THE TRIUMPH OF RENAISSANCE: THE IMPRESSIVE REGAL ROOM AND DUCAL ROOM / INSIDE THE VATICAN PALACES #3

© Roberto Alborghetti - Sala Regia and Sala Ducale (12)

Sala Regia (Regal Room) and Sala Ducale (Ducal Room) are two beautiful rooms in the Apostolic Palace in Vatican City. They aren’t generally open to visitors: they usually host consistories, conferences, papal hearings or special events. I recently had the opportunity to visit them (I was in Rome to meet Pope Francis for the presentation of “Francis”, the illustrated and historical biography I wrote about him). Here some news (from New Advent website) about Sala Regia and Sala Ducale. They well represent the triumph of Renaissance.  

The Sala Regia (Regal Room)

 Although not intended as such, this broad room is really an antechamber to the Sistine Chapel, reached by the Scala Regia (Royal Staircase). To the left of the entrance formerly stood the papal throne, which is now at the opposite side before the door leading to the Cappella Paolina. The hall was begun under Paul III by Antonio da Sangallo the Younger and was completed in 1573. The elegant barrel-vault is provided with the highly graceful and very impressive plaster decorations of Pierin del Vaga. The stucco ornaments over the doors are by Daniele da Volterra. The longitudinal walls are broken on the one side by two, and on the other by three, large doors, between which Giorgio Vasari and Taddeo Zuccaro have introduced very powerful frescoes, whose effect is more than ornamental. They depict momentous turning-points in the life of the Church, among others the return of Gregory XI from Avignon to Rome, the battle of Lepanto, the raising of the ban from Henry IV, and the reconciliation of Alexander III with Frederick Barbarossa. This hall served originally for the reception of princes and royal ambassadors. Today the consistories are held in it, and an occasional musical recital in the presence of the Pope; during a conclave it is a favourite promenade for the cardinals.

The Sala Ducale (Ducal Room)

The Sala Ducale lies between the Sala Regia and the Loggia of Giovanni da Udine. Formerly there were here two separate halls, which were converted into one by Bernini by the removal of the separating wall (the position of which is still clearly perceptible). The decorative paintings, which are of a purely ornamental nature, are by Raffaellino da Reggio, Sabbatini, and Matthæus Brill. In this impressive hall were formerly held the public consistories for the reception of ruling princes. It now serves occasionally for the reception of pilgrims, the consecration of bishops, when (as rarely happens) this is undertaken by the Pope, or is used for the accommodation of specified divisions of the papal household, when the pope holds a consistory in the Sala Regia, proceeds to the Sistine Chapel, or sets out with great solemnity for St. Peter’s.

(3 – To be continued)

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INSIDE THE VATICAN PALACES #2 / EXCLUSIVE: THE FRESCOES BY MICHELANGELO IN CAPPELLA PAOLINA (LIMITED ACCESSIBILITY AREA)

I recently had the honour to meet Pope Francis for the presention of the biography I wrote about him. The private encounter took place in Casa Santa Marta, an unpretencious house where he usually lives. Before the encounter I had a very special gift: the possibility to visit some of the beautiful rooms in the Apostolic Palace in Vatican City. I been also in the enchanting Cappella Paolina (the Pauline Chapel) to admire the incredible fresco paintings by the Italian Renaissance master Michelangelo Buonarroti : The Crucifixion of St. Peter (c. 1546–1550) and The Conversion of Saul (c. 1542–1545).

Being a sacred space, Pauline Chapel is a limited accessibility area. Despite the efforts of contemporary scholars to illustrate the genius behind these two works, they remain relatively obscure. This is due primarily to the fact that tourists are not permitted to enter the Pauline chapel because it’s a worship space. Most of those who do know of these works will never have the opportunity to see them in person. According to Williams no other work by Michelangelo has ever been so grossly misrepresented in reproductions. The only way to view these works as the artist intended them to be seen is to see them in situ.

The Crucifixion of St. Peter is the last fresco executed by Michelangelo. The artist portrayed St. Peter in the moment in which he was raised by the Roman soldiers to the cross. Michelangelo concentrated the attention on the depiction of pain and suffering. Pope Paul commissioned this fresco by Michelangelo in 1541 and unveiled it in his Cappella Paolina. Restoration of the fresco completed in 2009 revealed an image believed to be a self-portrait of Michelangelo himself. Vasari states about the fresco: “There are no landscapes to be seen in these scenes, nor any trees, buildings or other embellishments and variation”.

