Lion of Monterosso by Arturo Martini

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Leone di Monterosso is one of the preparatory models that Arturo Martini completed during the creation of an artwork commissioned by Arturo Ottolenghi in 1932. The desired location for this masterpiece was his villa on a hill in Monterosso, near Acqui Terme. The Ottolenghi Counts, Arturo and Herta von Wedekind zu Horst, relied on the well-known architect Marcello Piacentini to build their residence in 1920. Following its completion, they entrusted very important artists with the decoration of their villa. Among these were Fortunato Depero, Adolfo Wildt, Libero Andreotti, Ferruccio Ferrazzi and Arturo Martini.
The amazing sculptor from Treviso started working on the Lion project during the summer of 1932. He carried out various replicas in which he developed the composition’s structure. The artist gave particular attention to the animal’s muzzle and tail -elements that for artists associate with the description of the animal’s personality.
It is interesting to remember how Martini initially intended to depict a chimaera rather than a lion. A Chimaera is a beast from Greek mythology that has a lion’s head and body, a snake’s tail and a second head -that of a goat. This choice reveals the grand fascination the artist has with regards to Etruscan sculptures: «I am the true Etruscan -Martini declared -they gave me the language and I gave them voice to speak. I expressed them. I could have created thousands of statues, made just as they would have imagined them». For the Lion of Monterosso, the artist drew his inspiration from Chimera d’Arezzo, an absolute masterpiece, found in 1553 near the city after which it takes the name. Today, it is in the National Archeological Museum in Florence. Enlightened by this model, Martini molds a first study out of plaster. Ottolenghi appreciated the “bozzetto”, which he defined as «strong and terrible, and marvelous»; while other people closer to the artist criticized it. To these perplexities and criticisms Martini responded that he did not «want to create a lion like those that are in the Zoological Museum», rather he intended to create «a Chimaera, inspired by a lion and all the other beasts. Monterosso will distinguish himself thanks to the fantastic Lion.» This variation will appear clearly in the following phases of the creative process, while keeping the memory of this fantastic beast alive. This metamorphosis is shown even more in the terracotta version that was brought to the Vatican in 1959, when Pius XII commissioned the creation of two rooms dedicated to the art of the 20th century within the art gallery. The finalized artwork, made out of red Simona rock from Valcamonica, reached its completion in September 1934.

Eighteen gold glass artifacts

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The golden glass collection of the Vatican Museums is amongst the most remarkable worldwide; and these pieces belong to the most precious glass productions of the late ancient ages. A refined technique allowed the creation of glass pottery, mostly plates and bowls, which were decorated with representations made in gold leaf that were set into two layers of glass.

_F5A3652 The majority of these artifacts were found within the Roman catacombs, where they were fixed to the finishing mortar of the cemetery plots. For the most part, they are decorated with features and subjects of the Christian figurative repertoire: biblical and theological themes like the traditio legis, the concordia apostolorum and representations of saints and martyrs. Moreover, there were also family portraits and representations of pagan mythology and Jewish tradition. The restoration intervention, planned for 2017, aims to restore eighteen of these very important relicts and to research a more adequate preservative system to be carried out in specific containers. Moreover, in 2018 there will be an intervention concerning another core of golden glass artifacts; these still have to be defined, as well as other glass objects.

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The Farewell of Pope Pius IX to Ferdinand II after the Neapolitan Exile

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Commissioned by Cardinal Giacomo Antonelli, this great commemorative canvas was painted by artist Filippo Bigioli from Italy’s Marche region. The painting represents the cordial salutation and gratitude of Pope Pius IX to the King of Naples for his hospitality. The riots during the Roman Republic were particularly grave, to the extent that they resulted in the killing of the Prime Minister of the Papal States. Following the riots, on November 24, 1848, Pope Pius IX was forced to flee clandestinely from Rome, taking refuge in Gaeta. That very night, disguised as a simple priest, the Pope succeeded in excaping from the Quirnale. In an enclosed carriage along with his secret assistant, he escaped capture and traveled to the countryside, despite all obstacles including a cannon ready to fire at the main gate of the Papal Palace. Finally he arrived at the church of Saints Peter and Marcellinus in Via Labicana. Here the Holy Pontiff found the Bavarian Ambassador Count Karl von Spaur waiting with his wife and son, who together feigned going on a sightseeing tour in the Kingdom of Naples accompanied by their new “docent.”
The Pope hopped into the Ambassador’s carriage on the evening of November 25th and arrived undisturbed in Gaeta where he wrote these words to Ferdinand II: “The Supreme Roman Pontiff has found himself in a position where he must abandon the capital of his domain in order to not compromise his own dignity. He is now in Gaeta, yet only for a brief time, wherein it is by no means intended to compromise in any way your Majesty nor the tranquility of your people.” Moved by these words, Ferdinand II left Naples with his family and headed to Gaeta, and invited the Pope to move into his Villa in Portici, where Pope Pius IX remained until April 4, 1850. After the capitulation of the Roman Republic, the Sovereign Pontiff was able once again to return to Rome. King Ferdinand II actually accompanied the Pope personally out of the confines of the state border, where his Majesty had prepared the Carrozza da Viaggio (Inv. No. 45572) to transport him on his journey. It is seen depicted in the background of the painting, and the actual carriage is on display in the Carriage Museum in the Vatican. This canvas by Filippo Bigioli is an extremely important work, as it pictorially documents a momentously definitive time in papal history.

