Ducal Hall in the Apostolic Palace

Veduta della Sala Ducale, su progetto di Antonio da Sangallo il Giovane, decorata a partire dal 1555 sotto Paolo IV, Palazzi Apostolici Vaticani, Sala Ducale

The Sala Ducale is in the oldest part of the Vatican Apostolic Palace, built during the time of Popes Innocent II (1198-1216) and Nicolas III (1277-1280). The space was used for official ceremonies to receive important personalities, such as the “Dukes of highest power,” thus resulting in its name, the Ducal Hall. It was also used as a public Consistory, wherein the solemn assembly of the cardinals headed by the Pope would gather together to discuss and deliberate on topics such as beatifications and sanctifications (these were also open to other clergy and laity).
Originally the hall was divided into two distinct spaces: the second and third chambers. The second chamber, adjacent to the Sala Regia, served as a sort of lobby or waiting room, and the third chamber was where the ceremonies were actually held. The hall is still reserved for ceremonial occasions in the Apostolic Palace. Initially upon entering the hall, what is immediately striking to the eye is the spectacular arch, dressed in sumptuous drapery. The illusion of fabric upheld by putti, or little cherubs, is actually a creative work in stucco by the great sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680). The artist was commissioned by Pope Alexander VII (1655-1667), and entrusted the physical execution to Antonio Raggi (1624-1686), one of his most valuable aids. This resultant grandiose scene is not only exquisite in its Baroque taste, but also a genius execution by Bernini to successfully unify the two areas and mask the distinct aesthetic and architectural irregularities existing between the two zones. The old separation between the second and third chambers is, however, still evident in the decorations of the vaults and walls, which remain different for each of the two environments.

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They were completed at different times as a result of various pontiffs commissioning the work. These incongruences are visible even if the wide use of grotesques to connect the landscapes, mythological scenes, putti, and allegorical figures throughout the room give a certain harmony to the whole.
As for the third room, in 1555, Paul IV (1555-1559) entrusted to artist G.P. Venale the decorations of the grotesques, as recalled in the inscription in his family coat of arms. His fresco work of landscapes within oval geometries with almost a Flemish flair was inspired by the work of Matteo da Siena (1533-1588), a landscape and grotesque painter who had an active role in the Gallery of the Maps. The frieze with the stories of Phaedrus, in which appears grotesques and the Medici Coat of Arms, was the work of an artist who worked closely with Giovanni da Udine (1487-1561) and was commissioned by Pius IV (1559-1565), a Medici Pope.

Sala Ducale, Aula secunda. Paesaggio notturno con elefante (attr. a Cesare Piemontese)

The second chamber, on the other hand, has its vault divided into three panes. The great Medici emblem dominates the center pane, bearing reference to the pontificate of Pius IV. Meanwhile, the two panels facing the room of the vestments and the Sala Regia were painted by Lorenzo Sabbatini(1530-1576) and Raffaellino da Reggio(1550-1578), respectively. Both panels illustrate the story of Hercules. The two artists also worked for Pope Gregory XIII (1572-1585), who is invoked through dragon-like elements constituting the coat of arms. The frieze of landscapes and allegorical figures underlying the vault that the holy pontiff also commissioned are attributed to Ceasar Arbasi the Piedmont (1540-1614).

Veduta della Sala Ducale, su progetto di Antonio da Sangallo il Giovane, decorata a partire dal 1555 sotto Paolo IV, Palazzi Apostolici Vaticani, Sala Ducale
After the aforementioned strategy of Bernini in the 17th century to create a single magnificent room suited to the demands of the papal court, the installation of the floor should not be disregarded. The unique geometric marble polychrome design was completed under the pontificate of Benedict XV (1914-1922). His reign also witnessed the grotesque decoration of the walls and two landscapes in the lunette of the third chamber.

