Included among the works that make up the Historical Collections in the Vatican Museums is a conspicuously large number of weapons and armor dating from the mid-1500’s to the end of the 1800’s. Among the armor, in addition to the large amount traditionally regarded as that belonging to Pope Julius II, there is a series of pieces that for a long time were used by the Swiss Guard. These were on display until the 1960s in the Hall of the Pontiffs of the Borgia Apartments. For ﬁfty years they were hidden in storage. Now it is time for some of these treasures to be exposed anew so that they might receive once again the admiration of the many Museum visitors and, in turn, share with these admirers their historic legacy. The exhibition project that would occupy part of the Sacred Apostolic Palaces means that a certain number of breastplates are chosen to undergo restoration in the laboratory dedicated to metals and ceramics. Upon restorative completion, the breastplates will constitute a splendidly, arrayed framework of magniﬁcent armor: from the procession of Julius II to the tournament with Constable Colonna.
The project aims to restore thirteen ﬁgurative vases of Attic production, all of which are displayed in showcase D in the room dedicated to the Astarita collection, as the Attic vases are part of this group. The project involves a review of artists that use the red ﬁgures technique and that were prevalent between the Late Classical Period, up until the era of Hellenism (400 BC to 340 AD). The style and skillfulness of the painter have at this point gone beyond the simple reproduction of the real and instead focuses on the representation of feelings. More speciﬁcally, the man’s world has precedence, both in the public and private sphere, as portrayed in the cultural scenes and in the athletic contests. The concept of war, on the other hand, is evoked only by the intimate scenes of a young man bidding farewell. Special attention is given to the feminine world.
This is also true in the scenes portraying the gods that encounter man’s life. For example, one may ﬁnd a prevalence given to the feminine world in the episode with Poseidon and Amymone. Amymone is one of the daughters of Danaus, with whom Poseidon had a son after he saved her from the pitfalls of a satire, resulting in a gushing spring. This scene can be found in the crater calyx that belongs to the Monaco Group 2388 [The Group of Munich 2388] (350 BC-325 AD). Furthermore, one may ﬁnd a noteworthy crater made by the Painter of the Phiale that depicts men and women dancing. In addition, this gallery features two klixes, (inv. 35262) the ﬁrst of which depicts a sacriﬁce on an altar of a pelike made by the Painter of Peleo, and the second is from Aison, both depicting a farewell of a young man. Both of which can be dated back to 430 BC. Lastly, one may ﬁnd an athlete that is tending to ablutions after the fatigues of the contest, which is represented by the Painter of the Frontal Warrior from approximately 400 BC.
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There is a lot of mystery shrouding the life of the artist responsible for this altarpiece. His nickname seems to indicate that he may have had Iberian roots. Di Petro is thought to have been active in the circle of Perugino and Pinturicchio, his training probably from the circles of Bartolomeo Caporali, Pier Mattero d’Amelia, or those of the great Roma studios who offered opportunities for work and apprenticeship. The style of works that can be attributed to the artist show that he was a follower of Perugino, and, after Raphael, di Petro was one of Perugino’s best students. Furthermore, the date of his birth is controversial -probably sometime after 1450 -and the ﬁrst accurate mention of his activities is not until 1504 when a “Spanish painter” in Perugia intervened in a dispute between the administration of the Benedictine Abbey of Saint Peter and the painter Fiorenzio di Lorenzo regarding the value of the latter’s work. Three years later it was documented that he was busy with the grandiose undertaking of “The Coronation of the Virgin”, an altarpiece for the convent of Monte Santo, which today resides in its painting gallery (1507-11).
It was probably during this time or immediately after that he also began executing our nativity painting, commissioned by the Order of Friars Minor (better known as the Franciscans) for the Convent of Saint Mary of the Assumption of Spineta in the Umbrian region of Fratta Todina, near Todi. The painting was destined for the main altar of the convent of the church. This commission marked the beginning of a rather stable relationship with the city at large, where the painter dedicated his artistic services to various works until 1516. During these years, the artist also traveled to Trevi (1512), Assisi (1516), and Spoleto, the latter granting him honorary citizenship (1516) and appointed him the Captain of Art of Painters and Goldsmiths (1517). This position was renewed until 1523. The artist’s fresco work led him to various cities as well, including Gavelli, Cisso, Scheggino, and back to Trevi, Todi, and lastly Spoleto -where he decorated the eponymous church during his last two years and died in October 1528.
