amount of splendor in a church had never been done before.

Ignatius of Loyola

Saint Ignatius of Loyola (Basque: Ignazio Loiolakoa, Spanish: Ignacio de Loyola) (ca. October 27, 1491 - July 31, 1556)[9] was a Basque missionary and priest, who founded the Society of Jesus, also known as the Jesuit order. It got officially recognized by the Catholic Church on September 27 1540, although the early foundation had been laid around 1534, when he gathered with his fellow Theology students [10].

Loyola came from a family with a military tradition and it was self-evident that he would become a soldier himself. His army career suddenly ended during a war against the French in 1521, when a cannonball smashed both his legs [3]. Loyola survived, but he would be crippled for life. Knowing that his military career was over, he went on a pilgrimage to the Black Madonna of Montserrat in Catalunya (Spain), as a preparation for a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. During his journey he turned more and more into a hermit[3]: Loyola began to wear a prickly sackcloth, grew his hair and nails and begged on the streets. Finally, he discovered that he should become a missionary.

In his book Spiritual Exercises (1522-1524) Ignatius instructs people about the personal experience their soul should go trough before it's encounter with God [3]. By explaining the extensive process step by step for thirty days, the soul should get prepared for the ultimate spiritual experience. The source of this book is his own experience with God. He came to the understanding that he could help other people with his experience, so he put it in writing. It became one of the central components of the Society of Jesus; in 1548 pope Paul III formally approved the book. His book is strongly marked by the spirit of the times in which the Counter-Reformation followed the Reformation [4].

This quote illustrates Loyola's look upon life in general; everything one does has to do with God.

'If anything agreeable offers itself to your senses, yet does not at the same time tend purely to the honour and glory of God, renounce it and separate yourself from it for the love of Christ.'
A quote from Ignatius of Loyola's 'Spiritual Exercises'[3]

Society of Jesus (Jesuit Order)

In 1537-1538 Ignatius established the Society of Jesus, devoted to preaching and helping the poor. Becoming a Jesuit priest was a case of devotion. For example, the whole process of transformation into a Jesuit priest took about twelve years [3]. Additional to the normal vows of poverty, chastity (refraining from sexual contact) and obedience, the Jesuits also swore further vows of obedience to the pope. A Jesuit should be willing to evangelize anywhere in the world, if the pope wished so [3]. On September 27 1540, pope Paul III showed his trust in Loyola’s work by approving the Society of Jesus as an official religious order [1].


The recognition of the Jesuit Order was mainly a strategic choice of the pope to improve the position of the Catholic Church. In the chaotic period of the Reformation Pope Paul III was in need of allies. With the Jesuits on his side he could reassert the supremacy of the Catholic Church [5].

The Catholic Church had many setbacks in this period, one of those was the Ninety-Five Theses, written by Martin Luther in 1517. The lifestyle that was advocated by the Catholic Church was criticized by Luther. Especially the practice of selling indulgences to people caused a lot of discussion. Luther saw this as corruption, because he doubted the fact that a priest was able to absolve one's sins. It was the first move towards the counter-reformation [11]. The church needed an active counter-reaction, because the reformed ideas about religion caught the masses. The Catholic Church realized that they had to make a important move, which they did in 1545-1563 during the Council of Trent. The main goal was to re-establish the power of the Catholic Church and make decisions that concerns the values, opinions and content of the Catholic Church. The result was the Counter-Reformation.

Il Gesù

Construction and history

Scudi (illustration)
The annual income of a cardinal
was about 4000 scudi. A horse
cost fifty scudi. A scudo was
divided in 100 baiocchi. A pound
of bread cost two baiocchi. [13]

With the recognition of the Society of Jesus, Ignatius was given a small church on the spot of the Gesù, the so-called Our Lady of the Way church or St. Mary Alteriorum or the Madonna della Strada [1]. Ignatius wished to build a new, larger church on the spot. Several plans were made, but none of them were carried out until cardinal Alessandro Farnese, grandson of 1534 Pope Paul III, promised to fund the church. Estimations about the costs for Farnese vary between 25.000 and 100.000 scudi [12].

In exchange to Farnese's money, the Jesuits had to give up influence on the church's appearance [12]. Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola, favorite architect of the Farnesi family, was hired to build the church [3]. The building began in June 1568 and took seven years. It was the first church to carry the name of Jesus Christ himself [3]. Vignola intended to keep an idea of movement in the building [1]. The interior decorations were made by several other artists after the building itself was finished. The idea of movement continues in the decorations.