The positioning of St. Peter himself is often noted as the most interesting innovation Michelangelo implemented in this piece. He defied convention by positioning Peter’s upper body so that it cranes upward and twists his neck around so that his eyes make contact with the viewer.

The Conversion of St. Saul or St. Paul  is often discussed in conjunction with The Crucifixion of St. Peter. As its title suggests, the fresco represents the conversion of a lawyer from Tarsus named Saul (a man who prosecuted Christians) into a follower of Christ. In the book of Acts, Paul states that he saw an impossibly bright light and heard the voice of Christ himself. The blindingly bright light is the Apex of this story. The style is more mannerist than his earlier Sistine Chapel frescoes, and was not as well received by contemporaries.

Giuseppe Frangi (30 Giorni) writes: “On 25 January 1540, the Feastday of the Conversion of St Paul, until then celebrated in the Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls, Pope Paul III Farnese consecrated to the saint whose name he had taken, the new parva (small) chapel, commissioned from Antonio da Sangallo the Younger and built in just three years in the heart of the Papal Palace. The chapel – parva as opposed to the chapel magna, the functions of which had been taken over by the Sistine – was the chapel intended for the conclave. And above all it was the place where the Blessed Sacrament was kept, for which purpose it had been fitted with both an altar and a tabernacle. When Paul III consecrated it, the chapel had no decorations, but it was clear who would climb the scaffolding: it was again up to Michelangelo, just down from the scaffolding of the Sistine Chapel, where he completed the great toil of the Last Judgment”.

 The reconstruction of the work – Frangi states – done day by day, made possible by modern restoration techniques, shows Michelangelo was capable of getting through a large amount of work in a day. Eventually there were 172 working days (85 for the Conversion of St Paul and 87 for the Crucifixion of St Peter), spread over seven years, with the break in 1544, when he was halted by health problems. These frescoes were largely ignored for centuries and incurred a great deal of damage due to neglect. In the early twentieth century there were some scholars who came to reconsider the frescoes under the new light of expressionism and abstraction.

William Wallace proposed an entirely new perspective on the subject claiming that the disproportionate quality of the figures is not a failing on the part of Michelangelo, but rather another instance of his genius. According to Wallace, the real innovation in this piece comes from the incorporation of time and space in the overall composition of the frescos. In addition to conceiving of these frescoes in terms of perspective, Michelangelo also took into consideration the architectural and environmental context they were to be set in.

After the last restoration Pope Benedict XVI said: “The two faces are opposite each other. One might therefore imagine that Peter’s face is actually turned towards the face of Paul, who, in turn, does not see, but bears within him the light of the Risen Christ. It is as though Peter, in the hour of supreme trial, were seeking that light which gave true faith to Paul”.

(2 – To be continued)

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“THE ALLEGORY OF PATIENCE”: ONE OF THE MOST SIGNIFICANT PAINTINGS IN THE MEDICI COLLECTIONS ON SHOW AT PALAZZO PITTI IN FLORENCE (ITALY)

 VASARI

At Galleria Palatina (Palazzo Pitti, Florence, Italy) an exhibition opened on one of the most significant paintings in the Medici collections, The Allegory of Patience, which belonged to cardinal Leopoldo de’ Medici and is today held in the Sala di Prometeo in the same Palazzo Pitti. Initially attributed to Parmigianino in the inventories of Palazzo Pitti, catalogued in the museum’s first guides under the name of Francesco Salviati, and later attributed to Girolamo Siciolante by Federico Zeri, the painting is today recognised as fruit of the collaboration between Giorgio Vasari and Spanish artist Gaspar Becerra. Its complex collectors’ history involves important figures tied to the court of Cosimo I and Giorgio Vasari himself.