In the foreground of the painting, the Christ child is laid on the ground on a cushion, worshipped by Mary, Joseph, and a pair of angels on bended knee behind the Holy Family. Behind the group on the left, a shepherd advances, accompanied by another giving homage, while the countryside opens up on the right, revealing an ox and an ass. Further back, the procession of the Magi is centered in the painting and to their left, an angel is seen announcing the birth to the shepherds. Among the clouds, angels sing praises to the Most High, reading music from a parchment.
The panel was renowned in the past, as it was attributed to the work of Perugino, Pinturicchio, and even Raphael. It was ﬁnally justly tied to “the Spaniard’s” efforts, revealing that the painter had elaborated upon the theme of the Nativity, unifying various elements from Perugino’s diverse compositions. It was a subject showcased in several versions by the artist, sometimes inverting the ﬁgurative structure, or introducing some interesting variant. The ﬁrst large panel that was the primary work in the series was originally destined for the Church of Saint Anthony in Perugia, but then moved to the Louvre in Paris. The second one has been in the Vatican Painting Gallery since 1828, and the third is in the Abbey of Saint Peter in Valle in Ferentillo, which was at the time the family chapel in the Bishop’s Palace in Spoleto before it was transported to Berlin in 1833. Of the three, the most successful and well preserved is certainly the painting of Spineta, which is, as Pietrangeli said, “rich in color and of the highest compositional level.” Indeed, the “Spaniard” includes subjects in his compositions that are reminiscent of the great Perugino. The scene is lively with the addition of angels, a vast landscape, shepherds and procession of the Magi.
Art historian Gualdi Sabatini says, “The group of kings is very rich and chromatically vibrant, accurately portrayed; the white horse ﬂanked by celestial blue, garments of another ﬁgure in bright cherry-red, while the horses are reddish, gray, and black…” Every part of the canvas was touched with the utmost attention -down to elaborate clothing and rich, iridescent drapery. Structurally (i.e. the way the ﬁgures are arranged in the scene), the foreground recalls most speciﬁcally a Nativity by Perugino made for Giulino Cardinal della Rovere (1491), while the cheering trio of angels stems directly from another altarpiece by Perugino in Pavia, now in the National Gallery in London (1499). The successful “formula” of the nativity which the Spaniard has uniquely taken up has been further taken on in successive works by Italian artists such as Girolamo di Giovanni and Antonio da Viterbo.
The “Loggia by Raphael”, a magniﬁcent architectural prospect that overlooks the San Damaso Courtyard, was completed in the centuries that followed its creation. In fact, after the ﬁrst construction of the western and northern sides, the east branch was completed by the architect Domenico Fontana, as requested by Pope Gregory XIII. The latter work was carried out in the last decades of the 1500’s, under the pontiﬁcate of Sixtus V. However, the three ﬂoors that compose the east branch lacked a decoration for almost three years. The making of the rich iconographic project with stuccos, friezes, grotesqueries, picturesque scenes, and false marbles aligned with the antique model of the loggias, began only under the pontiﬁcate of Pius IX (1846-1878).