Jan Soens, Il gallo e la perla, Palazzi Apostolici Vaticani, Sala Ducale (la scena fa parte del fregio decorativo della parete est realizzato sotto Pio IV 1560-1565)

Ares-Mars statue

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The origin of this sculpture is unknown. At the end of the 1700’s it was part of Gavin Hamilton’s collection, painter and antique dealer; then, it was part of Marconi’s collection from Frascati and around the 19th century, it became part of the pontificate collections to be set up in the Lateran Museums. Lastly, in 1963, it was moved into the Vatican, along with other relicts, and a few years later moved to the Gregorian Profane Museum. _MG_8776The body is that of a young man in heroic nudity, dressed only with a cape that is fixed by a clasp on the right shoulder, and that covers part of its back. The typology of this artifact, known by other replicas of the imperial age, gets its inspiration from Greek sculpture models of the 5th century BC. Yet, it seems to be adopted during the 2nd century AD, for honorary military iconographic statues that would primarily depict emperors such as Antonino Pio, Marco Aurelio, and Lucio Vero. The military character of the iconographic typology is revealed by the presence of an armor shaped like a tree trunk, which lies on the sustainment next to the right leg. Moreover, the head, which also shows modern restoration interventions, can be compared to other replicas of the imperial ages. The origin is hypothetically from a bronze statue that depicts the god of war, Ares, and that was created in Attica, between 430 and 420 BC.

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Lower Walls of the Hall of Liberal Arts in the Borgia Apartments

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The Borgia Apartments takes its name from Pope Alexander VI, the Spanish Rodrigo de Borja y Doms. These rooms are located on the first floor of the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican, above the area known today as the Belvedere Courtyard, in the wing that was built during the pontificate of Pope Nicholas V (1497-1455). When Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia was elected Pope in 1492, the year of the discovery of America, he chose these rooms as his private lodgings and official meeting halls, and they remained as such until the end of his pontificate in 1503.

Basamento Sala Arti Liberali (3)He commissioned the decoration of the entire complex, which was completed in 1494, to the Umbrian painter Bernardino di Betto Bardi, known as “Il Pinturicchio”. After the death of the Pope, the rooms were abandoned and left in a state of extreme neglect, which was aggravated by the continuous changes in their destination: private residence, picture gallery, library and ending as a museum. These changes involved both large and small restorations for the entire interior.
This was especially evident in the intervention in 1889-1897 by the prestigious painter Ludovico Seitz, whose prime objective was the recuperation of the original paintings of the 1400’s on the lower walls and the integration of the missing areas on which the painter Emilio Retrosi also worked. This was “… to attempt to bring back the artistic concept of Bernardino Betti, unveiling and scrupulously imitating the traces of these older paintings…”.

A subsequent general restoration of the rooms, commissioned by Pope Paul VI and carried out by Ottemi Della Rotta between 1971-1973, mostly concerned the vaulting and lunettes. For this occasion, the walls of the entire apartment were covered in fabric, rending it possible to host the Collection of Contemporary Art that was opened to the public in 1973. At the time, Deoclecio Redig de Campos, then head of the Vatican Museums, expressed a negative opinion of the plan, “both for the damage caused by the nails, and because the fabric would cover the frescoes on the walls, altering the character of the two rooms, and depriving the public and scholars of such a fine example of interior decoration of the 15th century.”

Basamento Sala Arti Liberali (5)

Thirtyseven casts of the mosaics from St. Mary Major and the Lateran Baptistery

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The 37 molds made out of painted plaster, which belong to the Vatican Museums, were created during the 1930s and 1940s as a result of the restoration construction sites carried out during the pontificate of Pius XI (1922-1939). The latter occurred within the two grand monuments of Ancient Christian Rome. Along with these 37 molds, one must keep in mind that there are approximately another 60, among which there are unpainted and mother molds that recently have re-emerged from museum deposits. These will then undergo specific restoration interventions.
These works marked the beginning of a new approach to the mosaics, given modern orientation and technical experimentation. Now, the mosaic is not considered the only means for the representation of two-dimensional images.

