Saints Paola and Eustochium

These two valuable paintings once constituted the side compartments of a triptych that was dismembered and whose central element was lost. The veiled woman, who wears an anachronistically dark dress and cloak recalling the dress of the Poor Clares, is the noble Roman matron Paola (347 – 406). She belonged to the Roman gens Cornelia and at age 15 she had married Senator Tossozio, with whom she had five children. When her husband died in 379, she retired to the Aventine Hill in Rome together with other widows to devote herself to prayer and penance. At that time, St. Jerome came to Rome and the widows hosted him nearby. Under the guidance of the Saint, who was engaged in the Latin translation of the Bible from ancient versions in Greek and Hebrew, Paola and her daughter Eustochium devoted themselves to the study of the Holy Scriptures. When St. Jerome went back to the East, they followed him. After an initial stay in Antioch, the two women visited the sacred places in Palestine, then, going to Egypt, they became interested in the life of the hermits. Finally, they settled in Bethlehem where Paola founded two monasteries and remained until her death.

The Vatican portrait of Eustochium shows her dressed according to the fashion of the time, with a elaborately embroidered white dress decorated with a motif of birds amongst intertwined plants. St. Jerome dedicated the 22nd Epistle and its eulogy on virginity to this young woman who had followed her mother on the pilgrimage. She, in fact, displays a scroll with the inscription: “AUDI, FILIA, AND (T) VIDE (ET) INCLINATES AUREM TUA (M) AND OBLIV (I) SCERE POPULU (M) TUUM (ET) DOMUM PATRIS TUI (ET) CO (N) CUPISCET REX DECORE (M) TUU (M) [Listen, daughter, look, give ear: forget your people and your father’s house; the king is in love with your beauty]. It is Psalm 44 (vv. 11-12), with which Jerome begins the 22nd Epistle.

One can hypothesize that in the central panel there was a Madonna with Child surrounded by Saints, among which St. Jerome was certainly represented.

The name of the elegant painter to whom we owe these paintings is unknown. He was commonly called the Master of the Straus Madonna after his Madonna with Child (1395 ca.), once part of the Straus Collection of New York, now in the Fine Arts Museum of Houston in Texas. This work provides a nucleus around which art historians have gathered a core of works attributed to his hand. 

The artistic patrimony of the painter took place in Florence between 1385 and 1415, where he was probably trained in the circle of Agnolo Gaddi. Shared ornamental elements are found in his repertoire and in that of Lorenzo Monaco, although the personalities of the two artists are very different. On the contrary, the Master of the Straus Madonna is similar to that of Spinello Aretino, making him one of the most up-to-date protagonists of the Florentine late Gothic culture. These Vatican panels show us two images of ideal women with clear contours that stand out on the gold background, the flesh painted in a delicate and suffused chiaroscuro, and the clothing that characterizes the widow and her elegant daughter covered with elaborate decorative motifs and folds.The reference to the Epistle of 

St. Jerome shows attention to patristic sources and brings to the world of Christian spirituality a princess who seems part of a fairy tale.

Ceremonial Clasp from the Regolini-Galassi Tomb

Among the valuable artifacts worn by the deceased and one which astonished the excavators in its golden surface was this extraordinary ceremonial clasp (fibula), a unique masterpiece of antique goldsmith art. 

The clasp, due to its remarkable size and decorative exuberance, constitutes an exclusive ceremonial ornament that brings to mind a similar fibula with a disc bracket commonly used in the Iron Age. The clasp represents the highest level of Etruscan goldsmith technique which, like its iconographic motifs, is linked to ancient Near-Eastern metalworking tradition. 

Elements obtained with various techniques (fittings, embossments, cutouts) are enriched by a refined granulation in which very small micro-welded spheres delineate contours and details of the figures and define decorative motifs. The decorative program’s various animals and symbolic apparatuses are characteristic of the composite figurative culture that manifests itself in Etruria in the Orientalizing period. The artistic influence from the ancient Near East is particularly observable in the object’s griffins, intertwined arches, palmettes, and head of the female deity – the Egyptian Hathor or the Phoenician Astarte. 

