Many artists worked at the Trinità dei Monti convent, next to the church of the same name, opposite the iconic Piazza di Spagna’s 18th-century staircase. One of them was Charles-Louis Clérisseau (1721-1820), who decorated the cell for father Le Sueur – one of the convent’s erudite monks – with a run-down Pantheon meant to inspire meditation on the fleeting nature of worldly success.
The construction of the convent began in the late 14th century by will of king Charles VIII, son of Luis XI, who dedicated it to Saint Francis of Paola. It is a treasure chest of amazing artwork, featuring optical illusions and amusing visual perspectives.
Andrea Pozzo frescoed the refectory with a theatrical “Wedding at Cana” that breaks through space and creates the effect of 3D depth.
Father Emmanuel Maignan (1601-1676) and his student, father Jean-François Niceron (1613-1646), created masterful anamorphoses – i.e. optical illusions in which the subject represented changes depending on the point of view: thus Maigna’s “Saint Francis of Paola” painted on a hall wall turns into a coastal view with a boat sailing towards a small harbor; and Niceron’s “Saint John the Evangelist Writing the Apocalypse” transforms into a view of the island of Patmos, where the holy man had the vision he described in his book.
Between the two anamorphoses – on the eastern and western hallways on the building’s first floor – is a fascinating genomic-catoptric astrolabe by Maignan: on a curved vault ceiling, a tangle of lines marked with numbers and symbols tells not only the time in any location in the world but also the position of the stars and planets, thanks to the light coming in from the windows.