Canadian Patrons Help Restore Pinturicchio’s “Secret” Borgia Apartments

The Borgia Apartments were sealed off by Pope Pius III after the death of Pope Alexander VI, Rodrigo Borgia, (1431-1503) (due to their association with the scandalous Borgia family). For nearly 400 years the sumptuous art within sat in wait.

Then, in 1889, Pope Leo XII reopened the rooms for restoration revealing an overwhelming trove of artistic riches. The apartments were discovered to be filled to the brim with astonishing frescos by the Italian painter Bernardino di Betto, also known as Pinturicchio – who worked on them with a team of apprentices between 1492-1494. Intricate stucco work adorns the walls and vaults while accentuating the paintings, saturated with vivid reds and blues.  The halls are considered a masterpiece in design. Themes of the works adorning the walls are from medieval encyclopedia and celebrate the supposed divinity of the Borgias.

In this short and telling video, Romina Cometti and Marco Pratelli guide us through current restorations and expand on the importance of the particularly impressive pieces in “The Hall of the Liberal Arts”. The frescos in here are mainly allegorical with scenes of anthropomorphized “lunettes” including the idealized embodiments of rhetoric, music, astrology and so on. These important restorations are made possible because of a generous donation by the Canadian Chapter of Patrons.

Because of the distinction of the color palette of these frescos, the stark contrast between those portions that have undergone the careful cleaning process and those that await restoration is striking. Much of the damage came from soot and candle smoke from the time when the apartments were under use, but with careful attention to detail, restorers can return the frescos to their original and glorious  luster. One can almost imagine the gatherings of wealthy patrons mingling in candlelight while the frescos looked on.

An interesting development involves recent restorations of another room in the apartments (The Hall of Mysteries of the Faith) which revealed – under a layer of dirt – what is believed to be the very first European depiction of Native Americans! Painted in 1494, only two years after the voyage of Columbus. The figures appear in the background of Pinturicchio’s spectacular “Resurrection.”

For more on these fascinating artistic treasures and the secrets of the Borgia apartments don’t miss these videos:

Borgia Apartments “Room of the Liberal Arts” Part 1, Canada Chapter from Vatican Patrons of the Arts on Vimeo.

Borgia Apartment Part 2, Canada Chapter from Vatican Patrons of the Arts on Vimeo.

The duty of the Patrons is a sacred one in preserving our artistic history. If you’d like to participate in the restoration of these or similar pieces at the Vatican Museums contact your local chapter of the Patrons Office.

Beyond the Candelabras

The Gallery of the Candelabras takes its names from a pair of massive marble candelabra that help divide the hall, which was arranged by Pope Pius VI in the 18th century. It is within this gallery some of the most important decoration in the Museums can be found. The paintings on the wall were completed by Domenico Torti and Ludwig Seitz. This highly trafficked hall of the Museum is currently undergoing a very important restoration that will highlight these paintings and return them to their original splendor.

20150107_093057Through speaking with head restorer, Francesca Persegati, we learned that the restorers are very interested in this project because it’s a chance to study and work on 20th century mural painting. The other fact that makes this project unique, is that the paintings aren’t frescoes, but instead Torti and Seitz used tempera colors. In addition, the restoration team has not only cleaned the walls, but they also had to evaluate the damage of the roof and the work that must be done to fix it and prevent future damage.

The restoration of the Gallery of the Candelabras is not only a grand project, but it marks an occasion for scholars and restorers to study different techniques of modern art. Our thanks go to not only to Persegati and her restoration team, but also to Connie Frankino of the Ohio Chapter for making this restoration possible!

Gallery of the Candelabras Presentation from Vatican Patrons of the Arts on Vimeo.