The Northwest Chapter
The Borgia Apartments takes its name from Pope Alexander VI, the Spanish Rodrigo de Borja y Doms. These rooms are located on the ﬁrst ﬂoor of the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican, above the area known today as the Belvedere Courtyard, in the wing that was built during the pontiﬁcate of Pope Nicholas V (1497-1455). When Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia was elected Pope in 1492, the year of the discovery of America, he chose these rooms as his private lodgings and ofﬁcial meeting halls, and they remained as such until the end of his pontiﬁcate in 1503.
He commissioned the decoration of the entire complex, which was completed in 1494, to the Umbrian painter Bernardino di Betto Bardi, known as “Il Pinturicchio”. After the death of the Pope, the rooms were abandoned and left in a state of extreme neglect, which was aggravated by the continuous changes in their destination: private residence, picture gallery, library and ending as a museum. These changes involved both large and small restorations for the entire interior.
This was especially evident in the intervention in 1889-1897 by the prestigious painter Ludovico Seitz, whose prime objective was the recuperation of the original paintings of the 1400’s on the lower walls and the integration of the missing areas on which the painter Emilio Retrosi also worked. This was “… to attempt to bring back the artistic concept of Bernardino Betti, unveiling and scrupulously imitating the traces of these older paintings…”.
A subsequent general restoration of the rooms, commissioned by Pope Paul VI and carried out by Ottemi Della Rotta between 1971-1973, mostly concerned the vaulting and lunettes. For this occasion, the walls of the entire apartment were covered in fabric, rending it possible to host the Collection of Contemporary Art that was opened to the public in 1973. At the time, Deoclecio Redig de Campos, then head of the Vatican Museums, expressed a negative opinion of the plan, “both for the damage caused by the nails, and because the fabric would cover the frescoes on the walls, altering the character of the two rooms, and depriving the public and scholars of such a ﬁne example of interior decoration of the 15th century.”