Climate Control and Illumination of Borgia Apartments

In the year 1492, as Christopher Columbus was sailing from Spain on his first voyage to discover The New World, the recently elected Spanish Pope Alexander VI (1492-1503), commissioned Pinturicchio to decorate the Papal Apartments in the Apostolic Palace. The Borgia Apartment occupied the entire first floor of the Apostolic Palace that now forms part of the Vatican Museums. Generous contributions from our Florida, Michigan, Philadelphia and Canada Patrons have already enabled the restoration of frescoes and embellishments in the Borgia Apartments through the advancements of science combined with the delicacy of the human touch. Now, to sustain the health of the precious artwork on their walls and ensure that they can be appreciated for generations, it is imperative to maintain proper lighting and climate control in the Apartments.

Pinturrichio, assisted by the members of his workshop which included Benedetto Bonfigli, Pietro d’Andrea da Volterra and Antonio da Viterbo, first completed decorating this vast space in 1494, a mere 2 years following its inception. The overall effect of his ornamental scheme was a lushly detailed, illuminated manuscript that highlighted the intellectual interest of the papal court and the Borgia family. Many of the religious figures depicted on the walls were portraits of family members in the guise of saints and soldiers. After the death of Alexander VI, the subsequent popes preferred to live elsewhere and, over time, the apartments began to be used as residences for cardinals of the curia. Among these was Saint Charles Borromeo, who served as Secretary of State to his uncle, Pope Pius IV. Pinturicchio’s frescoes were repainted and restored in 1816, under Pius VII, when the Vatican Pinacoteca was housed here, and again in 1897, when Leo XIII opened it to the public (the rooms were also restored, and most of the floors reconstructed as copies of the original ceramic tiles, very few of which had survived). A subsequent restoration was carried out when the apartment was chosen to house part of the Collection of Modern Religious Art.

In order to not only appreciate the Apartments in their renewed state but also to preserve these testimonies of the “New World” for visitors of today, installing modern technologies of lighting and climate control is necessary. The thermo hygrometer shifts due to the changing of humidity, temperature, and heat are the major cause of deterioration in art collections. The high volume of people eager to appreciate these rooms and enter into Pintoricchio’s “new world” also warrants a climatization system essential. Any changes in temperature and/or humidity are foes of the frescoes, but with air conditioning systems, they will live in much better conditions.

A proper lighting system is essential to the preservation of the artworks because it prevents dangerous radiation that would harm the artwork. At the same this system helps to illuminate beauty of the works, thanks to exposing them to the proper electromagnetic spectrum. The correct lighting contributes to an evocative experience and enables the viewer to fully appreciate the works of art. The illumination and climatization efforts are proposed for the Room of the Mysteries, the Saints, the Liberal Arts, and the Creed in the Borgia Apartments.

The Room of the Mysteries

This was the last of the rooms decorated by Pinturicchio but the first to be restored. In part, it merits to begin here, because a large proportion of this room was completed by his assistants. The Mysteries of the Faith are depicted in the lunettes: the Annunciation, the Nativity, the Adoration of the Magi, the Resurrection, the Ascension, Pentecost, and the Assumption of the Virgin into heaven. Several portraits of Pinturicchio’s contemporaries appear here. There is a splendid portrait of Alexander VI in the Resurrection, as a well as asoldier kneeling and holding a lance, most likely representing Cesare Borgia, the pope’s manservant. Eight tondi decorate the spandrels of the two vaults with the busts of the prophets, each identified on their frame: Micah, Joel, Jeremiah, Sophonias, Isaiah, Solomon, Malachi, David. Restoration and was completed in 2006 after a five-year renovation, thanks to the generosity of the Florida Patrons.

The Room of the Saints

The artist’s hand of Pinturicchio is most evident in this room, for which he planned out and executed most of the frescoes. The subjects depicted are: the Martyrdom of St. Sebastian, Susannah and the elders, Events from the Life of St. Barbara, St. Catherine disputing, the Meeting of St. Anthony the Abbot and St. Paul the Hermit, and the Visitation. Scenes from the myth of Isis and Osiris are depicted in the spandrels of the vault, according to a “blueprint” by Antonio da Viterbo; their presence, together with that of the bull Apis, is an allusion to the Borgia family crest. On the large arch one finds scenes from the myth of Io and Argos. Several portraits of contemporaries are represented here: the papal architect, Antonio da Sangallo holding a square and Pinturicchio himself. Above the door leading to the Room of the Mysteries, there is a Madonna and Child in which the Madonna is possibly a portrait of Giulia Farnese. The restoration of the first half of this room was made possible thanks to the generosity of the Philadelphia Patrons and was completed in 2010. The conservation of the second half of this Sala was generously supported by the Michigan Patrons.

The Room of the Liberal Arts

This is the first of the rooms of the Borgia Apartment. It was Alexander VI’s study and he also used to dine here; his body was laid in this room when he died. The name of the room has its origins in the medieval concept of the Arts of the Trivium and of the Quadrivium, which made up the Liberal Arts. The Arts are represented in the lunettes as enthroned women, each identified by an inscription: Astronomy, Grammar, Dialectics, Rhetoric, Geometry, Arithmetic, Music. Some of the figures surrounding the Arts are portraits of contemporaries. The figure of Euclid, kneeling before Geometry and intent upon measuring with compasses, may be a portrait of Bramante. Only part of the work is by Pinturicchio, whose name appears on the base of Rhetoric’s throne. The rest can be attributed to Tiberio d’Assisi or to Pastura. The five octagons of the large central arch are 16th century additions or possibily previous restorative efforts. Depicted here is: Jacob takes leave of Laban; the Angels save Lot from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah; Justice, Trajan’s justice; Justice distributes gifts. The gilded stucco reliefs on the vault represent the pope’s coat-of-arms and devices. The 16th century fireplace, which was restored thanks to the Minnesota patrons, carved in “pietra serena” from a design by Sansovino, is the work of Simone Mosca. The marble friezes have been recreated by the Medici firm following the original drawings of the frieze made by the same firm in 1897. Tradition has it that this hearth once stood in Castel Sant’Angelo. The beautiful fireplace was masterfully restored thanks to the generosity of the Minnesota Patrons. Restoration of this room was made possible thanks to the generosity of the Canadian Patrons.

The Room of the Creed

The Room of the Creed, yet to be restored, has a ceiling decorated with complex geometric designs of the papal coat of arms and Borgia insignias. The figured decoration is comprised of twelve lunettes depicting pairs of apostles and prophets. They symbolize the concordance between the Old and New Testaments and are represented on a blue background, surrounded by sinuous scrolls with passages of Scripture. This room will be restored as the final stage of this cycle of four rooms after the completion of the restoration of the Room of Liberal Arts. We are looking for an interested sponsor among our patrons who can help us finish this final stage of an amazing restoration project. We look forward to having Patrons visit these restoration sites when they come to Rome and enjoy the master’s work in person, in the most famous apartments in the world. Thanks to the generosity of our many chapters who have supported these various rooms, the Renaissance will be brought back for us to marvel at today.