The first of these was Bernardetto Minerbetti,bishop of Arezzo and ambassador of Cosimo I, a refined man of letters and patron of the Renaissance philosophical and literary academy known as the Accademia Fiorentina. Shortly after 1550, he requested Vasari to execute a painting that in a new and emblematic manner would represent the principal virtue of his character, that is to say the art of Patience. Vasari accepted and proposed to his patron an invention inspired by ancient sculpture, enriched by a refined symbolic repertory alluding to time and to the life of man. The invention took the shape of a young woman chained to a rock, patiently waiting for the drops of water falling from a vase to corrode the stone and thus set her free. This scholarly and very cultured image would become quite popular far beyond the borders of Florence, soon reaching the Ferrara court of Ercole II d’Este who did not hesitate to use it in his ‘impresa’. In fact, a few years after Minerbetti’s painting, Duke Ercole II d’Este commissioned a new version of the Patience from Camillo Filippi, intended for the so-called “Camera della Pazienza” in the tower of Santa Caterina of his castle in Ferrara. The Duke also introduced the same personification on the verso of a famous medal that Pompeo Leoni coined in 1554, on the base of a bust sculpted by Prospero Sogari Spani and in a series of coins produced by the mint of Ferrara.

Anna Bisceglia curates the exhibition and the catalogue published by Sillabe to investigate these elements along the underlying themes of patronage, literary sources, and artists’ explorations against the complex and fascinating backdrop of the Italy of royal courts. Alongside the Vasari Allegory of Patience, visitors will see the same theme in an artwork that Camillo and Sebastiano Filippi executed in 1553-54 and currently in the Galleria Estense of Mantua. This version also inspired the portrayal of this virtue on the base of the bust of Ercole II sculpted by Prospero Sugari, known as Clemente (1554), and on the medals that Pompeo Leoni executed for the Duke (Florence, Bargello, 1554 ca.). Moreover, a large painting from the Galleria dell’Accademia of Venice will illustrate the complex genesis of this iconographic motif. It was part of a wooden coffered ceiling executed for the Corner family in 1542. Finally, the exhibition will also present the little painting on wood from the Uffizi, mistakenly known as Artemisia mourns Mausolus, which instead has been recognised as a Patience, and several drawings and engravings from the Gabinetto Disegni e Stampe of Florence and the Cabinet des Dessins du Louvre.

P.Leoni - Duca Ercole

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Exhibition Credits

Promoters

Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali e Turismo, Direzione Regionale per i Beni Culturali e Paesaggistici della Toscana, Soprintendenza Speciale per il Patrimonio Storico, Artistico ed Etnoantropologico e per il Polo Museale della città di Firenze, Galleria Palatina, Firenze Musei

Exhibition Venue

Galleria Palatina – Palazzo Pitti, Florence, 26 November 2013 – 5 January 2014

Exhibition curated and Catalogue edited by Anna Bisceglia

Exhibition directed by Alessandro Cecchi

Exhibition installation designed and directed by Mauro Linari

Exhibition installation produced by Opera Laboratori Fiorentini – Civita Group

Coordination, communication and public relations: Opera Laboratori Fiorentini – Civita Group

Ticket prices

Full price: € 13.00; Concessions: € 6.50 for E.U. citizens from 18 to 25 years of age. Free admission for visitors under 18 and E.U. citizens over 65 years of age. Hours: Tuesday – Sunday: 8:15 am – 6:50 pm; ticket counter closes at 6:05 pm. Closed Mondays

THE CATHEDRAL OF SIENA UNVEILS ITS MAGNIFICENT MARBLE INTARSIA FLOOR: EXTRAORDINARY NIGHT OPENINGS (UNTIL OCTOBER 27)

 PHOTOS: COURTESY OF OPERA DUOMO – PRESS OFFICE; LUCA PECCANTINI

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Following last year’s success that witnessed the participation of more than 350,000 visitors, starting next August 18th, right after the Palio dell’Assunta and until October 27th the magnificent Cathedral of Siena “unveils” its extraordinary marble intarsia floor. The precious marble “carpet” is usually protected from being walked upon by visitors and the numerous worshippers who every day enter the sacred temple to pray, and is therefore not totally visible.  The floor is “the most beautiful …, largest and most magnificent” that ever was made, according to Vasari’s well-known definition.

The floor of the Cathedral is fruit of a complex iconographical plan that took on concrete form through the centuries, starting in the XIV century and lasting right up to the XIX century.  The technique employed is that of graffito and marble intarsia using local marble. The preparatory cartoons for the fifty-six panels were designed by important artists, almost all of them “Sienese”, including Sassetta, Domenico di Bartolo, Matteo di Giovanni, and Domenico Beccafumi, in addition to “foreign” painters like Pinturicchio from Umbria who, in 1505, authored the famous panel with The Hill of Wisdom, the symbolic portrayal of the way to Virtue as the attainment of inner peace.