Procession of Pope Pius IX

This work by Michelangelo Pacetti documents the historical event of Pope Pius IX “taking possession of Rome.” Pope Pius IX and his entourage are seen in procession as they traverse the Roman Forum to arrive near the Coliseum.

Among pontifical ceremonies, the “taking possession” is of particular importance. With this ceremony, the recently-elected pontiff, immediately following his solemn coronation Mass, takes “possession” of his episcopal seat in the pontifical cathedral of St. John Lateran, Mater et Caput of all the churches of the city and by extension of the world.

This ceremony, which still takes place today, has origins from the time of Pope Boniface VIII in 1295. Winding through the streets of Rome, the procession commenced with the exit of the Pope from the Vatican Palace on the Quirinale, heralded by a cannon shot fired from Castel Sant’Angelo. The procession reached the territory of the Capitol where the Pope, arriving at the top of the hill, received homage from the Senate of Rome. He then descended to the Roman Forum and continued around the Coliseum through the ancient triumphal arches of Titus and Constantine.

At the end of the Via Sacra, the procession then followed the Via Merulana, ending with the arrival at the Lateran and the entrance to the Basilica.

The procession marched in the following order: a picket of dragoons on horseback, a unit of carabinieri on horseback, two other groups of dragoons, a column of grenadiers, the equestrian lancers, the bussolanti on horseback, two lay manservants with swords and capes, and two Secret extra muros Manservants in red dress and hoods. They were followed by all the other Lay Manservants in black uniforms, by the secret manservants unit and the honor guard. The commander of the Swiss Guard rode on horseback, with armor, and the governor of Rome, in the dress of a prelate, on a horse with a violet-colored blanket was followed by the noble guard. Pope Pius IX blessed the people from the doors of the grand gala carriage. 

Icons from the Tower of Pope John XXIII

Christ Pantocrator

Artist: Unknown, Russian
Date: Second half of the XIX century
Dimensions: 30.5 x 25.5 cm
Materials: Oil on panel, silver and gilded metal, polychrome enamels
Inventory Number: 44880

This precious Russian icon of Christ Pantocrator is made up of two elements: a wood panel painted in oil and a golden silver metallic covering, called a riza, richly decorated with polychrome enamels whose refined ornamentation reveals the professional level of the silversmith who created it. The riza outlines parts of the underlying image, leaving only the face and hands of Christ uncovered.

The hieratic image of the Savior, frontal and half-figured, has a divided beard and long hair parted in two locks. It is in the iconographic type called Pantocrator, a Greek word meaning: “He who sustains all things in himself” indicating that Christ, the Incarnate Word, is the omnipotent Sovereign and Ruler of the universe. The origin of this iconography is linked to the vision of the prophet Ezekiel (Ez 1: 26-28), but above all the artist intends to portray the dogma of Christ’s equality with the Father, proclaimed in the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea in 325 and represented in early Christian art.

The Christ Pantocrator, in fact, is one of the most ancient and widespread iconographic subjects of Eastern Christianity; in Russian tradition it is also often called Spasitel or Spas, which mean Savior.

In the icon presented here, the face of Christ, according to tradition, is surrounded by a large halo made of polychrome enamel in which are inserted the three Cyrillic letters ѾОН, the Slavic transcription of the Greek word O ΩΝ. This is the “heavenly” name of Christ, which alludes to the words with which God revealed himself to Moses on Mount Sinai “Εγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν”, which means “I am who I am” (Ex 3:14).

Dressed in a tunic and cloak decorated with a dense vegetal motif, Christ is depicted with the right hand in the gesture of the Greek blessing, that is, with the crossed fingers that form the anagram of the name of Jesus (IC) Christ (XC). The left hand shows the open Gospel in which we read a written inscription in ecclesiastical Slavic and made of blue enamel:

ВЫ̀ Д́А И ВЫ́/

This is a passage from the Gospel of John (13.34-35): “I give you a new commandment: that you love one another; as I have loved you, so you also love one another…. “.

At the top of the two angular panels are the six Slavic letters ІИС ХРС, which are a traditional abbreviation for the name of Jesus Christ: ІИСУС ХРИСТОС (Iisus Xristos). The rectangular panel at Christ’s shoulder reads the inscription Г (ОСПО) ДЬ ВСЕ, which continues on the other side with the inscription ДЕРЖИТЕЛЬ, meaning “Lord Pant / ocrator”.