Pope Mastai Ferretti commissioned the new decorations to Alessandro Mantovani, painter and decorator from Ferrara, who in the previous years had restored paintings from the 1500’s in the northern and western wings of the Loggias, along with Pietro Galli. The ﬁrst decorative task was carried out in 1862 for the second Loggia, when Mantovani, Galli and Nicola Consoni created the Stories of the Passion of Christ. The new decorative phase for the third Loggia started in 1872 after Pius IX approved Mantovani’s contract. The decorative phase ended six years later, in 1878, shortly after the pontiﬁcate’s death. The artist ideated a series of paintings on the walls intended to introduce intriguing modern characteristics, while continuing to follow the classical traits from the 1500’s. The scenes depicting the gloriﬁcation of the pontiﬁcate of Pius IX are limpid urban views ofcontemporary Rome. Mantovani depicts an extraordinary “photographic” documentation showing modern Rome, requested by the Pope prior to the loss of the city in 1870. As remembered by the contemporary sources, this project constitutes a testimony «ai posteri che le riguarderanno curiosamente, come fatte fossero le fabbriche di Pio IX innanzi che il tempo, che tutto tramuta e dissolve, avesse loro cangiata la faccia» (for the future generations, in order for them to see how the buildings of the past looked, before time had changed forever their layout). Noteworthy are the signiﬁcant religious symbols such as: the new Saint Paul Basilica and the inauguration of the Immaculate Conception’s column located in Piazza di Spagna; the efﬁcient productive services as the Fabbrica dei Tabacchi in Trastevere; or those regarding transportation, as with the modern Termini Station, made out of glass and metal. Moreover, there are symbols that range from the urban embellishments, such as Piazza Pia in Rione Borgo; to the opening of Via della Dataria at the Quirinale and the opening of the new road to the Gianicolo towards Saint Peter in Montorio. This also includes an important religious event: the opening of the First Vatican Council on December 7, 1869.The above-mentioned list constitutes a documentary ensemble of extreme importance. The walls of the Third Loggia are decorated with inventive grotesqueries and elegant elements related to animals and vegetation. Among these, the exotic species like a tapir or birds with colorful featherings, which manage to coexist with the reﬁned embellishments of the Loggia of Raphael thanks to the meticulous attention that the artist gave to detail. Within the decoration of the eight vaults, that were divided in half from the deleted original made out of wrought iron, this decoration is characterized by reﬁned medallions in white stucco with a golden mosaic background, made by Pietro Galli, depicting pagan and Christian ﬁgures. Among the medallions one may ﬁnd a jubilation of decorations: grotesqueries, dancing fauna, fantastic animals, cherubs, lion heads and vegetation intertwining of every kind. At the focus of each vault, there is the emblem of Pius IX, made in gilded wood and paint that even more emphasizes the preexisting decorative characteristics from the 1500’s. Along with the emblem, there are gilded inscriptions on a turquoise background that were dictated by Giulio Barluzzi (the “bussolante pontiﬁcio” of Pius IX) and that were then framed in rectangular “folders”.
This artwork was created by Kengiro Azuma in 2011, on the occasion of the exhibition dedicated to the 60th year of priesthood of Pope Benedict XVI. As he was invited to participate to this very important event, the artist decided to pay homage to the Pope by creating this masterpiece. Goccia d’acqua, Ciclo della Vita (Drop of Water the circle of Life) embodies all the special characteristics that make this artist’s production so grand. Moreover, the artwork is marked by meticulous poetic attention to the material and by a symbolic rendering of the subject portrayed. The composition encompasses elements that have been present in Azuma’s works since the 1970’s, when he worked as an assistant to Marino Marini. This occurred after his training in Japan, when he arrived in Milan in 1956 to complete his studies at the Academia of Brera. In this timespan, Azuma was sharpening his own personal language in order to achieve a combination between his original culture and his long experience in Italy that resulted quintessential for his artistic expression. The focus of this composition is the water drop. This element was already the protagonist of many of Azuma’s works, among which the monumental version located in the Palazzo Lanfranchi, in the suggestive scenario of the Sassi of Matera. The water drop symbolizes life, perfect at ﬁrst glance, yet cut through by dark cavities that remind us of its inevitable incompleteness. The relation between fullness and emptiness is the fundamental principle around which the entire production of Azuma orbits. More precisely, it refers to the three basic themes of the Zen philosophy: the ‘Yu’ (concrete and deﬁned reality, the whole, the present, the visible); the ‘Ku’ (reality without any opposite, therefore a grand nothingness); and the ‘Mu’ (the null and inﬁnite nothingness, the absence, the invisible). In this case, the drop is positioned on a dark wooden parallelepiped. To its side, the artist eased down an ostensible chaos: wooden shingles that create a sort of bridge, almost as if the ensemble created a Zen garden, animated by few presences. Thus, inferring a composition that is severely minimalist, in which the geometric lines are opposed to the gleam of the metallic surface. Furthermore, the golden bronze holds a dialogue with the brown tones of the wood while the smoothness of the drop reﬂects its roughness.
