Funeral Procession of Pope Pius VII

The New York Chapter

This rare and detailed drawing of ink and white heightening represents the funerary procession for Pope Pius VII to the Vatican. The pontiff died at the Quirinal Apostolic Palace on August 20, 1823 after the Apostolic Penitentiary Cardinal Francesco Saverio Castiglioni (later Pius VIII) recited for him pro infirmo pontifice morti proximo.

On the morning of August 21st, the corpse of Pius VII was embalmed, covered with pontifical vestments such as a white soutane, a surplice, a red mozzetta (a short elbow length cape) and a camauro (a cap). The body was then venerated by the faithful for two days. In accordance with tradition. On August 22 at midnight the vase containing the pontiff’s organs was carried to the church of St. Vincent and St. Anastasius and then, at exactly at 1.00 a.m. on August 23rd, a funeral procession from the Quirinal Apostolic Palace took place so as to transport the pontiff’s corpse to the Vatican.

The convoy descended the Quirinale towards Via delle tre Cannelle; then, it walked along the Papal Route to cross Ponte Sant’Angelo, passing through the Borgo Nuovo and arriving at St. Peter’s colonnade and then at the Colossus of Constantine where four Catholic priests of St. Peter’s removed the corpse from the stretcher and brought it inside the Sistine Chapel. 

They clothed him with pontifical garments appropriate to his highest rank and placed the corpse on a high bed surrounded by torches. During the night, Catholic priests continued to pray next to the pontiff’s corpse while a group of noble guards kept watch.

In terms of the painting, the building facades shown in the background allow for the identification of the setting as St. Mark’s Square (today known as Piazza Venezia). On the right side of the painting is the Palazzo Venezia in Via del Plebiscito; on the left side are the walls of its ancient cloister and the facade of the Palazzo dei Frangipani. 

Concerning the exact location of what is depicted in the drawing, it appears that the funeral procession is shown making a stop at the majestic front door of the Palazzo d’Aste Rinuccini where, from 1818 Maria Letizia Ramolino, emperor Napoleon Bonaparte’s mother and adversary of Pope Pius VII, lived in exile.