A Major Patron Project: Notes on the Gregorian Profane Museum, its need of light, but also its modern architectural significance

Some Patrons’ projects are easier to sponsor than others;  “Bringing Light to the Ancient World” has been on our list for the past couple of years and while we have some interest from major foundations to sustain the high costs of new lighting, we are still working towards the official pledge.

Yet, even with its significance, how many of us have really looked at this department?  Not many, because it is closed to the public.  It represents one of the most phenomenal collections of classic Greek and Roman art in the world, known to scholars everywhere.  However, less known to the public is that it is also a major modernist architectural project for the Holy See, requested and sustained by Paul VI in his quest for a proper site for the collection.  The year was 1973 and Arch. Lucio Passarelli and his studio won the competition for the building, which now includes the Ethnological collections as well.  Using natural light, unusual apertures to the outside, stunning use of steel in the design of the mountings as well as reinforced concrete made to look like cut stone, the entire complex is typical of its time;  yet while typical, it was seen as the ultimate example as it won the CEA (Circle d’Etudes Architecturales) Prize in 1975.  See below a couple of vintage photos from the opening of the galleries that year.  For all Patrons:  let’s work together to light this collection and open it again to the public.  It is indeed one of the undisputed jewels of the Vatican Museums.

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The Sacred in the Profane – Mythological Statues in The Gregorian Profane Museum Restored

The Profane Museum, founded by Clement XIII in 1761 was the first gallery in the Vatican dedicated to the display of the ancient “profane” pieces. These included pagan art as well as “domestic” instruments (cameos, ivory, rock crystal and small bronzes). The museum underwent a large overhaul when a new entrance was constructed and many pieces were given a course of restoration at that time thanks to the efforts of the Michigan Chapter.

Mythological Statuettes Part 1, Michigan Chapter from Vatican Patrons of the Arts on Vimeo.

{See the video for more on these wonderful works and how they were retooled in the 18th century!}

Pieces depicted in the video include works from the 2nd to 5th century, many from Roman houses and some amazing artifacts from Pompeii and Herculaneum. In the 1700s several of these pieces, that had been part of a large collection owned by Cardinal Carpegna, were repurposed and adorned with golden appointments by the artist Valadier .The preserved state of these artifacts is amazing! Let restorer Claudia Legga walk you through these meticulously restored pieces. Again, many thanks to the Michigan Chapter for their support in this effort.

Mythological Statuettes, Part 2, Michigan Chapter from Vatican Patrons of the Arts on Vimeo.

{Ms. Legga continues your tour of the “profane” artifacts…}

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Focus on the Augustus of Prima Porta

On the occasion of two-thousandth anniversary of the death of the first emperor of Rome, the marble masterpiece Augustus of Prima Porta returns to the Vatican Museums following its great public success in exhibitions in Rome and Paris.

Found in the villa of Livia in Prima Porta, the statue is a portrait of Augustus as a handsome and young ruler, wearing a decorated cuirass and a tunic, with the figure of Cupid riding a dolphin on his side.

Look closely, though, and you’ll notice something curious: the Emperor has no boots. Art historians debate the significance of this, however, appearing barefoot was an attribute of divinity in art of the ancient world. Though likely based on a bronze statue created during Augustus’ reign, according to many scholars, the Prima Porta must be posthumous, since the Roman Senate deified Augustus a month after his death two thousand years ago in AD 14.

In other words, the Prima Porta Augustus, (named after the villa where it was found, which once belonged to his widow, the Empress Livia), is not simply a portrait of Rome’s first emperor – it is also a vision of a god.

You can admire the statue at the Vatican Museum at the entrance of the Gregorian Profane Museum. Special thanks to the Florida Chapter of patrons who helped us restore this iconic statue as one of their first projects.

If you want to be involved as a patron in your local chapter and participate in important projects like the one that restored the Augustus, contact your local chapter leader.

 

The Augustus of Prima Porta is based on the Doryphorus, a famous antique statue by Polykleitos portraying the ideal human proportions of an Athenian athlete.

The Augustus of Prima Porta is based on the Doryphorus, a famous antique statue by Polykleitos portraying the ideal human proportions of an Athenian athlete.

Tiberius made a significant addition to his marble copy: on the chest plate, he added scenes depicting the Roman victory over the Parthians.

Tiberius made a significant addition to his marble copy: on the chest plate, he added scenes depicting the Roman victory over the Parthians.

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Augustus wanted to portray himself as a perfect leader with flawless features, personifying the power and authority of the emperor.