The technique of execution, the style and the palaeographic examination of the inscriptions makes it possible to attribute the icon to a Russian painter who worked in the “academic style.” This identity developed in Russia in the post-Petrine era in the second half of the eighteenth century, and particullary in the nineteenth century. Its birth and diffusion are due, on the one hand, to the influence of Western art and, on the other, to the activity of the painters trained at the Academy of Fine Arts, who realized the icons in the academic style using oil instead of the traditional tempera technique.

The restoration of the icon will allow the study and conservation of the painting. Furthermore, it will be possible to discover the silversmith’s technique of embossment, the quality of metal and the city of manufacture found marked on the metallic coating, thus permitting the knowledge of the year and location of where the work was made. 


Artist: Unknown, Russian
Date: Late XIX century, early XX century
Dimensions: 31 x 26.5 cm
Materials: Oil on panel, silver and gold with polychrome enamels
Inventory Number: 44892

The icon presented here depicts a particular kind image of Christ called the Mandylion or the “Image of Edessa”, the latter name in relation to the origin of the lost original. According to tradition, this image was not made by human hand, but miraculously engraved by Christ on a linen handkerchief. Eusebius of Caesarea described the event in his Ecclesiastical History (fourth century) and refers to two ancient documents written in Syriac that he discovered in the archives of Edessa. He narrates that Abgar, the king of Edessa, stricken by the plague, sent a servant named Ananias to Christ, asking to heal him. The king also entrusted to the same servant the task of painting the effigy of Christ, but the attempts of Ananias to depict his face were in vain. At that point, Jesus bathed his face and wiped it with a veil, leaving the strokes of his image imprinted upon it. In Russia this typology is called “face of the savior not painted by human hand,” while in the Byzantine East it is called with the Greek name Mandylion, which comes from the Arabic Mandil, which literally means handkerchief. The news of the miraculous event written by Eusebius was also reported by Efrem the Syrian and other historians. The most detailed account dates back to Constantino Porfinogenito (tenth century) and resulted in an intervention of Pope Gelasius II († 1119), who proclaimed by degree that such narration was apocryphal (unproven), excluding it from the canonical texts, but without prejudice for the cult of the icon.

According to the widespread tradition in the Christian Orient, the Mandylion was initially preserved in Edessa of Mesopotamia (now Urfa, Turkey). In the tenth century the icon was transferred to Constantinople, where in 1204 its traces were lost during the riots that followed the conquest of the city during the Fourth Crusade. In Russia, the narrative and the first depictions of the “face of the savior not painted by human hand” came from Byzantium at the time of the conversion of Kievan Rus (i.e. ancient Russia) to Christianity in the late tenth century.

The oldest existing Russian icon of the “face of the savior not painted by human hand” is the painted panel conserved today in Moscow, in the Tretiakov Gallery, datable to the second half of the twelfth century. This iconographic type was common in Russia  until the beginning of the twentieth century, albeit undergoing some changes over the decades. While in the oldest works only the face of Jesus was depicted, from the sixteenth century onwards the composition was enriched by the insertion of two curtain-holding angels showing the shroud with the face of the Savior.

This icon is composed of two elements: an oil painting on wood panel and a protective covering consisting of a metal plate with polychrome enamels, called a riza. The gilded silver metallic coating almost completely covers the panel, leaving only the head of Christ uncovered in the background of the shroud. Jesus is depicted frontally, according to the Byzantine dictates, without a crown of thorns, since the miraculous healing of King Abgar had taken place before the Passion of Christ. He has a mustache and a full two-part beard. His face is framed by long hair, ending in curls divided into two strands. He has a hieratic and penetrating gaze, which expresses both strength and sweetness. The halo has the shape of a ray surrounded by flowers in polychrome enamel. Within the halo are inserted the three letters ѾОΝ, transcription into Slavic of the “Heavenly” name of Christ, “I am who I am” (Es 3.14).

Thanks to the examination of the technique of execution and the stylistic and paleographic analysis of the work, it is possible to attribute the icon to a Russian painter operating at the end of the nineteenth century who executed it in “academic style” with oil paints, instead of the traditional tempera; this was common in the nineteenth century. 