The sculpture depicts a guard dog, noted by its position and traits: the dog is standing on its forelegs with straight ears and an open jaw. The breed of this ferocious dog is Molosso, a type which was very popular in ancient Epirus (currently southern Albania and northern Greece). Given its efﬁcient hunting skills, these dogs were much esteemed. For, hunting was quite relevant in the Hellenistic Greek world as it was a prerogative of the dynasties and aristocratic class. In this world, the Molossi had to intervene once the greyhounds had worn out the prey; and thanks to their physical prowess, they would manage to stop even the most dangerous animals, such as bears and wild boars. Thus, easing the ultimate capture. The statue was part of the antiquities collection of Francesco Fusconi, chief pontiﬁcal doctor during the ﬁrst half of the 16th century. Fusconi also cured the artist Benvenuto Cellini, among others. The “dearest Doctor”, as Pirro Ligorio -the famous architect – adored to call him, had set up an exquisite collection of antique relicts, especially epigraphs. This collection was kept in his building at Piazza Farnese (Palazzo Fusconi-Pighini, current Palace of the Gallo of Roccagiovine) that was designed by Baldassarre Peruzzi and considered “of high, elegant and precious quality.” The majority of the antiquities resulted from the excavations he conducted in his vineyards on the Esquilino. Precisely, the vineyards of St. Mathew located on Via Merulana Antica and from which the Laocoonte had emerged in 1506. Following the testamentary wills of Francesco Fusconi, the statue, along with other marble sculptures of the collection, were acquired from the monastery of St. Cosimato. Afterwards, these exquisite marble sculptures were transferred to the Vatican Museums in 1770 under the pontiﬁcate of Clement XIV.
The ancient sculpture can be dated back to the 1st century AD. Yet, its prototype can be found in the 3rd century BC, as part of Hellenistic Art. Our statue is located at the right of the portal between the Octagon Courtyard and the Animal Room, almost as if it were recalling its original apotropaic function as guard of the entrances. On the left side, instead, there is a sculpture which is very similar, but better preserved. The Molosso greets the visitors along the path towards the Pius Clementine Museum, located precisely in the heart of the Vatican Museums. Here, one may also notice other masterpieces of classical sculptures, some have been part of the pontiﬁcate collections for centuries.
1. Small Devotional Triptych Altar with Christ Crucified.
DIMENSIONS: 20 x 14.3 cm (total, with open base); 20 x 7.2 cm (total, with closed base); 11.3 x 7.5 cm (cross)
DATE: 1380-1400 ca.
MATERIALS: silver, partially gilded and enameled; bronze
INVENTORY Nr: 62113
2. Small Devotional Altar with Crucifix and table candlesticks.
DIMENSIONS: 16.3 x 8.5 x 4.3 cm
DATE: 7th century
MATERIALS: silver (statue figures) and chiseled silver sheeting, embossed and partially gilded (sculpted decorations); cast bronze and gilded copper foil (architectural structure), blue lapis lazuli and other precious stones (architectural decorations), oil painted on copper (painted panels)
INVENTORY Nr: 62116
3. Cross for a table on a molded architectural pedestal, with Christ Crucified and statues of the Virgin and Saint John at His side
DIMENSION: 25 x 11.5 x 4.5 cm (total); 15.7 x 10.7cm (cross only)
DATE first half of 7th century ?
MATERIALS: cast silver, incised, embossed and partially gilded (Crucifix and statues); carved and painted wood, inlayed with semiprecious stones (cross and pedestal)
INVENTORY Nr: 62137.2.1-2
4.Two terracotta oil lamps
DIMENSIONS: 10-12 cm ca.
DATE: V century
INVENTORY Nr: 60947, 61520
The devotional objects in this group consist of very interesting examples of “altarpieces,” or miniaturized liturgical devotionals. They are quite detailed reproductions of the actual architectural types that would have been assembled with correspondent materials. These furnishings used for private devotion are projects of superior craftsmanship and were in circulation amongst those of high ecclesiastical and aristocratic rank, particularly widespread in the 16th and 17th centuries. They later became prized among avid collectors. The devotional altar (Inv. 62113) has embossed images of Christ on the cross between Mary and Saint John; its base is a triptych of the Nativity between Saints Peter and Paul on the inner side, and the Annunciation appears on the exterior side. The work represents a scaled-down model of a monumental complex of a late-Gothic form. It is most likely attributable to the artistic workshop of Emiliano from the late 14th century. Pope Pius IX donated the piece at some point during his pontiﬁcate (1846-1878), until it was later moved to the Vatican Library.
