Santa Clara University

statue of St. Ignatius

Ignatius: Holy man of the Renaissance

Reflections on Santa Clara's statue of St. Ignatius

By Michael Pastizzo, S.J., assistant professor of religious studies at Canisius College, Buffalo, New York.

One of the most recent and original additions to the Santa Clara University campus is a monumental sculpture of St. Ignatius done by Lisa Reinertson, an artist from Davis, Calif., who has taught at SCU. The work was commissioned by Janice and William Terry, both alumni of the University, who requested that Ignatius not be presented as a soldier saint. 

The bronze sculpture is located behind the Walsh administration building in a quiet garden of the campus. As one approaches it from the front, one is struck by its Michelangelo-like style. It reminds one of the beautiful fresco of the prophet Isaiah painted by Raphael in the style of Michelangelo (St. Augustine's Church, Rome). This monumentally human Ignatius is not only reminiscent of Raphael's Isaiah but also of Michelangelo's Moses (St. Peter's in Chains, Rome). Reinertson's bold way of presenting the mystic and founder of the Jesuits is striking. 

Isaiah by Raphael
Isaiah by Raphael
Moses
Michelangelo's Moses
forearm crossing
forearm crossing
demeanor suggesting contemplation
demeanor suggesting contemplation
base of the seated figure
base of the seated figure
form suggesting water
a river splashing outwards
frontal pose of the figure of Jesus
frontal pose of the figure of Jesus
series of eight crosses
series of eight crosses
series of eight crosses
Black Madonna of Manresa
Black Madonna of Manresa
Ignatius kneels
Ignatius kneels
seated figure offers a bowl to a child
seated figure offers a bowl to a child
a distant landscape
a distant landscape


The sculpture (eight feet tall including its pedestal) towers over the viewer and shocks us when we recall the diminutive Ignatius in real life (he was approximately 5 feet 3 inches tall). The figure is seated with head slightly lowered and turned to our left, beautifully reflecting the traditional features preserved through Ignatius' death mask. There is a stillness and silence to his demeanor suggesting contemplation. In the classic contraposto position, the shoulders are rotated in the opposite direction to the plane of the head with the right arm raised, its muscular forearm crossing in front of his chest with a hand pointing to an open book. (The hand points to a blank page but leads the eye to the inscription on the adjacent page.) The book is supported by the receding left forearm and hand that cups the bottom of the volume. The hips, frontally viewed, are seen as turned against the rotating shoulders. The right leg, lined up with the turned head, is covered with the cloth of his cassock that in a classic way reveals the forms of the anatomy beneath it. The left leg is uncovered, exposing both its natural muscular form and its pulled-back position. The bare foot bridges the land and water and seems oversized, drawing attention to it and to the idea of travel. There are no signs of wounds from the cannonball that forced Ignatius into convalescence and eventually led to his conversion. The pulled-back left leg suggests the moment of rising, of action, or decision, a typical focus on the human will found in Renaissance art.

One expects that the open book is the Spiritual Exercises or the Constitutions bearing the traditional letters, "A. M. D. G.," which stands for "Ad maijoram Dei gloriam," or "For the greater glory of God." However upon examination the page reads in simple script, "The more universal the good-the more it is Divine." This quote from Ignatius reflects more the great endeavors of humankind with which Ignatius and his companions identified than with the consciously Christian mission of the church. From a theological point of view, the mystery of the Incarnation is stressed rather than Jesus' death and resurrection. This emphasis seems so appropriate to Ignatius and the Jesuits' early commitment to education of the whole person, of laboring with humankind, and finding God in all things.

At the base of the seated figure against the bronze color of the sculpture, one finds the teal-blue of a form suggestive of flowing water, a river splashing outwards. Water indeed emerges from the end surrounding the work with a pool of flowing water. As one follows the diminishing shape, one is led to the side and eventually up and around to the back of this massive figure. It is here that one is struck by what can only be called a series of bas-reliefs integrated into the back of the figure and its rock-like seat. The source of this rapidly diminishing river finally reaches into the juncture of thigh and calf found at the back of the right knee, suggesting that the source of this river is Ignatius himself, his interior. The water-form evokes the river Cardoner, along side of which Ignatius experienced his Trinitarian vision.