Virgin Hodegetria of Smolensk

Artist: Unknown, Russian
Date: Late XVIII century – early XIX century
Dimensions: 42 x 34 cm
Materials: Tempera on wood panel, silver and gold, enamels, lapis lazuli
Inventory Number: 44900

This Vatican icon depicts a well-known iconographic Marian type called the Smolensk Mother of God, which is composed of two elements: a tempera painted wood panel and a covering consisting of a gilded metal plate decorated with enamels and precious stones in which appears the same iconographic subject. It is a “replica” of the well-known Byzantine iconographic model of the Virgin Hodegetria. The prototype, which was kept in the Hodegon Monastery in Constantinople, represented the Theotokos (Mother of God) holding the Christ Child and gesturing to Him with her right hand, presenting him to the faithful as their means of salvation. The word hodegetria in Greek means “she who points the way”. Both figures in this icon were represented frontally, the Christ Child, severe and solemn, raises his right hand in blessing and carries a scroll of law in his left hand. Thanks to the numerous copies and replicas derived from the original Constantinopolitan panel, the icon of Our Lady of the Way became well known throughout the Christian East. 

Russian icons of this type were already known as early as the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, although it seems that none of the Russian replicas that have survived to this day can be dated to before the fourteenth century.

With regard to the painted panel, the ancient city of Smolensk once possessed one of the “reproductions” of the Byzantine painting of the Virgin Hodegetria; over time the “replica” became well known and venerated by the faithful, thanks to the widespread fame of the healing power of the work. For this reason, the Smolensk panel was transferred to Moscow at the beginning of the fifteenth century and placed in the Cathedral of the Annunciation in the Kremlin. After nearly half a century and because there were several copies left in Moscow, the painting was returned to Smolensk in 1456. From the traditional type of Virgin Hodegetria icons, several less-faithful versions of the prototype have been made; the Vatican’s Our Lady of the Way is based on one of those copies from Smolensk and thus is a reproduction that is very close to the original Byzantine Virgin Hodegetria.

The riza or protective metallic covering of the icon reveals only the figures of the Virgin and Child. The Virgin is depicted as a half-figure, wearing a blue tunic bordered by gilt edges. She wears a Mitella (headdress) which is covered by a dark red maphorion (cloak) with wide folds. There are three almost invisible stars traditionally present on the forehead and shoulders of the mantle of Mary: traditional symbols of her perpetual virginity. Christ is depicted barefoot, wearing a blue chitone (long woolen tunic) and a bright red himation (mantle) with gold highlights. Haloes in the shape of a rays are embossed on the metal plating, the crowns are decorated with precious stones and the upper area is inscribed with the typical Greek initials for the Mother of God: Μ (ητη) Ρ Θ (εο) Υ (“Mother of God”). Jesus’s abbreviated Greek name: Ι (ηсου) с Χ (Ριсτò)C is written above his halo.

The stylistic analysis and the technique of execution of this work permits the attribution of the icon to a Russian painter operating in the eighteenth century.

Christ Emmanuele

Artist: Unknown, Russian
Date: Last quarter of the XIX century
Dimensions: 27 x 22 cm
Materials: Oil on panel, silver metal, stones and pearls Inventory Number: 44895

This valuable icon, executed in the technique of oil painting on panel, depicts the Christ Child. Only his face is revealed, the surrounding area completely covered by a richly decorated silver riza and with an application of fabric embroidered with small pearls on the robe and turquoise stones that form a necklace. On the silver plates flanking the portrait of Christ, one reads the titulus of the depicted theme, engraved in ecclesiastical Slavic:


/Lord Savior Emmanuel/

The Christ Child is represented frontally and in half-bust, with blue eyes, brown hair and uncovered neck. His broad forehead is an indication of divine wisdom, and despite his childlike appearance, his gaze is majestic. Three eight-pointed star-shaped plates in the halo, are embossed with the three Cyrillic letters ѾОН, a transcription in Slavic of the “heavenly” name of Christ,
“I am who I am” (Es 3.14).