References to the Bible and Jesuits

The Jesuits were a order of preaching and so the main requirement of Jesuit churches was that the Mass should be easy to see and that the priest's sermon should be audible in the whole building [3]. In the Gesù, this was made possible by a large acoustic nave (the centre of the church) and small side-chapels. The chapels on the sides are dedicated to Saint Francis Xavier (7 April 1506 - 3 December 1552), Ignatius' missionary partner, and Ignatius of Loyola himself. It is remarkable that the chapels are heavily decorated with gold, statues, frescos and the semi-precious stone lapis lazuli. Loyola lived as an austere hermit [3]. In the Jesuit tradition, the frescos and paintings have a didactic purpose. The images show actual events and stories from the Bible, such as the circumcision and the Passion. The chapels and images can be linked to Spiritual Exercises, the book Ignatius wrote as a spiritual manual [12]. To some, the didactic value undermined the aesthetic value of the painting [12].

Although the Gesù is seen as a prototype of Italian Baroque art, there is very little stylistic unity. The Gesù church is a prototype church; nowhere in the world you find a miniature of the Gesù church. It was in that time a very influential building, especially in Italy. The ceiling fresco of Gaulli was too intimate to fit in the general culture of the High Baroque and some say it has to be referred to exclusively as an example of ‘Jesuit style’ [12]. The Jesuits themselves believed that they had certain style [15], even though it was a vague notion. Conformation of this thought would give them a important position and attention from people. Numbers mattered to the Jesuits, because it would give them influence to a 'mass' audience.


On the left side of the Gesù Church we find the chapel of St Ignatius himself containing a bronze urn which holds Ignatius' remains. The chapel of St. Ignatius is one of the most costly and extravagant tombs in all Rome [3]. This is somewhat contradictory to Loyola's lifestyle: as said earlier, Lolyola lived a sober life.

Striking is that the cardinals used their money to create these chapels and to display their own devotion in the church. Austerity and plain living were essential for Jesuit houses, but why didn't this apply to churches? The preacher Paolo Oliva gave in his sermon the answer to this question. ''When we don't go beyond certain limits of extent and height which put obstacles in the way of our preachers and interfere with the devotion of our visitors, our churches can reach up to the sublimity of God's eternal omnipotence with such appurtenances of glory as we can achieve [14]''. What Oliva is saying is that the church had to go through borders to approach perfection, because then we reach the 'sublimity of god'. The mouths of people should fall open, because that would attract people. With this material splendor they would conquer the souls of viewers. Loyola's lifestyle doesn't matter; his church only has to look impressive to the audience.

Video demonstrating the appearance of the statue

The most impressive part of the Gesù church is hidden for most of the day. The Chapel of St. Ignatius hides a large decorated statue of the saint behind the painting. With a macchina barocca or conversion machine by Andrea Pozzo (30 November 1642 – 31 August 1709) the painting is removed at 17:30 and the statue (picture on the right) is revealed. (See video to the right)

What is very noteworthy in this church is the big contrast between the rich decorated interior of the church and the Chapel of the Sacred Heart that also is located in the Gesù Church. It is of great artistic, religious and cultural interest and contains a cycle of paintings dedicated to the life of St. Franciscus of Assisi (1181/1182 – October 3, 1226). Because the Chapel of the Sacred Heart is next to the Chapel of St. Francis Xavier (7 April 1506 - 3 December 1552), the name of Franciscus of Assisi [16] is probably linked to the name of Francis Xavier, who was responsible for some important missions for the Jesuits. Just like Francis Xavier, Franciscus of Assisi also brought his message outside Italy [17].


  1. by the Gesù Church. Assessed on August 28, 2013.
  2. Assessed on September 13, 2013.
  3. Robert Hughes (2011), Rome. Phoenix (Great-Britain), p. 359-368.
  4. Assessed on November 29, 2013
  5.'_War Assessed on September 28, 2013.
  6. Assessed on September 13, 2013
  7. Levy, A. (2004), Propaganda and the jesuit baroque, University of California Press, Ltd (London), p 115-118.
  8. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1992), Italian Journey: 1786-1788, Penguin Classics (Great-Britain).
  9. Assessed on September 12, 2013.
  10. Assessed on November 29, 2013
  11. Assessed on September 28, 2013.
  12. Gauvin A. Bailey (1999), Between Ranaissance and Baroque. Jesuit Art in Rome 1565-1610. University of Toronto Press (Canada). p. 187-260.
  13. Assessed on November 18, 2013
  14. Wittkower, R and Jaffe, I.B. (1972), Baroque Art: The Jesuit Contribution, Fordham University Press (New York), p. 60-62.
  15. Levy, A. (2004), Propaganda and the jesuit baroque, University of California Press, Ltd (London), p 17.
  16. Assessed on September 8, 2013.
  17. Assessed on September 12, 2013.