On the back, what first catches the eye is the frontal pose of the figure of Christ with a simple halo over his head that follows the surface contours across the broad back of the sculpture. The lightly bearded Jesus has one hand clasped to his heart and the other with an open gesture down by his right side. Interestingly this figure is not in a cruciform pose but seems to speak simply about the human spirit-filled Jesus. Below the figure is a series of eight crosses that begin under his lowered open hand and flow upward following the curve of Ignatius' outer garment. The two-dimensional image of Jesus is literally on Ignatius' back, and integrated into the contours of his body. One could say that he literally "wears" Jesus and the multiple crosses below like a habit. This symbolic habit, hidden from the frontal view, and often missed by the viewer, serves to specify the monumental human form with the spirit of Jesus, a spirit that is hidden at the heart of Ignatius' humanity-the deep mystical source of his greatness.

Each cross carries a name: the first is "Ramos", then "Ramos" again referring to the two lay women (Julia Elba Ramos, a cook, and her young daughter, Celina) martyred in El Salvador. The next name, "Ellacuria, S. J.," the only name that carries S. J., which visually serves to indicate that the following crosses are those of the six Jesuit priests that were also martyred: Ignacio Ellacuria, a Spanish born Salvadorian citizen, was the rector of the Central American University; the cross that carries "Martin Baro" (Ignacio Martin-Baro), also a Spanish-born Salvadoran citizen who was the university's vice rector. Above the latter is "Lopez Lopez" (Joaquin Lopez y Lopez), a Salvadoran-born Jesuit who was director of a center for humanitarian assistance affiliated with the university.

Following the curve of the garment, we see "Moreno", (Juan Ramon Moreno), a Spaniard who was director of two university-related programs; "Montes" (Segundo Montes), a Spanish-born sociology professor; and finally "Lopez" (Arnando Lopez), a Spanish-born philosophy professor. One familiar with the campus and with the tragic event easily recognizes the eight Salvadorians brutally executed by military forces on Nov. 17, 1989. This symbolic imagery of crosses and names speak of the Ignatian or Jesuit spirit today, "the service of faith and the promotion of justice" (General Congregation 32).

As on the statue's front, words appear on the posterior, an inscription that follows the upward curve of the garment: "Faith and Education in the service of justice." All of the formulation lie in the inside curve of the cloak's edge-except the word "of" which is placed on the outside of a small curl of the cloak. This little detail seems to reveal the artist's desire to integrate the words within the sculpted forms or surfaces themselves. Like the two-dimensional image of Christ, which rests on the figure's back and follows the contours of its surface, the words are inscribed into the sculpted forms themselves. The effect integrates verbal meaning into the form itself, investing and specifying the monumental human shape with its significance, appropriate for the Jesuit education apostolate. These words re-enforce and make explicit the Salvadorian martyrdom in service of higher education and justice.

As one examines the support or seat of the sculpture one sees at the base, below the river form, a bas-relief of the Black Madonna of Manresa with the kneeling Ignatius laying down his sword. Sculpted into the stone is this famous icon of Mary and the child in her lap seated under an arch. Just like the original, she and the boy Jesus each hold a globe. The iconography speaks of the newly converted Ignatius' midnight vigil in the monastery at Montserrat in which he dedicated himself to the Virgin Mother of God. Devotion to Mary had a special place in the life of Ignatius, and the Jesuits continue that devotion to this day.

To the left of this bas-relief one sees another relief also under an archway. Here the cloaked Ignatius kneels on one knee extending his arm and hand toward a standing, amply robed, figure that holds some object (scroll) in his left hand. In the background are outlined six figures, the early companions of Ignatius. The iconography suggests the acceptance of the Formula of the Institute of the early Jesuits by Pope Paul III (1540). This relief essentially places the Jesuit religious order at the service of the universal Church. 