Renewal of the depositories for the Ethnological Museum

Coming Soon

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The Ethnological Museum is one of the most significant departments of the Vatican Museums, and, thanks to a set of collections from all corners of the globe, can be considered a true ‘representation of the world’ through works of art. This artistic capital consists of over 100,000 items, sent from all continents over the centuries by the missions or as simple gifts to the popes to testify to the friendship of distant peoples, with their own cultures and religious customs. This is a continuing manifestation of homage to the Holy See. Presently 500 or so works are on display to the public, while the majority of its assets are preserved in the Museum’s deposits. These artifacts consist of materials of extremely varied nature, in large part perishable, which require stringent standards for proper storage. There has long been a plan for a major restructuring and reorganization of the depositary spaces to meet the most current criteria for conservation and to extend the museum, including a minimum part of its rich heritage contained in places of custody and not presently visible. This will permit viewing by specialists, scholars or the interested public and open the possibility to substantially increase the number of works on display and permit, for an involved and motivated public, access to some of the most important storage deposits of the Vatican Museums. The first phase of the project has led to the storage of about 11,000 works, using the same standards of protection adopted to date, with the constant use of highly qualified personnel specialized in conservation. A task particularly difficult since the artifacts are made of technically mixed materials and, in some cases, easily perishable. Once the modifications are completed, a specific design plan will define a more appropriate and functional use of the area, with the creation of special courses for the public and the implementation of workstations for scholars. This plan will provide an adequate response to the need to ensure high safety standards and the continued conservation of the artifacts. How many times have we wanted to see a work that we know to be preserved in a museum and we could not view it because it was not exhibited to the public? This project, therefore, is proof of its paramount importance to the Vatican Museums: this is because it will substantially expand what is considered to be one of the greatest ethnological collections in the world and will offer visitors, from every part of the planet, the possibility to see invaluable treasures that have long remained hidden or reserved exclusively for specialists.

Composite half-armors


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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.

Thirteen figurative Attic vases from the Astarita Room

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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.

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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.

Nativity of the Madonna of Spineta

From our 2017 Wishbook

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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.

Blue Mask

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Among the artifacts from Vanuatu in the Ethnological Collection of the Vatican Museums, there is a mask which may have been used by members of a fraternity associated with yams. These types of mask are generally known as Rom, and were used during ole dances. This mask was sent for the 1925 Vatican Exhibit to show the rich and vibrant cultural life of Vanuatu, a Pacific island nation 2500 kilometers from Australia. This intriguing artifact is a polychromatic mask for secret societies. It has a triangular center body, two circular holes for the eyes, a tall feathered plume on the upper portion and vegetable fibers on the lower portion. Its principle structure is made with wooden laths and vegetable fiber bindings. The secondary structure is made out of vegetable fibers and covered by a “preparatory” painted mixture of red, blue, white, and black pigment. Furthermore, the edges of the mask are decorated with small wooden strips fixed to the principle structure with small metal nails. On the upper portion of the artifact there is a feathered plume with vegetable fibers and painted parts; on the inferior perimeter there are two tied tufts of vegetable fibers, long in the back and shorter on the sides.

Ten Gold Artifacts

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The Vatican Museums are home to a grandiose collection of decorative arts, comprised primarily -yet not exclusively -of objects attributable to the Liturgical scene. Together the pieces are representative of a chronology spanning from late antiquity to the modern age. A driving strength of this collection -formed largely by treasures acquired throughout antiquity by the Vatican Library -is that it represents a multiplicity of cultures and numerous geographical areas. The ten works in this group are all of equal valor but in need of care and conservation in varying degree. They may be considered an effective witness to the variety and richness of a patrimony that has gradually established itself within the walls of the Christian Museum. The group starts with two simple yet precious metal boxes, already part of the “Treasury” of relics from the Lateran Sancta Sanctorum (the Holy of Holies, which was the oratory connected to the ancient Papal palace, where the most important mementos of Medieval Christian history were cherished). These boxes safeguarded the bones of Saints John the Baptist and Jerome (inv. 61880) and the sandals traditionally attributed to those of Jesus Christ (inv. 61907).