In Byzantine and Russian art, the typology of the Christ Child is depicted in a series of icons traditionally called “Christ Emmanuel.” This iconographic subject was probably the Church’s response to the Nestorian heresy, which denied the Savior’s divinity before his baptism in the Jordan River. For this reason, the Christ Child is already represented with a halo, a symbol of his divine essence, and often hold a parchment, alluding to the Incarnate Word and his teaching.

The iconography of Christ Emmanuel is above all derived from a selection of Old Testament passages drawn from the writings of the prophet Isaiah (8:8-10; 9:6-7); in the Christian tradition these prophecies refer to the figure of Christ. In fact, the name “Emmanuel” in Hebrew means “God is with us”, as is found in Isaiah (Is 7:14).

The narratives of the Evangelists Luke and John have also inspired the formation of this iconographical subject in reference to the episode from the life of Christ who, at just twelve years of age, taught the doctors of the Law in the Temple of Jerusalem (Lk 2:41-50; Jn 7:14-16). Consequently, the image of Christ Emmanuel is generally considered to be that of twelve-year-old Jesus in the temple.

Chiaramonti Gallery Wall XIV

Seven artworks are exhibited in front of Wall XLV in the Chiaramonti Gallery. On the far left is a statue of Musa (Inv. 1929) which rests on top of a funerary altar of Caius Clodius Amarantus (Inv. 1930). Moving towards the right rests a recently restored colossal bust of the Emperor Trajan (Inv. 1931) on top of a column base (Inv. 1932) and beneath this column base another base of Quintus Plotius Romanus ( Inv. 1933). On the far right stands the statue of Dionysus (Inv. 1934) on top of a funeral altar that bears a modern inscription of Titus Mescenius Olympus (Inv. 1935). The restoration involves an intervention on six of the seven works exhibited on this section of the gallery (as mentioned, the colossal bust of Trajan has already been restored). The present restoration represents a “pilot project” in view of a general conservation plan for the sculptures of the Chiaramonti Museum for the 2019-2020 biennium.

Date: Second half of the II century A.D.
Materials: Marble
Dimensions: Height: 121 cm
Inventory Number: 1929

The female figure, of which the head and harp were completed in the modern age, is dated in the second half of the second century A.D. and is inspired by iconographies elaborated in Greece in the fourth century B.C. The small sculpture was probably found at Villa Adriana, and was part of the collection of Cardinal Ippolito d’Este at the Quirinale where it was drawn by Italian engraver G.B. de Cavalleriis in the mid 1500’s (Antiquarum statuarum Urbis Romae, 1585, Tav. 55). It has been exhibited in the Chiaramonti Museum since 1806

Date: II century A.D.
Material: Marble
Dimentions: Height: 76 cm; width 50.5 cm; depth: 37 cm
Inventory Number: 1930

The altar is dedicated by the freedmen Euphemus, Fortunatus and Atticus to their patron Gaius Clodius Amaranth who died at 93 years old. The Altar (CIL VI, 15694), datable in the first half of second century A.D., was part of the Giustiniani collection and exhibited in the Chiaramonti Museum since 1808.

Date: I century A.D.
Material: Marble
Dimensions: Height: 6 cm; width: 45 cm; depth: cm. 45 cm
Inventory Number: 1932

Sold by Ferdinando Lisandroni and Antonio d’Este in 1803.

Date: March 17th 141 A.D.
Material: Marble
Dimensions: Height: 138 cm; width: 80 cm; depth: 73 cm
Inventory Number: 1933

The base was found in 1803 in Ostia during the pontifical excavations conducted by Giuseppe Petrini. It is a commemoration for the Ostian citizen Quintus Plotius Romanus. The statue was erected by decree of the Decurions, namely the local authority of the colony, on March 17, 141 A.D. under the consulate of Titus Hoenius Severus and Marcus Peducaeus Priscinus (CIL XIV, 400). The inscription also recalls that Quintus Plotius was a priest of the imperial cult and had received the title of Eques from the emperor Hadrian.

Date: 1st half of the I century A.D.
Material: Marble
Dimensions: Height: 144 cm
Inventory Number: 1934

This small statue is datable to the middle of the first century A.D. Its iconography derives from Greek models of the god from the late fourth century B.C. Sold in 1804 by famous Italian sculptor and restorer of Ancient Roman art Carlo Albacini, it was immediately placed in the Chiaramonti Museum.

