Born in Trento in 1632 and showing a talent for art, he was sent by his father to work with an artist; Pozzo was then 17 years old (in 1659). From aspects of his early style this initial artistic training came probably from Palma il Giovane. He then went on under the supervision of another unidentified painter from the workshop of Andrea Sacchi who taught him the techniques of Roman.
He entered the Jesuit Order as a lay brother on 25 December 1665, In 1668, he was assigned to the Casa Professa of San Fidele in Milan, where his gala decorations in honor of Francis Borgia recently canonised met wide-ranging approval. He then started training in Genoa and Venice. The deep colors, and realistic chiaroscuro techniques were influenced by the Lombard School.
He painted the Life of Jesus while in Genoa which shows signs of being inspired by Peter Paul Rubens.
Many of the Jesuit churches were built in current decades and were devoid of painted decoration, therefore he was employed by the Jesuits to decorate churches and buildings such as their churches of Modena, Bologna and Arezzo.
His first large fresco was the interior of San Francis Xavier church in Mondovì.
In this church one can already see his later illusionistic techniques : faux gilding, bronze-colored statues, marbled columns and a trompe-l'oeil dome on a flat ceiling, people with foreshortened figures in architectural settings.
In 1678 he painted the ceiling of the Jesuit church of SS. Martiri in Turin.
Unfortunately, he frescoes progressively deteriorated through water penetration. Luigi Vacca replaced them in 1844 by new paintings. Only fragments of the original frescoes survive today.
Pozzo was called to Rome in 1681, by Giovanni Paolo Oliva, Superior General of the Jesuits. Originally he was used as a stage designer for biblical pageants, but his illusionistic paintings in perspective for these stages gave him a reputation as a expert in wall and ceiling decorations.
The first Roman frescoes he painted were in the corridor linking the Church of the Gesù to the rooms where St.Ignatius had lived. Here he painted his trompe l'oeil architecture and paintings depicting the Saint's life.
For several generations, through out Catholic Europe his masterpiece, the illusory perspectives in frescoes of the dome, set the standard for the decoration of Late Baroque ceiling frescos and are a remarkable and emblematic creation of High Roman Baroque.
On the flat ceiling he painted an metaphor of the Apotheosis of S. Ignatius, in breathtaking perspective. The painting, is devised to make an observer, looking from a spot marked by a brass disc set into the floor of the nave, seem to see a lofty vaulted roof decorated by statues, while in fact the ceiling is flat. The architecture of the trompe-l'oeil domes seems to erase and raise the ceiling with such a realistic impression that it is difficult to distinguish what is real or not.
In 1695 he was given the prestigious commission, after winning a competition against Sebastiano Cipriani and Giovanni Battista Origone, for an altar in the St. Ignatius chapel in the transept of the Church of the Gesù. This extravagant altar above the tomb of the saint, built with rare marbles and precious metals, shows the Trinity, while four lapis lazuli columns (these are now copies) enclose the colossal statue of the saint by Pierre Legros. It was the coordinated work of more than 100 sculptors and craftsmen, among them Pierre Legros, Bernardino Ludovisi, Il Lorenzone and Jean-Baptiste Théodon. Andrea Pozzo also designed the altar in the Chapel of St Francesco Borgia in the same church.
In 1697 he was asked to build similar Baroque altars with scenes from the life of St Ignatius in the apse of the Sant'Ignazio church in Rome. These altars house the relics of St. Aloysius Gonzaga and of St. John Berchmans.
He continued painting frescoes and illusory domes in Turin, Mondovì, Modena, Montepulciano and Arezzo. In 1681 he was asked by Cosimo III de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany to paint his self-portrait for the ducal collection (now in the Uffizi in Florence). This oil on canvas has become a most original self-portrait. It shows the painter in a diagonal pose, showing with his right index finger his illusionist easel painting (a trompe-l'oeil dome, perhaps of the Badia church in Arezzo) while his left hand rests on three books (probably alluding to his not-yet published treatises on perspective). The painting was sent to the duke in 1688. He also painted scenes from the life of St Stanislaus Kostka in the saint's rooms of the Jesuit noviciate of Sant'Andrea al Quirinale in Rome.
In 1702 he moved to Vienna.There he worked for Prince Johann Adam von Liechtenstein, and various religious orders and churches, such as the frescoes and the trompe-l'oeil dome in the Jesuit Church. His most significant surviving work in Vienna is the monumental ceiling fresco of the Hercules Hall of the Liechtenstein garden palace, an Admittance of Hercules to Olympus, which, according to the sources, was very admired by contemporaries. Some of his Viennese altarpieces have also survived (Vienna's Jesuit church). His compositions of altarpieces and illusory ceiling frescoes had a strong influence on the Baroque art in Vienna. He also had many followers in Hungary, Bohemia, Moravia, Slovakia, and even in Poland.
Pozzo published his artistic ideas in a noted theoretical work, entitled Perspectiva pictorum et architectorum illustrated with 118 engravings, dedicated to emperor Leopold I. In it he offered instruction in painting architectural perspectives and stage-sets. The work was one of the earliest manuals on perspective for artists and architects and went into many editions, even into the nineteenth century, and has been translated from the original Latin and Italian into numerous languages such as French, German, English and, Chinese thanks to Pozzo's Jesuit connection.
He died in Vienna in 1709 just as he was planning to return to Italy to design a new Jesuit church in Venice. He was buried with great honors in one of his best realizations, the Jesuit church in Vienna.Fresco with trompe l'œil dome painted on low vaulting, Jesuit Church, Vienna, Austria.
Fresco with trompe l'œil dome painted on low vaulting,
Jesuit Church, Vienna, Austria
Andrea Pozzo's painted ceiling in the Church of St. Ignazio.
The illustionistic perspective of Pozzo's brilliant trompe-l'oeil dome at Sant'Ignazio (1685) is revealed by viewing it from the opposite end
Altar of St Ignatius Loyola
Allegory of the Jesuits' Missionary Work (detail)