Cartoons for Mosaics in St. Peter’s Basilica: Isaia & the Cloud

Inventory Number: 41639 



This painting is the cartoon designed for the lunette west of the vestibule of the chapel. Maratta depicts Isaiah in the act of turning to the cloud in front of which he kneels, holding a book in his hand. Isaiah, the biblical prophet, looks up toward the cloud, disperser of justice, and according to the words of the sacred text implores: “Shower, O heavens, from above and let the clouds rain down righteousness”; at his feet the other books serve as a reminder of his roles as a politician and writer.

The Chapel of the Presentation of the Virgin occupies the second bay of the left nave of the Basilica of St. Peter. The chapel was built after the extension of the nave conducted by Carlo Maderno at the beginning of the 17th Century, at the behest of Paul V. It consists of two distinct spaces – the chapel itself and the entrance vestibule, or Anticappella. The top of the vestibule (consisting of lunettes, spandrels and an elliptical dome)was decorated with mosaics between 1683 and 1717  based on a design by Carlo Maratta and Giuseppe Bartolomeo Chiari. In 1675, Maratta (Camerano 1625 – Rome 1713), a painter  from the Marche region, was put in charge of the designs for the mosaics. The work entrusted to Maratta started a few years later in 1683 and continued on until 1727.

Maratta was a pupil of Andrea Sacchi, who guided him in a formative study of Raphael, Carracci, and the antiquities. When he was barely eleven years old, Maratta moved to Rome where he would spend the rest of his life as an undisputed master.  By the mid-century, in fact, he was already an authoritative voice in the protean Roman context, sought out by public and private clients and participating in the most important artistic endeavors such as the decoration of the Gallery of Alexander VII in the Papal Palace of the Quirinal Palace. Created in 1657 under the direction of Pietro da Cortona, this gallery featured episodes from the Old and New Testaments and was one of the most important commissions of that era.

At the end of the 1660s, with the deaths of his master Andrea Sacchi (1661) and Pietro da Cortona (1669), Maratta became the undisputed authority on the Roman painting scene. Head of an active and flourishing workshop, he was elected prince of the Academy of St. Luke in 1664, a position that was conferred to him again in 1669. This title, by the express will of the Pope, became perpetual in 1706, thus sanctioning Maratta’s unrivaled prestige.

Maratta created an impressive series of altarpieces, frescoes and paintings of sacred, mythological, and allegorical subjects for seven popes and their families (Chigi, Rospigliosi, Altieri, Odescalchi, Ottoboni, Pignatelli, Albani). In 1704, Maratta was honored by Pope Clement XI, “the sixth pontiff with whom Carlo interacted with personally” (L. Pascoli), with the Cross of Knight of Christ. In addition to this recognition, bestowed during a lavish ceremony at the Capitol, Maratta received an annual pension of three hundred “scudi” coins.

In the last thirty years of his career, in addition to the cartoons for the mosaics of the dome of The Presentation in Saint Peter’s, Maratta designed various pieces of furniture for the mansions of his wealthy patrons, such as the bankers Montioni and Pallavicini. He also provided designs for numerous engravings, a powerful way to disseminate his art, and worked as a restorer.

Between the late 17th and early 18th Centuries, he was commissioned to work on some of the masterpieces of Italian painting, such as the frescoes of Raphael in the Villa Farnesina and the Raphael Rooms of the Apostolic Palace.

As a great painter and avid collector of artwork – Maratta’s death on December 15, 1713 revealed his greatest artistic possessions. In the inventory of his home were cited paintings of the greatest artists such as Raphael, Correggio, Titian, Annibale Carracci, Domenichino, Rubens, Pietro da Cortona, Poussin.

At his lavish funeral, “in addition to most of the people, both Romans and strangers, also arrived many ladies and princesses, princes and prelates, and the grandchildren of His Holiness. All united to the Academicians of St. Luke, they made a show so grandiose that a more elegant one could not have been organized for any other worthy person” (F. Baldinucci).

Between 1686 -1688, Maratta, created the cartoons for the lunettes of the vestibule of the Chapel of the Presentation of the Virgin, whose translation into mosaic was made ​​by Fabio Cristofani before his death in 1689. The six large tempera that are currently on display in the Loggia of Blessings feature Judith and Holofernes, Jael and Sisera, Moses and Elijah, Miriam and Joshua.

In harmony with the iconographic program of the dome, centered on the theme of Mary and the salvific mediation made ​​by image of the Virgin church, the mosaics in the lunettes depict characters from the Old Testament who prefigured Mary, as signs of the divine assistance of God against the enemies of Israel. These pieces are expected to be returned on display in the same location where they can be seen today.