Gallery of the Maps Catalog

The California Chapter

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In 1579, Gregory XIII, a Pope who was enamored with art and science, commissioned architect Ottaviano Mascherino, cartographer Ignazio Danti who was a Dominican friar, and a host of great painters to realize this massive project. By 1581, a mere three years later, work on the gallery was complete: this was the Gallery of the Maps. Within the hall, the whole of the Italian peninsula is painted from north to south. The viewer instantly feels the strong presence of the Church as the great force that links together the small and then divided territories of Italy. The Pope, coming from his apartments, could travel across the Alps and walk along the crest of the Apennines. To his right he could see the Tyrrhenian side of the peninsula, and to his left the Adriatic. Magnificent compass roses, masterfully painted and gilded, create a wonderfully glittering illusion, pointing to the Vatican Gardens on one side and the Cortile del Belvedere on the other. The hallway is absolutely brimming with beautiful detail, illuminated by large panoramic windows. The “magnificent walk” through the hall would have led the Pope among the valleys, hills, forests, rivers and streams, lakes and waterfalls, cities, towns and villages, in a model of reality. Roads and paths are represented precisely to scale, with distances measured in the Roman mile and carefully indicated. There are accurately depicted ports and islands, both large and small, with seas traversed by galleons, galleys, caravels, and brigs. And finally, the hallway also depicts historical events such as the allegory of Columbus, the troops of Caesar at the Rubicon, the army and elephants of Hannibal at the battle of Cannae, and the meeting between Attila and Pope St. Leo I, as well as the more recent battle of Lepanto and siege of Malta. The restoration on the hall began on September 17, 2012, with a group of restorers selected after a careful consideration of their curricula and experiences to work under the supervision of Francesco Prantera. That fall, when the group of conservators, restorers, painters, and decorators climbed on scaffolding they found the maps in a serious state of deterioration. Large parts of the plaster were marred by deep fractures, which meant that the frescoes were in danger of collapse. In addition, the pigment of the seas was fragile and discolored.
The walls were scattered with patches of old, incorrect restorations while the surfaces were coated with a thick varnish that had yellowed, improperly altering the delicate green and blue tone of the gallery. After the unveiling of the extraordinary Gallery of the Maps in April 2016, thanks to the California Patrons Chapter, the Vatican Museums will publish a bi-lingual (English-Italian) book illustrating the details of its restoration.