The Borgia Apartments were sealed off by Pope Pius III after the death of Pope Alexander VI, Rodrigo Borgia, (1431-1503) (due to their association with the scandalous Borgia family). For nearly 400 years the sumptuous art within sat in wait.
Then, in 1889, Pope Leo XII reopened the rooms for restoration revealing an overwhelming trove of artistic riches. The apartments were discovered to be filled to the brim with astonishing frescos by the Italian painter Bernardino di Betto, also known as Pinturicchio – who worked on them with a team of apprentices between 1492-1494. Intricate stucco work adorns the walls and vaults while accentuating the paintings, saturated with vivid reds and blues. The halls are considered a masterpiece in design. Themes of the works adorning the walls are from medieval encyclopedia and celebrate the supposed divinity of the Borgias.
In this short and telling video, Romina Cometti and Marco Pratelli guide us through current restorations and expand on the importance of the particularly impressive pieces in “The Hall of the Liberal Arts”. The frescos in here are mainly allegorical with scenes of anthropomorphized “lunettes” including the idealized embodiments of rhetoric, music, astrology and so on. These important restorations are made possible because of a generous donation by the Canadian Chapter of Patrons.
Because of the distinction of the color palette of these frescos, the stark contrast between those portions that have undergone the careful cleaning process and those that await restoration is striking. Much of the damage came from soot and candle smoke from the time when the apartments were under use, but with careful attention to detail, restorers can return the frescos to their original and glorious luster. One can almost imagine the gatherings of wealthy patrons mingling in candlelight while the frescos looked on.
An interesting development involves recent restorations of another room in the apartments (The Hall of Mysteries of the Faith) which revealed – under a layer of dirt – what is believed to be the very first European depiction of Native Americans! Painted in 1494, only two years after the voyage of Columbus. The figures appear in the background of Pinturicchio’s spectacular “Resurrection.”
For more on these fascinating artistic treasures and the secrets of the Borgia apartments don’t miss these videos:
The duty of the Patrons is a sacred one in preserving our artistic history. If you’d like to participate in the restoration of these or similar pieces at the Vatican Museums contact your local chapter of the Patrons Office.