Trips to Rome are always intensive, mainly because the city is bustling with political and religious activity, as one city bears the brunt of housing the twin presence of the Holy See and the Italian government. While most people consider visiting Rome as a great summer time attraction, I want to use all my might to convince you that an autumn contemplative visit to Rome can work much better without the crowded streets and the mind-numbing heat ruthlessly trickling down from the sky.
Most articles about the Eternal City of Italy mainly focus on outdoor marvels. Today, I am going to get behind the wall separating us from the bustling streets of Rome, miracles of Roman architecture, the sun-baked stones of Coliseum, or various duo scooter rides. We are now entering the Palazzo Apostolico (Apostolic Palace), the current residence of the Pope, decorated with an astonishing number of wall frescos. The amassing of the artistic value of the Palace began with Pope Julius II, “The Warrior Pope”, who, also being a great patron of arts commenced the redecorating of his quarters. The project started by commissioning Michelangelo to adorn the Sistine Chapel with a number of frescoes in 1508, then in the same year employing the relatively unknown Urbinese artist, Raphael Santi, to décor the three chambers that were to be used by the Pope himself, possibly in attempt to outshine the apartment of his predecessor, Pope Alexander VI. Today, we are going to skip the Sistine Chapel, and begin with Raphael Santi’s work.
The four rooms, (It: Stanze di Raffaello) following the sequence of their frescoing, are: Stanza della segantura (Room of the Signatura), planned as a library, Stanza di Eliodoro (Room of Heliodorus), Stanza dell'incendio del Borgo (Room of the fire in the Borgo), and Sala di Costantino (Hall of Constantine). The fresco's that cover the walls of the chambers are often reputed as a high point of Italian Renaissance. At the moment, we are going to seep in the contemplative silence, and get a closer look at the intricate delicacies of frescoes.
The paintings, allowing the Catholic legacy to mix with the graphic vision of Neo-platonic human grandeur and Antiquity in its finest form, are often described as a peak of Renaissance in Italy. Ecclesial pieces, like Disputation of the Holy Sacrament can be seen next to paintings dealing with mythological and antique scenes, for example: The Parnassus and The School of Athens giving the viewer ultimate immersion into the incredible stories told by the pictures. Now exert yourself to get the chosen frescos minutiae look: you shall see that every single element or detail is finely wrought by months of excruciating work. The road of the modern visitor reverses the sequence in which the chambers were decorated, as some of the Palaces’ grounds are off-limits for visitors.
At the beginning, Raphael worked alone, but as time went by, his artistic development blossomed quickly, and his workshop took more students. The increased demand saw him shifting the realization of his vision to the apprentices, for example small details were crafted by Giovanni da Undine, which led to rediscovering the art of “stucco” part of Antiquity’s legacy lost in the darkness of Middle Ages. The last rooms, beginning with Stanza dell'incendio del Borgo ( “Fire in the Borgo”) though based on Raphael designs, was completely painted by his students without his guidance. The frescos in Sala di Constantino were completed in 1520 after the artist’s untimely death. Giovanni da Undine returned to his former workplace in 1560, to work on the third floor of Logge Vaticane, passing away in 1564.
The story of Cappella Paolina (Pauline Chapel) is marked by the decay of Michelangelo’s popularity. Commissioned in 1538 and finished in 1540 by the orders of Pope Paul III, the pontiff decided that after the breathtaking frescos of Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo has to decorate the walls of Pauline Chapel with new pieces. The two frescos, The Conversion of Saul and The Crucifixion of St Peter met with poor reception, even considered to be disappointing by the contemporary audience. Both artworks, even though created with the same piety as the Sistine Chapel predecessors, are often overlooked in favor of the Apostolic Palace ‘staples’.
Sadly, some of the subsequent Popes could not understand the artistic vision of frescos, for example twenty years after the first unveiling of the Last Judgment, a zealot pope, Paul IV ordered the nudes on the fresco to be repainted in a more modest manner. Michelangelo ignored the request, but one of his apprentices, Daniele da Volterra managed to cover the genitals in the Last Judgment with some discreet repainting, which essentially saved the piece, but thanks to that, Volterra had earned the nickname Il Braghettone ('the breeches maker'), which stuck with him till the end of his days.
This quick tour through the richly detailed Vatican’s halls was supposed to show you that it is always desirable to enjoy the contemplative mood of an autumn Rome, away from the worn-out midsummer onrush of ill-mannered tourists. Maybe you would rather want to have your mind stimulated by a sound synthesis of Christian art and the graceful, perfectly woven forms of Antiquity that truly exemplifies the virtuosity of Renaissance. Perhaps there is a chance, that after visiting the Apostolic Palace, you will experience your own, personal resurgence?
Author: Filip Jaroń / pr-controlled.com ©
Photos: Judyta Papp