Date: I century A.D.
Material: Marble
Dimensions: Height. 77 cm; width: 52.5 cm; depth: 35 cm
Inventory Number: 1935

The altar, parallelepiped in form and decorated with Urceus and Patera, has texts engraved on both of its sides. On the side that previously faced outwards but now faces the gallery wall is the inscription “Sacred to the Manes. To the excellent father Gaius Umidius Narcissus, by his daughter Ione”. On the side of the altar which currently faces outwards is the dedicatory inscription to Titus Mescenius Olympus. This inscription was once considered antique (CIL VI, 22428), but has recently been correctly attributed to the hand of a modern stone worker who had copied ancient text from another source. The ancient inscription is datable to the first century A.D., while the modern inscription is datable to the sixteenth century. Renaissance architect, painter, and antiquarian Pirro Ligorio mentions the ancient sepulchral inscription in his writings. The altar was acquired by the Vatican Museums from the Giustiniani Collection.

Portrait of Pope Clement IX

The portrait, originally part of the collection of the Rospigliosi family in Rome and eventually inherited by Prince Girolamo Rospigliosi, was acquired in 1930 by the American Louis Mendelshon, who then donated it to Pope Pius XI Ratti the following year. The artist Carlo Maratta, who leaves his signature and the date “1669” on the letter placed on the table to the right, has produced a masterful work, in which the formal notations and the psychological aspects are blended to perfection, rendering to posterity a portrait of Pope Clement IX that is of superb and refined expressiveness. 

Ritratto di Clemente IX (Rospigliosi 1667 – 1669). Inv 40460

Maratta, who arrived in Rome at a very young age, had conducted his apprenticeship with Andrea Sacchi, a renowned classicist painter and protagonist, together with Pietro da Cortona, of the artistic scene during the Barberini pontificate. Maratta’s ascent during the late seventeenth century was unstoppable, strengthened by his ability to define his own identity based on the studies of classical art and examples of Raphael’s masterpieces, particularly the works of Annibale Carracci and Domenichino. 

Maratta was also inspired by contemporary artists such as Lanfranco, Bernini and Cortona – all great masters of the century. His career crossed the paths of many pontificates, from Urban VIII Barberini (1623-1644) to Clement XI Albani (1700-1721).

Literary sources, including In primis Vita on the life of Maratta drafted by biographer Giovan Pietro Bellori, tell of a privileged relationship of friendship and esteem between Maratta and Pope Clement IX. This affinity of sentiment emerges in the painting, in which the artist, portraying the now elderly and sick pope, succeeds in transmitting, in the words of Bellori, “the fatigue of age and the languid aspect of the Pope, the majesty of his face”. 

Clement IX (Giulio Rospigliosi, Pistoia 1600 – Rome 1669) occupied the offices of Apostolic Nuncio, Secretary of State and Cardinal before finally rising to the papal throne, even if for only two years from 1667 to 1669.

In this canvas, Maratta depicts the Pope seated and holding a book, a symbol of his intellectual interests.  His gaze, calm and intense, is directed towards the viewer. The portrait was done during Carnevale when the Pope resided at the Convent of Santa Sabina. Given the poor health of Clement IX, he died a few months later on December 9, 1669 after the portrait sessions with the artist. For this reason, Maratta lavishly confers on the pontiff’s face those distinctive characteristics that had already been formed in his mind after a careful observation of the Pope’s physiognomy. These were in accordance with a most exquisitely classicist criteria, linked to a process of an “ideal” selection of iconographic elements. 

In this portrait, the painter proposes a classicist interpretation, refined in form yet communicative from an emotional point of view. This is in perfect agreement with the artistic tastes as well as the literary and theatrical culture of Pope Rospigliosi.

Two works from the Workshop of Canova

Head of San Giovannino

 Artist: Workshop of Canova
Date: Late XVIII – early XIX century
Dimensions: 15cm x 12.5 cm x 17 cm
Materials: Plaster
Inventory Number: 44545

The fortune enjoyed by Antonio Canova, renowned sculptor of the eighteenth century, is confirmed by the high number of casts and plaster copies of his works preserved throughout Europe. In the 1700s, casts
played a significant role in the theoretical and practical development of the visual arts, achieving a high level of fabrication and a refinement of detail that is often considered equal
to the original work. Many casts were exhibited in the residences of art patrons, and reflect the refined tastes
of the owner.