The other altarpiece (Inv. 62116) with a cruciﬁx and table candlesticks has a painted panel dedicated to the Nativity, another to the Last Supper, and is topped by a statue of the Blessing Christ. Once again we see it as a key decorative element of the counter -reformation and, as it would have been part of a 16th century chapel, it is a wonderful example of the Baroque liturgical schema. It was donated in 1929 to Pope Pius XI by Emanuele Filiberto of Savoia, the 2nd duke of d’Aosta, and eventually acquired by the Vatican collections in 1936. The other altarpiece (Inv. 62116) with a cruciﬁx and table candlesticks has a painted panel dedicated to the Nativity, another to the Last Supper, and is topped by a statue of the blessing Christ. Executed in Italy, most probably Roman in origin, it was created in the middle of the 17th century. Its sundry polymateric decorative facets in relation to its reduced size together demonstrate the astounding degree of competence in its workmanship. This was indicative of the type of labor set forth in Latin Christendom by silversmiths, engravers, and those who inlayed gemstones. The cruciﬁx was donated to Pope Pius XI in 1937 for the Sacristy collection of the Sistine Chapel at the time.
Terracotta oil lamps like these were used in early centuries for an everyday light source, especially in the Jewish religion. In ancient Rome, they also served other purposes. During festivities and religious processions, for example, they were used as votive offerings to their pagan gods, or in funeral rituals to honor the deceased. It was also thought that putting these lamps within the tomb of the deceased would make them comfortable in the after life. After Christianity grew widespread, these lanterns that still retained symbolic of light and hope, grew in their spiritual signiﬁcance. Christ was the true “Light” himself and toward Whom each faithful oriented their life. In turn, the lamp became signiﬁcant of an eschatological light that would never extinguish. Christian decorations were carved on the surface of the lamps in the hope of spreading the word of God. Images included ﬁsh, doves, Chi Rho, and biblical representations. Centuries later, lanterns started to become popular in African cultures. This “classic African” lantern started its production during the 5th century AD and was exported through Tunisia, becoming widespread throughout the Mediterranean. The ﬁrst of the two terracotta lamps depicted here (inv. 60947) comes from the African Terra Sigillata. It is decorated with a palm tree and has two symmetric bands containing geometric elements on the back. The second lantern (inv. 61520) was found in Rome in the cemetery of Saints Marco and Marcellino. It has animal and geometric designs in its decoration. Both are part of a larger collection on display in the Christian Museum.
After the capitulation of the Roman Republic (during which Pope Pius IX remained in exile in Naples as a guest of King Ferdinand II), the Sovereign Pontiff was able to return to Rome and ﬁnally arrived on April 12, 1850.
This large canvas by Spanish artist Carlo De Paris represents the precise moment in which the Pontiff triumphantly arrives in the square before the Basilica of St. John Lateran. The clergy and governors of the city are outﬁtted in brocaded robes of crimson and gold (distinctive of their authority), and are seen welcoming the Pope by offering him on bended knee the keys of Rome on a silver platter. This scene depicting the “the repossession” is particularly rich in detail: the watchful gaze of the welcoming crowd, the vigilant presence of the nobility, the stately Pontiﬁcal Swiss Guard, and the onward-looking Canons of St. John. All are represented outside the Basilica in striking detail along with the bell and most precious ancient Lateran Cross. The importance of this work is easily recognizable, as it practically documents in “photographic” detail and precision this momentous event in the history of the papacy in Rome.
This large room, named after the emperor Constantine and intended for receptions and official ceremonies (caenaculum amplior), was decorated by pupils of Raphael, in part based on Raphael’s designs, painted after his premature death in 1520.
Its iconographic program is a continuation of that of the previous Rooms (Segnatura, Heliodorus, Fire of Borgo). It is intended to celebrate the apotheosis of the Church.
The theme here is the Church’s victory over paganism, and its establishment in the city of Rome. The main scenes are painted on fictive arrases, while allegorical figures, popes and virtues appear at the corners. Four different episodes of the life of Constantine are masterfully represented in this room, one on each wall: the Vision of the Cross, the Battle of Ponte Milvio, the Baptism of Constantine and the Donation of Rome. The restoration project started thanks to the New York Chapter of The Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums.
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.
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.
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).
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.