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In fact, the molds, as testimonies of the three-dimensionality of the original artifacts, allow us to acknowledge their innovative technical aspects, while documenting their preservation status prior to the discussed modern integrations. The majority of the mosaic molds that, to this day, are preserved in the Vatican Museums, all originally come from the church of St. Mary Major. That is to say, both from the mosaic cycle of Sixtus III (432-440), and from the medieval decorations of the apse and front; the first made by Jacopo Torriti and the second by Filippo Rusuti. Likewise, the molds from the mosaics of the lobby of Sixtus III and from the decorations of the chapel of San Venanzio, created by the Popes John IV (640-642) and Teodoro (642-648) for the safekeeping of the remains of the holy martyrs of Salona, were designed for the Lateran Baptistery. Other interesting reproductions made out of plaster involve technical details on the walls pertaining to the two ancient buildings, which were highlighted during restorations.
Today, after 80 years on display, the historical, educational and aesthetic value of these singular documents finds a new purpose in a recent staging. This staging takes place in the Pius Christian Museum that houses the collection of Christian Antiquities of the Vatican Museums. In addition, this is a very important research project for the studying, preserving, and promoting of these precious artifacts. This major project, links together the Vatican Museums, the Mosaics Museum of Ravenna (TAMO) and the Papal Basilica of St. Mary Major.

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Papal Miter of John XXII

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In some Christian denominations, the miter is the ceremonial headdress, with its bicuspid and elongated design, worn by bishops during liturgical celebrations. In particular, the miter of the Latin rite is formed by two pieces of rigid cloth shaped approximately like a pentagon. They are partially united on the lateral side in a way that allows the highest point to be free and the lower parts to form the opening to be worn on the head. The two peaks are symbolic of the authority which arises from the Old and New Testaments. The miter also has two cloth ribbons or banners that descend from the back to the shoulders. The present example, known as the “Miter of John XXII,” was discovered in Avignon in the Pontiff’s tomb. The inscription on the frame which once enclosed it between glass, transcribed by De Rossi at the end of the 1800’s read, “Miter of John Paul XXII, found in Avignon in his tomb, year 1759;” and by adding the words “Munificent PII VI Pont. Max,” we find an allusion to the generosity of the Pope for this gift.
The miter is a trapezoidal shaped hat, with decorations of birds and quadrupeds alternating between palms designs. Parrots with a raised claw are posed amongst a large palm and vines.
They have turned heads and wings decorated with circles. The treelike forms have instead a double border and, within the oval half, more imagery of leaves and palms. The shape of the miter corresponds to the other similar items of the late 13th century and early 14th, such as miters from the Anagni treasury. The fabric itself comes from a particular form of silk named “di Lucca,” defined in the Middle Ages as “diasprum.” It is a medieval term for a patterned silk weave in which the pattern and ground are distinguished by texture rather than color.
The papacy of John XXII was anything but dull. Jacques Duèze (or d’Euze) was born in 1243 in Cahors in south-central France. He later became bishop of Fréjus (1300), and simultaneously of Avignon (1310). He was named cardinal in Porto in 1312 by Pope Clement V, and after Clement V’s death, succeeded his appointer as Pope himself, taking the name John XXII on August 7, 1316. He ruled for 18 and a half years, widely considered the most important amongst the Avignon Popes. His views on spirituality faced controversy, as he opposed the absolute poverty of Christ according to the Franciscan understanding, and at a time argued that souls may not enjoy the Beatific Vision in heaven. For this reason, Pope John XXII is obliquely yet recognizably represented in Dante’s critical portrait of him as someone contrary to the apostolic ideal in his Paradise (XVIII, 130-136 and XXVII, 58-59). The Pope declared he never meant to teach in contradiction to Holy Scripture and actually withdrew his former opinion before his death.  This austere Pope of great character, strength, and tenacity died on December 4, 1334.

Sarcophagus with marine procession

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Adopted by David e Claudia Newren, Mexico – Italian & International Chapter

This sarcophagus dates back to the 2nd century and its frontal part is adorned with a group of marine gods and subjects. In the centre, Poseidon, the absolute sovereign of the oceans, emerges from the sea’s wild waves with his chariot, dominating the scene. On his side Tristons, Nereids and “pistrici” (in Greek mythology the pistrici were mosters. The lower part of their bodies resempled a snake). On the extreme left, Poseidon’s wife appears, Amphitrite – recognizable from the veil on her head and from the typical hand gesture. Numerous exuberant Erotes are depicted while flying through the sea foam, talking with the Nereids or playing with the dolphins; animating almost the entire scene that is occupied by an embossed decoration.

