St. Ignatius Loyola, from the Ratio Studiorum (1606)

Books Illustrating the First Two Centuries
of Contemplation and Action of the Society of Jesus

Thumbnail image from Matteo Ricci's De Christiana expeditione

Book 6

Bartoli, Daniello, 1608-1685.
Della vita e dell’istituto di S. Ignatio ...
(Rome: Nella stamparia d’Ignatio de’Lazari, 1659)

The ornate title page of this work reflects the growing cult of Ignatius following his death in 1556 and his elevation to sainthood in 1622, as well as the evolution of imagery added to the Gesù, the Mother Church of the Society in Rome throughout the seventeenth century, where the connections of Ignatius to the Divine were repeated and refined. Here we see the earth’s orb illuminated by rays of light streaming from the sun, next to which an apotheosized Ignatius, looking calm and cerebral, sits in glory. Below, personifications of the four known continents, the objects of the Society’s missionary and educational endeavors (Africa, Asia, Europe, and America) gaze heavenward. Two continents, Europe and Asia, are personified by women of regal bearing who turn away from their material and terrestrial possessions to behold Ignatius and the symbols of the Society’s mission. At Europe’s feet lie a crown and a tiara, symbols of temporal and spiritual preeminence—a sly dig at papal authority? The fabled wealth of the East is symbolized by a treasure hoard spread on the ground near Asia. Africa and America (North and South America then were often represented as one continent), also gazing heavenward, are portrayed as semi-nude female figures holding attributes of their geographical regions, and revealing through their partial undress their lack of civilization. The rendering of the four parts of the earth as female figures is common for this period, but this illustration also reminds the viewer that the Jesuits, an all male order, were nevertheless very conscious of their role as confessors and spiritual guides to women—who were also sometimes important patrons of the Society’s endeavors.

This engraving, executed by the Flemish artist Cornelis Bloemaert, combines the themes of illumination, worldwide activity, divine approbation, and, perhaps most notably, the personality of Ignatius himself. In the century after his death, the Society’s founder increasingly became recast as a figure largely divorced from the practical business of directing the early Society and became instead an almost superhuman personality (compare with the portrait of Ignatius on the title page of the Ratio and note the generous size of the saint’s cranium here) who might be approached only with great reverence. While this rendering of Ignatius is less rigid than that seen on the title page of the Ratio, the Founder is still presented as an extraordinary entity with unusual attributes and in close communion with the Divine. The more human side of Ignatius’ personality would remain buried under pious legends and baroque accretions until the twentieth century when the published memoirs of Luís Gonçalves de Câmera would reveal glimpses of the real man.[11]

Summing up the ideas of a spiritual journey, contact with non-European cultures, and the universality of the message proffered by the Society, this engraving suggests how the mature Society saw its place in the world a little more than a century after Ignatius had passed from the scene.

[11] Luís Gonçalves de Câmera, Remembering Iñigo: The "Memoriale": Glimpses of the Life of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, trans. Joseph A. Munitiz, S.J., and Alex Eaglestone (St. Louis: The Institute of Jesuit Sources, 2004).

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