This small plaster head was found by Antonio D’Este (sculptor and director of the Vatican Museums) in the atelier of Antonio Canova near Piazza di Spagna in Rome. When D’Este died, the work was donated to Cardinal Placido Zurla, who in turn willed it to Gregory XVI. The sculpture was then placed in the Seminario Maggiore in the Lateran. The work could be a cast of the young San Giovannino, as seen in the full volume of the chubby cheeks, the intense naturalness of the expression, the lively and mobile gaze, the delicate features and defining softness of the hair. The antique model of the Amorino theme is reworked here with extreme immediacy, and fully captures its child-like innocence.

Bozzetto of the Pietà

Artist: Workshop of Canova
Date: Late XVIII – early XIX century
Dimensions: 40 x 25 x 15 cm
Materials: plaster
Inventory Number: 44559

At the end of the eighteenth century, Canova was among the most appreciated and sought-after sculptors by European royalty, his talent pursued by Queen Catherine II of Russia, Franz II of Habsburg-Lorraine in Austria, and Napoleon Bonaparte in Paris, where the artist also stayed from 1801 to 1802 as the sculptor of the Napoleonic family. 

This is a plaster copy of the Pietà, the celebrated sculpture created by Michelangelo Buonarroti between 1497 and 1499 for the Basilica of St. Peter. The cast was made by Antonio D’Este, a pupil of Antonio Canova and director of the Vatican Museums, in the study of his late master. After the death of D’Este in 1837, the plaster was donated to Cardinal Placido Zurla, who willed it to Gregory XVI, who in turn left it to the Seminario Maggiore in the Lateran. 

The study, carried out by an unidentified artist, testifies to the timeless success of the original work. It was logical to find it in the atelier of Antonio Canova, who had been so influenced by the sculptures of Michelangelo in the Vatican. 

The model faithfully reproduces the tormented play of the drapery of the Madonna under the weight of the body of Christ lying unconscious across her knees. 

Noli Me Tangere Tapestry

This tapestry reproduces the famous episode, narrated in the Gospel of John, of the Noli Me Tangere (“Do Not Cling to Me”), a renowned iconographic subject that inspired important painters over the centuries in Italy and Europe. The tapestry depicts a refined Mary Magdalene in a verdant garden holding the ciborium containing the ointments to be used on Christ’s body. Christ is depicted, according to the misunderstanding of Magdalene, as a gardener with spade and hat, caught in the act of alienating her; in the background is a detailed landscape and the open door of the tomb. The episode is elaborately framed by a woven design of imbedded imitation stones and an elegant floral border of extraordinary technical capacity. 

Noli me Tangere is part of the series of tapestries illustrating the life of Christ, also known as the Nuova Scuola (New School). According to sixteenth century artist and art historian Giorgio Vasari, these twelve tapestries decorated the Sala Regia and the Sala Ducale in the Vatican Apostolic Palace, large and sumptuous ceremonial spaces where the consistories or the solemn meetings of the pontiff with the Cardinals were held. They depict scenes from the life of Christ with a clear distinction between the scenes of childhood and scenes that follow the Crucifixion.  

It is unclear who commissioned this important work. In the first half of the sixteenth century; it might have been Pope Leo X (1513-1521), who could have been the project manager before he died, or more probably Pope Clement VII (1523-1534). 

At the head of a large workshop in the Marchè aux Charbons, Van Aelst was the most famous weaver, entrepreneur, and tapestry merchant of his time in Brussels where other manufacturers were active with important commissions. Van Aelst, after having asserted himself in Flanders as a supplier to the Royal Court, gained international renown thanks to his Raphael tapestries exhibited for the first time in Sistine Chapel in 1519. The enormous success of these tapestries later earned him the papal commission of the New School series, today exhibited in the Tapestry Gallery of the Vatican Museums.