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The beloved marine subject, although simplified, can be found once again on both short sides of the sarcophagus, where a sea griffon is held by the reins by a young Erote who is standing on its saddle. In some way, the messengers of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, manage to domesticate even the most majestic sea monsters. The theme of the group of marine gods and subjects is quite frequent in the decorations of sarcophagi from the 2nd century AD. Due to stylistic reasons, our sample can be dated towards the last decades of the 2nd century.

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Madonna with Child and Saints by Crivelli

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The altarpiece presented here is open to critical debate regarding whether it may be attributed to either one or the other Crivelli brothers, or their followers or employees. The painting’s exact authorship cannot be sustained with absolute certainty. The saga of artistic enterprises involving the Crivelli family was one of longevity, with two major personalities, Carlo and his brother Vittore. In addition to these two protagonists, there were a plethora of family members and followers participating in their respective bodegas, or workshops. Of the two brothers, Carlo (Venice, ca. 1435-Ascoli(?)1494/5) was the eldest and most artistically gifted. Meanwhile, the younger Vittore (Venice, ca. 1440/45 – Fermo(?), 1501) is given a subordinate position regarding his acumen; with a ten year age difference with the elder Carlo, Vittore’s work was considered, in part, a revival of the latter’s creative contributions. The commonality between brothers was their education in Padua at the workshop of Jacopo Squarcione (Padua, 1397-1468), an instructor who through his teaching injected his own anti-classical intonation into his pupils’ work. Later, they teamed up with Giorgio Schiavone (Juraj Culinovic: Scardona, 1433/36 – Sebenico, 1504), following Schiavone’s invitation to go to Zadar in Damatia in 1459 (Zadar is now part of Croatia, but was formerly a Venetian Territory). This experience in the Veneto was pivotal for the two Crivelli brothers who, after the returning to their homeland, settled in the confines of ancient Marca and shared their respective zones of activity: Carlo in the Ascoli and Apennine region, and Vittore in Fermo and the Coastal territory. From a historic point of view, both men were seemingly distanced significantly from the great artistic movements of their time, giving way to their own unique style. Geographically removed from the serene naturalism of the Venetians and the severe scrutiny of the Tuscans, their style was focused instead on formal virtuosity, rich in exquisite chromatics and sumptuous decorative effects, considered characteristic of late Gothic ancestry. Whence in Padua, knowledge of the great Donatello’s Renaissance sculpture had played an influential role in their art.
The brothers’ styling bears witness to the Adriatic culture and heritage, most specifically to that of great artists such as Cosmè Tura, Bartolomeo Vivarini, and Marco Zoppo. Their work is characterized by insistent figural graphic contours, and focuses on materials of marble, fabrics and stone. Also, with attentiveness to brocades and gilded accents, their body of work served as the basis of a critical juncture wherein  the Victorian taste for the primitive was intercepted, and led to the subsequent social success of the English Pre-Raphaelites. From the second half of the 19th century, the international interest confronting the Crivelli brothers has never ceased; they are champions of an aesthetic trend with a trajectory that heads transversally to that of more traditional artistic groups. Carlo in particular was dubbed an artistic voice which sang the melodies of “another Renaissance,” “the shadow of the Renaissance,” or-if you prefer-the “Anti-Renaissance.” Scarcely documented in previous literature, the polyptych is simply referred to by art historian Luigi Serra in 1934 as the “altarpiece by Carlo Crivelli.” He notes that from the church of Saint Augustine in Grottommare, it was taken to Ascoli, and then removed for its trip to Rome where by order of Pope Gregory XVI, it was exposed in the new Lateran Art Gallery in 1844. The piece was generally considered to be a collaborative work, possibly that of a bodega.  Its attribution to Carlo’s brother Vittore dates back to 1960 and 1964 when historians Ennio Francia and Redig de Campos, respectively found undeniable wavering in the quality of the work. Another historian, Federico Zeri, thought to rule out the presence of Vittore’s hand in the altarpiece altogether, adding that its author was moreover “another personality altogether, working in close proximity to the great Crivelli, and most probably had access to his drawings and cartoons (1976).” More recently, editor Giannino Gagliardi (1995) showed how the lost altarpiece of the church of San Gregorio ad Ascoli was erroneously attributed as the first work of Carlo for the Marche town, executed in 1471, when the correct dating of the painting is actually ten years later in 1481. Mystery around the altarpieces’ artist is indubitably present.
The exact authorship of the piece is thus still open for debate. Oscillating theories are as varied as the difference in execution of the lateral Saints, almost caricatured, compared to that of the Madonna, who is rendered with exquisite finesse.
There is a formal consonance and iconography of the painting, and the graphic characters are virtually inscribed in the gothic carving of the frames. Art history scholar Pietro Alemanno wrote in 1986: “for a first step towards the truth, one must begin from the state of conservation of the painting, whose pictorial surface is so veiled in varnish and extraneous substances—that one should take with caution any proposal that fails to take these things into account…I believe that the discussion can only be taken up again after the cleaning of the painting.” Heeding these words, we anticipate with hope that restoration of the altarpiece may lead to clarity regarding the identification of its author.