As one moves to the left, a third bas-relief is found above the wavy water, or river form. A seated figure offers a bowl to a child who lies covered with blankets and at the same time supports the child's head with his other hand. This simple iconography suggests the ministry to the sick or the corporal works of mercy exercised by Ignatius and his early companions.

If one looks carefully above and to the right of this scene of care for the sick child there is another scene (below), a distant landscape, which is etched into the seat under Ignatius' cloak. One sees a distant fortress-like building sketched into the surface, a castle or palace, with a simple road-form curving to meet the teal-blue river-form. This simple "sketch" seems to suggest the castle of Loyola; the place of his convalescence and conversion, and the simple road leading away from it to the river-form suggests the early pilgrim-nature of his life. The fact that it is more like a drawing than a bas-relief and that it is in the distance suggests the idea of origin. When one considers the monumental nature of the figure of Ignatius in relation to this hidden and distant scene, one may be shocked by the contrast between the origin of Ignatius' holiness and the end and nature of his holiness. The great humanness of Ignatius comes from his religious conversion. 

The Jesus figure is the largest of the five scenes depicted; his size, like the role of sizes in Byzantine art, suggests his theological primacy. His gesture of one hand open and one clasped over his heart seems to present the crosses (the martyrs) as close to his heart. One could say it is the font or source of the spirit of the martyrs, a spirit that flows down to contemporary times. On the "seat" or foundation, one might also see ichnographically this Jesus-spirit as the spirit of devotion to Mary, service of the universal church, the corporal works of mercy, and his religious conversion. All of this iconography is visually linked to the monumental human form of Ignatius through the river Cardoner symbolic of the mystical vision of Ignatius. It is as if the water or river form passes through them (two below and two above) and emerges on the front side of the work increasing in size till it terminates in an open splash to the ambience, the world.

After one has explored and appropriated all of the iconographical meaning of the work, found mainly on the back, one is struck by the two different art forms, sculpture and bas-relief, which have been integrated together. The two-dimensional media of bas-relief has been integrated with the three-dimensional media of sculpture. From the front, one's normal, first view of the work, the work speaks simply of a great or monumental humanity expressed in Renaissance style and this is simply identified with the portrait of Ignatius. If this is all the viewer sees, one could easily come away asking if we have now made Ignatius simply a secular figure, one without any clear reference to God and Christianity. And of course who would dare suspect that there is anything but the expected and less interesting forms of a seated human figure on the back. However, if you circle the sculpture, or follow the river-form to its back, you may be surprised at what you see-it is truly a "revelation." The overwhelming effect of viewing the back is the narrative or the story in art, that is, it gives us specific meaning and content. Our intellect grasps the idea of the human Jesus, the Salvadorian martyrs, and the key events according to the artist in the life of Ignatius. Just like we intellectually recognize the face of the monumental human figure as that of Ignatius, we now clearly recognize the subject matter, the intellectual content, of the novel rear view of the seated human figure.

Just like Baroque art, which organically attempts to integrate the three plastic arts of architecture, sculpture, and painting, the artist has integrated two art forms, sculpture and bas-relief. And like painting, which, with its two dimensions, is seen as more spiritual (non-material) in the hierarchy of the plastic arts, so, too, we may see that the two-dimensional bas-reliefs as more "spiritual" then the sculptural form of the human figure. So now one may sense the 'spiritual' form of the iconography, of the story. The spirit of the human Jesus intimately incorporated into the back of a human body, the spirit of the martyrs (of the cross), as intimate and symbolic as clothes are to the body, are both made clear in the truth of "faith and education in the service of justice." The seat or foundation of the figure speaks of four special or life-forming events in the life of Ignatius, the place of his conversion, his devotion to Mary, his dedication to the service of the universal Church, and his ministry to the sick and the poor.

All of this is experienced as a "revelation" that characterizes and imbues the monumental humanity of the figure, of the human being called Ignatius. He is holy or saintly precisely through his humanness, and his greatness owes itself to his love of and dedication to Jesus, to Mary, to the Church, and to the poor and sick of society. His sanctity is hidden deeply in the monumental greatness of his humanness, which issues forth in his vision of the created and redeemed goodness of all humankind: "The more universal the good-the more it is Divine."

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