Magnificent and refined, the twelve tapestries were woven between 1524 and 1531. These dates were attested by the two Roman weavers Angelo da Cremona and Joanne lengles de Calais, who judged them to be “bene e lialmente facte” (well and faithfully made), and even more intricate and richer in gold and silk than the tapestries of The Acts of the Apostles. A total sum of 20,750 ducats, enormous for the period, was paid for the twelve works. Although Raphael most likely did not draw the cartoons for the tapestries, having died before beginning the commission, his artistic identity appears clear in the conception of the scenes. He most likely provided the study drawings for the larger cartoon. The models and cartoons for the tapestries based on the Master’s ideas and drawings were carried out by his favorite pupils, Giulio Romano and Giovan Francesco Penni, who were also the creators of the frescoes in the Sala di Costantino in the Vatican.

Precious and rare, the work of this school has never been repeated. Therefore, this work can be considered a real unicum that has greatly contributed, through its production in prints and drawings, to the dissemination of the visual language of Raphael throughout Europe.

Tunic of “St. Peter” from the Sancta Sanctorum

The tunic comes from the treasure of the Sancta Sanctorum, the private chapel of the Popes located in the ancient Patriarchium of the Lateran, official residence of the pontiffs from the first half of the fourth century until the transfer of the papacy to Avignon (1309-1377). On returning to Rome, the edifice had become unusable, and the Popes moves their residence to the Vatican, initiating the construction of the Apostolic Palace, and progressively increasing the complex in the following centuries. 

Originally dedicated to St. Lawrence, in the ninth century the chapel was renamed the Sancta Sanctorum (“The Holy of Holies”), indicating the presence of numerous venerable relics of saints, safeguarded in an ark of cypress wood commissioned by Pope Leo III (795-816). It was protected by two thirteenth-century bronze doors and enclosed under the papal altar in a massive iron cage.

The ark had not been opened since 1521; Father Hartmann Grisar was able to view its contents in 1905, revealing a priceless treasure of reliquaries of gold, silver, ivory, and precious wood: cases, crosses, ciborium, textiles, embroidery, parchments, miniatures, and enamels.

The reliquaries, as well as the textiles, were transferred to the Christian Museum of the Vatican Library in 1906, then to the Vatican Museums in accordance with the Rescriptum of Pope John Paul II in 1999. 

Among the various textile fabrics from the treasure of the Sancta Sanctorum are two robes, a chasuble and a tunic, inscribed in medieval inventories as belonging to St. John the Evangelist and St. Peter.

The ancient tunic could be presumed to be that of St. Peter, but the identification cannot be substantiated on historical basis. The article is made of linen mixed with wool; it is almost rectangular in shape, with white decorative lines present on the sides, sleeves and neck.  Two strings are sewn on the right side of the tunic and on the wrist.  Triangular sleeves are sewn and open under the arm. The simple “T” shape and the type of fabric refer to the models in use in the eastern Mediterranean area from the first to the fourth centuries and are depicted in ancient catacombs paintings.

String cords were added at the ends of the sleeves; these were for the exhibition of the relic.  In Rome, there were relics of fabrics that had become the object of veneration since the early Middle Ages, as they were considered parts of clothing worn by Christ, the Virgin or the saints. Others, after touching venerated sepulchers, acquired sacred value as “contact” relics. The presence of numerous cuts on the tunic is attributable to the practice, widespread in ancient times according to testimonial sources, of cutting off portions of the cloth to be distributed as relics.

Polychrome Mosaic with Geometric Pattern

Little is known about the origin of these two fragments, belonging to the same mosaic frame of an elegant polychrome Roman floor. For almost fifty years they were exhibited on the wall of the Pauline Museum and were most likely displayed previously in the Gregorian Profane Lateran Museum.

From the outer to inner sections, the mosaic consists of a white band, followed by a black band and then the motif of the meander, using red, gray and white tesseras (tiles) to create a three-dimensional illusion, as if it were in relief. The high quality of this mosaic border implies a corresponding level of quality for the central section of the mosaic surface, which unfortunately has been lost. 

This type of decoration finds excellent comparisons with the mosaics of the Romae domus style from the late Republican age (first half of the first century B.C.), such the floor detached from a domus underneath the present Via Quattro Novembre (set up in 1883 inside the Sala della Lupa, Palazzo dei Conservatori in Rome), the floor from a dwelling under the Church of St. Peter in Chains, the floor in a suburban villa of Tusculum (on the Colli Albani), and several others.