Telescope for Villa Barberini

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“Pilgrims and tourists may now cross the threshold of the Pontifical Villa of Castel Gandolfo to visit the Barberini Gardens.” It is this decision in September 2015 by Pope Francis that granted the public access to what had been the papal suburban residency since the time of Urban VIII. An extraterritorial zone of the Holy See, the Pontifical Villa of Castel Gandolfo spans an area of approximately fifty-five hectares, situated in the Alban Hills. While the Apostolic Palace is located on the ancient city of Albalonga, the birthplace of Rome’s legendary twin founders, Romulus and Remus, Castel Gandolfo resides directly on one of the most famous ancient constructions: that of the grand residency of Emperor Domitian (81-96 A.D.). Since September 11, 2015, the Vatican Museums have welcomed thousands of visitors within the gardens of Villa Barberini as well as the area including the farm, all reachable by car or railway. Two astronomical domes on the terrace of the Apostolic Palace of Castel Gandolfo remain an outstanding part of history, but are not yet open to the public.

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Particular attention has been made to astronomy by the papacy throughout the last five centuries. One needs simply to look nearby to the Vatican Museums; between the Pinecone Courtyard and Belvedere Courtyard resides the Tower of the Winds, now known as the Vatican Observatory. Although simply one tower, it bears a great significance in astronomical history. Our story starts with how the solar calendar of Juilius Cesear from 46 B.C. needed reform; Pope Gregory XIII (1572-1585) was the man to do it. As it is widely known, it was precisely Pope Gregory XIII who also appointed a congregation composed of mathematical experts, cartographers, and above all astronomers, in order to formulate that which was to eventually become the Gregorian Calendar. Thanks to these experts as well as the Dominican priest Ignazio Danti -one of the greatest cosmographers of his day and to whom the cartoons of the Gallery of the Maps are attributable -a sundial was fashioned in the Tower of the Winds in order to execute the task. In one room of the tower, there are also beautiful allegorical frescoes by Pomarancio. The Wind is the protagonist, transformed into an archetype of the oriental and Lutheran heresies which hovers directly next to the Biblical passage “ab Aquilone pandetur omne malum” or “from the North Wind comes every disgrace.” This same wind, however, also becomes an allusion to the four cardinal directions and simultaneously an allegory of the four seasons. Meanwhile, the floor bears the image of the sundial, thus giving the room its namesake: the Sundial Room, or Meridian Room.