In the nave and two aisles, the itinerary unfolds recounting themes from classical and pagan antiquity:  the She-wolf nursing Romulus and Remus, the Egyptian Hermes Trismegistus, the ten Sibyls, the philosophers Socrates, Crates, Aristotle and Seneca.  The transept and choir instead narrate the story of the Hebrews, the episodes of salvation fulfilled and realised by the figure of Christ, constantly evoked and never represented in the floor depictions, but present on the altar that the artistic and spiritual itinerary converges towards.

In the period of the unveiling, visitors will also admire the part designed by Domenico Beccafumi who here perfected the technique of marble intarsia to the point of attaining results of light and shadow comparable to the chiaroscuro effects of drawing.  The hexagon beneath the dome is the location of the Stories of Elijah and Ahab, while the panels near the altar narrate the episodes of Moses making Water spring from the Rock, Stories of Moses on Mount Sinai, and The Sacrifice of Isaac.  Visitors will also be able to admire from close up the frescoes in the apse and the bronze angels set against the pilasters near the altar by Domenico Beccafumi, one of the most representative exponents of Mannerism.

The Cathedral of Siena never ceases to amaze, however:  visitors will also be able to “stroll about” the choir and the apse to see the wooden intarsias Fra Giovanni da Verona executed employing a technique similar to that of marble intarsia but using wood of different colours to depict urban views, landscapes and still-lifes in the form of various objects arranged on the shelves of cupboards: liturgical objects, musical instruments, multifaceted polyhedrons, skulls and hourglasses, symbols of the vanity of earthly glories.

The spectacle continues with the extraordinary opening of “The Gate of Heaven”, the lofts of the Cathedral where, for centuries, no one has entered except for the workmen to carry out specific jobs.  The itinerary towards the ‘heaven’ of the Cathedral starts out from a winding staircase inside one of the two towers ending in spires that flank the magnificent façade of the Cathedral.

Once above the starry vault of the right aisle begins an itinerary reserved to small groups accompanied by expert guides, where they will walk ‘above’ the holy temple to admire the interior of the Cathedral and views of the city outside.  From the balcony of the inner wall of the façade unfolds an overall view of the nave and two aisles with the intarsias depicting figures of the ancient world.

For the duration of the unveiling, guided visits to admire the Floor and the Gate of Heaven will be held following the usual timetable, as well as at night.  The two itineraries will indeed be open every Saturday from 24th August to 26th October, 2013, from 8 pm till midnight.

After visiting the Cathedral, the visitor will have a better understanding of the words Cosima, wife of German composer Richard Wagner, wrote in her diary on August 21st 1880:  “I arrive in Siena around 10 am … visit to the Cathedral!  Richard, moved to tears, says that this is the strongest impression he has ever received from a building.  I wish I could hear the prelude to Parsifal beneath this dome!  In the midst of so many worries, a moment’s happiness:  having shared with Richard this rapture, a sentiment of gratitude for my destiny”. The available services include guided tours in various languages led by professionals who will accompany visitors to discover this extraordinary masterpiece.

The initiative is strongly desired by the Opera della Metropolitana di Siena and organised by Opera – Civita Group.

INFOS AND BOOKINGS

Cathedral of Siena – 18th August – 27th October 2013

Opening hours

Weekdays 10:30 am – 7:30 pm

Holidays:    9:30 am – 6:00 pm

Tickets

Opa Si Pass all inclusive ticket € 12.00

Cathedral, Floor and Piccolomini Library

Full price:  € 7.00

Reduced price for schools:  € 3.00

Reduced price groups of more than 15:  € 5.00

Gate of Heaven plus Floor and Piccolomini Library:  € 25.00

Guided tours:  every day at 11 am – 12 pm – 3.30 pm – 4.30 pm

Night openings:  every Saturday, by reservation, from 24th August to 26th October, 2013, from 8 pm till midnight, guided tours are organised to see the Floor and the Gate of Heaven at night.

Multimedia guide on tablet:  for individual guided tours

Itinerary Catalogue:  “Virginis templum”, Livorno, Sillabe 2013, € 18.00