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These two items in particular have succumbed to deformations due to the secular liturgical exposition of their content. Subsequently, the small silver reliquary casket (inv. 61106) is a work originating from Venice sometime between the late 12th and early 13th century, while the small box for the holy oil is fashioned by Roman workmanship at the time of Nicolas (1447-1455).
The monstrance (inv. 61873) and the large cross (inv. 62911) were made in the Roman and Central (perhaps Abruzzo) regions of Italy, respectively, from the 17th century. The figure of Christ on the processional cross was probably added as a detail sometime during the 18th century. The three decorative book covers related to the Roman Missals (inv. Nos 62047, 62048, and 62051 are also “eloquent” themselves, in that each one speaks about a particular aesthetic sense prevalent during the respective years in which they were fabricated. Even in Italy, the ornate rococo style of French origin was popular and is encapsulated in each work. All three covers are richly decorated with etched and engraved silver, embossed, and delicately punctured. Each element and ornament is indicative of the territorial zone of France from whence the design received its original inspiration and expression. The sequence closes with a beautiful shrine to the Lamb of God (inv. 70057) with a low-relief profile of Pope Innocent XI (Odescalchi, 1676-1689). The medallion is cast in bronze, embossed, and gilded, while the framing is uniquely etched and chiseled in silver, then further embossed and gilded. The work is attributable to the style of Milanese artist Giuseppe Vismara (1633-1703), one of the most renowned medalists and sculptors of his time. Thusly, this piece is a quintessential example of just how rich and ornate accessories such as this were created. It was designed for the purpose of conserving the stamps that would impress decorative designs in small, rounded wax medallions (approximately the size of a host) for private devotional purposes. One side would contain the emblematic image of the Eucharistic Lamb, the other with a saint or reigning Pontiff, accompanied by an identifying inscription. The Agnus Dei was a title already prevalently used in the Middle Ages. This symbolism found its place in the design of many metal molds, and eventually that of its wax counterparts.

1. Reliquary Box with framed masculine figure with spiral engravings on lid
ARTIST: unknown
DATE: end of 12th – beginning of 13th century
DIMENSIONS: 5.4 x 7.7 x 6 cm
MATERIALS: embossed silver, engraving, blackened
INVENTORY Nr: 61106

2. Rayed Monstrance on a circular base with baluster stem and frame with cherub faces
ARTIST: unknown
DIMENSIONS: h 40 cm
DATE 7th: century
MATERIALS: engraved silver, chiseled and embossed
INVENTORY Nr: 61873

3. Reliquary Depository with sliding lid, containing the bones of Saints John the Baptist and Jerome
ARTIST: unknown
DIMENSIONS: 28.2 x 22.1 x 4cm
DATE: 4th century ?
MATERIALS: tinned copper
INVENTORY Nr: 61880

4. Reliquary Box with sliding lid, containing the shoes of Jesus Christ
ARTIST: unknown
DIMENSIONS: 31 x 23.5 x 7.5 cm
DATE: 4th century ?
MATERIALS: silver
INVENTORY Nr: 61907

5. Decorative binding with coat of arms of Barnabò Marchesi of Foligno. Cover for the revised Roman Missal by decree of the most holy council of Trent.
ARTIST: Giovanni Girolamo Spezzani (1665-1748) and Bartolomeo Balbi (1678 – before 1742)
DIMENSIONS: 34.5 x 25.5 cm
DATE: 1729 (missal); 1731-1732 (binding)
MATERIALS: engraved and embossed silver, crimson velvet
INVENTORY Nr: 62047

6. Binding with phytomorphic decorations and plaque with figurative subjects. Cover for the Roman Missal by decree of the most holy council of Trent.
ARTIST: Francesco Lombardo (1645-1696)
DIMENSIONS: 34 x 25 cm
DATE: 1652 (binding); 1772 (missal)
MATERIALS: silver engraved, chiseled, embossed and filligree, crimson velvet

INVENTORY Nr: 62048

7. Binding with phytomorphic decorations and plaque with figurative subjects. Cover for the Roman Missal by decree of the most holy council of Trent.
ARTIST: unknown
DIMENSIONS: 33.5 x 26.5 cm
DATE: 1714 (missal); 1725 (binding)
MATERIALS: engraved silver, chiseled, embossed, and filligree
INVENTORY Nr: 62051

8. Case for holy oil with medallions depicting the insignia of Nicholas V (1447-1455) ARTIST: unknown DIMENSIONS 7x 17 x 7 cm
DATE: mid 15th century
MATERIALS: silver foil and finish (case); silver casting and welding (moldings); gold or silver gilding (internal display cases)
INVENTORY Nr: 62091

9. Processional Cross with lobed endings and cherub heads.
ARTIST: unknown
DIMENSIONS: 7x 17 x 7 cm
DATE: 1686 (cross); end of 18th century (crucifix)
MATERIALS: silver plated and engraved, chiseled, gilded (cross); fused silver, partially embossed and gilded (crucifix); bronze gilded (cherub heads)
INVENTORY Nr: 62911

10. Reliquary case for Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) with bust profile of Innocent XI of Odescalchi (1676-1689) inside an ornamentally framed medallion
ARTIST: unknown
DIMENSIONS: 42.5 x 31cm
DATE: late 17th century
MATERIALS: embossed gilt bronze (medallion); cast silver and chiseled silver foil, embossed and gilded (frame); cut crystal (case)
INVENTORY Nr: 70057.2.1-2

Apostolic Palace decorations in the Third Loggia

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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).

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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. Vedute III LOGGIA 2Mantovani 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.Vedute III LOGGIAThe 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”.