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To understand how the sundial functions, it is necessary to observe in the fresco the Spirit of God who, blowing, generates the storm. This is because, only upon a closer look at the divine figure, one notes the presence of a hole through which sunlight is permitted to enter. At a given time of day according to the height of the sun from the horizon, the beam of light illuminates a different point of the sundial. A plaque in the room commemorates the moment on March 21, 1580, when the Pope, upon visiting the room to observe the sundial, noticed that there was about a ten-day difference between the time recorded on the Julian calendar and that which was effectively portrayed on the sundial itself. His congregation of experts subsequently reported their recommendation to skip ahead 10 days in order to recuperate the lost time on the Julian calendar, and to also change the rules of the leap years. On March 1, 1582 the papal decree Inter Gravissimas was sanctioned, which authorized the reform of the Julian Calendar and gave way to the Gregorian calendar – the latter of which remains in use to this day.
The Tower of the Winds function as an astronomical observatory turned over form the hands of the papacy to that of the Roman College, founded by Saint Ignatius of Loyola. After all, St. Ignatius had, thanks to the munificence of Pope Gregory XIII, quickly reached the highest level of study in mathematics, physics, and astronomy. Father Clavius, one of the numerous scientists who worked there, was committed to authenticating Galileo’s discoveries and, above all, to convince the ecclesial authorities of their scientific validity. In 1611, Galileo himself was invited to the Roman College to explain his discoveries regarding the celestial bodies’ movements found through the use of the telescope.

Cardinal Maffeo Barberini (later Pope Urban VIII) enters our stage again, this time as one of the great defenders of Galileo. He supported the astronomer so much that when Galileo published his book The Assayer, he dedicated it to the Pope, who validated it positively and had encouraged Galileo to continue with his mathematically based studies on the systems of the universe. About the middle of the 18th century, the inventor of the micrometer ring, Roger J. Boscovich, proposed to erect a new observatory. The Calandrelli Tower was constructed in 1787 and can still be seen from the Roman College piazza. From this tower several years later, Pope Pio VII observed a very large sunspot. Fascinated by the incident, he brought an achromatic telescope and a grandfather clock to Rome after his Parisian sojourn to crown Napoleon. His acquired instrumentation sparked the real onset of astronomical studies. Years later, several comets and two of Saturn’s moons were discovered from Calandrelli, sparking the Tower’s fame worldwide. Other astronomical scientific discoveries at the Vatican included studies of binary stars, planet and comet nebulae research, behavior of the sun and stars, the physical forces exerted on the planets, terrestrial magnetism, and meteorology. In 1873, following the suppression of the Papal States, the Roman College and its observatory were expropriated and declared property of the Italian State. Thus, any astronomical activities carried out under the papal auspices continued only in the Tower of the Winds. In 1888, Father Francesco Denza, founder of the Italian Meteorological Society, reignited astronomical efforts at the Observatory of the Winds. He received permission to proceed from Pope Leo XIII at the time of his priestly jubilee. In an effort promoted by the Paris Observatory, Fr. Denza joined an international project to catalogue and photograph the entire sky; this was the first major collaboration between observers on a global scale. Each participant was assigned the task of documenting an area of the sky spanning two celestial parallels with a double series of photographs. The Vatican Observatory was assigned the area between the +55 and +64 parallel. The photographic work included 1040 plates executed for cataloguing the stars and 540 for the heavens. For this task, two special lenses were newly commissioned, and eventually constructed by Paul Gautier. He built the mounting frame for the double refractor and the macromicrometer -both necessary instruments for all the cataloguing efforts. The new observatory was located in the Leonina Tower (now St. John’s Tower), where in 1891 a revolving 8 meter dome was built. It was equipped with two parallel refractors, a photographic telescope, and a collimator to adjust the line of sight of the telescope by producing parallel beams of rays. Here, the equatorial photographs were collected. Similarly, other observatories drew up instrumentation of the same specifications by mandate of the Parisian Charter of the Heavens to ensure homogeneity throughout the project. Pope Leone XIII, in his Ut Mysticam, confirmed on March 14, 1891 the solemn re-founding of the Vatican Observatory. When Fr. Denza passed away in 1894, Fr. Giuseppe Lais dedicated himself to the astronomical efforts for another 40 years, personally overseeing development operations and photographic printing efforts. After his death, Georg Hagen became the new observatory director, who’s noted studies of variable stars helped bring the cataloguing efforts to their conclusion. The instrumentation proved resultantly inadequate for the copious amount of cataloguing work, and so Hagen commissioned the Respold Company in Hamburg to construct two micrometers with identical plate dimensions to properly measure the position of every photographed star. This time, a female staff was hired; celestial measurements were taken by three nuns of the Sisters of Maria Bambina who worked from 1910 until 1921 upon completion of the task. The Charter of the Heavens, started by Fr. Lais with contributions from the Paris Academy of the Sciences, was finished in 1935, thanks to the new observatory in Castel Gandolfo. At the end of the war, the astrograph installed at the end of 1942 was put to use once again in the Villa Barberini, making it possible to complete some of the missing plates. Finally, fifty-five years after the onset of the project, all of the stars of the ten celestial zones were reproduced on 540 tables. One hundred copies of the entire work were printed, 90 of which were sent in homage to the principle observatories.

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The official announcement was made in the general assembly of the International Astronomical Union in Moscow in 1958. Vatican astronomy still continues in its activities today, especially because of a 1980 agreement between the Vatican Observatory and the University of Arizona Steward Observatory. This pact allowed astronomers from the Vatican to use and access the telescopes at the Steward Observatory. Today, the new Vatican Observatory is home to a Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope, towering 3,200 meters above sea level on Mount Graham, northeast of Tucson. Its use in studying the Solar System includes researching asteroids, objects of the Kuiper belt, globular clusters in our galaxy, the formation of stars in nearby galaxies, and supernovas in distant galaxies -all thanks to financing from the Vatican Observatory Foundation.
The Direction of the Museum, together with the Vatican Observatory, now wish to allow the visitors to Castel Gandolfo to become participants in the activities of the Observatory though the centuries. For this reason, restoration of both telescopes of the Villa Barberini dome is imperative. The first comes from the Vatican’s Leonina Tower and has not been in use (since 1986) since the Charter of the Heavens project in 1890. With its incredible length of 3.43 meters and 33 cm diameter, the telescope is a visual testimony to the extensive astronomical history that has passed through the Vatican Observatory itself. The second is a Schmidt telescope from 1958, and was a personal gift to Pope Pio XII -he himself was passionate about astronomy. It is 3 meters long, has a diameter of 60-90 cm, and is equipped with a large camera that was used until the 1970s. The telescopes’ restoration is preparatory for that of an actual museum inside the dome. Visitors would enjoy not only the possibility to admire the astrolabes, armillary spheres, telescopes, spectrophotometers (for light measurement) and spectrochemical instruments, but also be able to understand and enter into the history of astronomy through modern multimedia systems.

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Fragment of wooden Crucifix

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This monumental wooden sculpture constitutes an important chapter in European Art between the Medieval and Baroque period, with particular interest spreading in the Germanic and Northern European communities. The overall success of the artistic techniques of this antique genre is tied largely to how easily the necessary materials could be found. In comparison to the expensiveness and low supply of marble, wood was a relatively flexible and economic option. In Italy, appreciation for this genre of artisan manufacture was well-noted as precious artifacts were imported (particularly from the northern regions and the Central Apennines) where it was much easier to retrieve quality raw materials, and professionalism was widely associated with diligent craftsmanship with the aforementioned supply. Only recently, however, has there been a revival of interest in these pieces – not simply for the purpose of amateur or localized studies – but to truly appreciate the lifecycle of the work from conception to completion as it paralleled artistic developments in painting, sculpture techniques, and later, innovations in bronze.

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This carved figure presented here, although devoid of arms and the cross onto which it was affixed, is a fine example of the iconic form of the suffering Christ. His inert head rests dramatically upon His chest, His limbs hang exasperatingly contracted, and the naturalism with which the folds of His loincloth stiffen, then soften, and pile atop one another contribute all the more to this terrible image of death. As intended, an arousal of devotional sentiments upon contemplating this piece is simply inevitable. At the same time, the accentuated anatomical detail carries with it a seed of a different order of formality: the crudeness in its realism was commonly seen in northern regions. Other elements, however – such as the slender bodily proportions and exact geometric principles – are characteristically Italian, with Tuscan influences carrying the mental genesis underlying its design.

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Amidst the classic figurative proportions, there exists an organic solidity in the piece: it has a plasticity in form according to Nicola Pisano, but still retains confirmation in the universality of the Giotto model. Given the difficulties inherent in forming accurate comparisons between these two principles, the technical and stylistic roots of the piece should probably be pinpointed near Florence sometime between the third and fourth decade of the 14th century.

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It is nearly impossible to provide an exact history of this piece, even though it comes from such an important time of Gothic sculpture. The restoration will indeed be helpful in providing more in-depth information for its analysis and, thus, its artistic origin. In the meantime, it is most indicatively a result of Tuscan art, deeply marked by the traditional techniques taught by Giotto. The master artist had actually stayed in Naples between 1328 and 1333, leaving important traces of his art in that geographical region. It is certainly within reason to associate the design aesthetics of this work to one of Giotto’s Neapolitan followers.

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Three Carriages: Carriage for Travel & Two Gala Limousines with Throne

Carriage for Travel

Artist: Unknown
Date: 1845
Inventory Nr: 45572

Artigianato napoletano; Carrozza da viaggio a quattro posti detta "di Ferdinando II"; Esterno: legno dipinto, ferro e bronzo dorato, pelle. Interno: seta damascata, velluto di seta, feltro di lana (Sugli sportelli: stemma di Pio IX); 1845 ca.; Musei Vaticani; Padiglione delle Carrozze

This carriage was donated by King Ferdinand II of Naples to Pope Pio IX on the occasion of the Pontificate’s return to Rome in April of 1850. Of Neapolitan craftsmanship, this “postal” carriage had its simple handles replaced with those of the crossed keys, and was outfitted with the papal coat of arms painted on its doors. Pope Pio IX made the journey in this carriage from Portici, Naples to Rome after his exile, mandated by the Roman Republic, reached its end. During the European Revolution, on November 24, 1848, Pope Pius IX was forced to flee from Rome – only nine days after the assassination of Pellegrino Rossi, whom the Pope had appointed as his chief minister for the Papal States. The Pontiff escaped Rome disguised as a simple priest, and found refuge in Gaeta, already a Bourbon French territory. Almost a year later on September 4, 1849, the Pope was transferred to the Royal Palace of Portici by invitation of King Ferdinand II. Pope Pius IX had to reach Naples by way of the steamship Trancredi, which also transported some other cardinals along the way. It was the first time that a pope travelled by way of a steam vessel. However, during the time of the Bourbon reign, Pope Pio IX was also able to experience his first train ride as he visited the Locomotive Repair Yard in Pietrasanta – a sojourn that left him favorably impressed. During his return to Rome, the Pope was inspired to embark upon a policy of economic and industrial reform, which led to the construction of the first central Italian railway: Rome-Velletri, inaugurated in 1862. This simple “postal” carriage painted entirely in black (as was the custom of the time), was, therefore, incredibly important for the history of the papacy because it represents a time of particular intense transition. It stands as a piece of history that testifies to how the intellectual foresight of a pope was able to transform the historic 1848 political crisis into an industrial rebirth.

Two Gala Limousines with Throne

Artist: Fratelli Casalini

Date: 1860

Inventory Nr: 45565-66

 

F.lli Casalini, Roma; Berlina di mezza gala con trono; Esterno: legno scolpito, dorato e dipinto, pelle nera, acciaio dorato, bronzo, coperta in seta damascata. Interno: seta damascata; 1850 ca.; Musei Vaticani; Padiglione delle Carrozze

Created in Rome by the Casalini Brothers, renowned carriage manufacturers, these two Gala Limousines were predisposed to be like a “throne room” during the Pontificate of Pope Pio IX. Their interior, like the Great Gala Sedan, is outfitted as a throne with a capocielo, or canopy-like cover finely embroidered with silver threading and the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, centrally placed amidst a sunburst of gold. As evident from the coat of arms of Pio IX and Benedict XV visible on the left and right doors respectively, these carriages were utilized during several pontificates until the early twentieth century.

F.lli Casalini, Roma; Berlina di Gala con Trono; Esterno: legno scolpito, dorato e dipinto, pelle, acciaio dorato, bronzo. Interno: seta damascata, velluto di seta damascato, feltro di lana con soggetto floreale; 1860 ca.; Musei Vaticani; Padiglione delle Carrozze

The limousine Inv 45556 has each corner surmounted with plumes, that, according to protocol, distinguish its “Pontifical Service,” and was most likely to be put to use during solemn ceremonies. Meanwhile, the limousine Inv. 45565, without plumes or spandrels, would have only been used for private occasions.