Masterpieces throughout the Vatican Museums

9 November 2018 – 9 March 2019
Vatican Museums

A “journey within the journey” along the entire Vatican Museums tour itinerary, a “dispersed” exhibition that from 9 November will open its doors to celebrate the great German scholar Johann Joachim Winckelmann, father of modern archaeology and precursor of today’s art historians.
Preceded and already announced in May in the study day on the Montalto Collection in Villa Negroni, “Winckelmann. Masterpieces throughout the Vatican Museums” is the exhibition of the year that symbolically brings to a conclusion the many initiatives intended to render homage to the renowned archaeologist in the dual anniversary – 300 years since his birth, and 250 since his tragic death in Trieste.

In the years of his “dazzling” stay in Rome (1755-1768), the Vatican Museums as we know them did not yet exist, but Winckelmann already visited the Vatican Belvedere and returned repeatedly to admire the statues conserved there. Indeed, it was due to his favourable judgement that many antiquities that he studied during his visits to the monuments and collections of the Eternal City were then purchased by the pontiffs. The exhibition, curated by Guido Cornini and Claudia Valeri, is intended to highlight precisely this role of the Vatican collections as a cornerstone for the studies, theories and writings of the renowned German archaeologist. All sectors of the museums have been involved in this impressive and original exhibition project that offers the visitor a thematic itinerary with several pauses for in-depth analysis, 50 to be precise, corresponding to the 50 selected works – and valued graphically and in terms of content – on the basis of the role Winckelmann attributed to them in the construction of his aesthetic thought.

Room XVII of the Pinacoteca was instead dedicated to the presentation of the figure and his age. The screening of a film and the display of some of his most important writings help to understand better the atmosphere and cultural climate that characterised the city of Rome around the mid-eighteenth century. Winckelmann arrived in 1755 for a brief stay and instead spent the rest of his life in Italy, enchanted by the grandiose beauty of the antiquities: he devoted all his attention and prodigious talent to them.





Useful info

Exhibition: Winckelmann. Masterpieces throughout the Vatican Museums
Location: Vatican Museums
Duration: 9 November 2018 – 9 March 2019
Ticket: free and included in the Museums entry ticket
Opening hours: those of the Museums (entry from 09.00 a.m. – 04.00 p.m., closing at 06.00 p.m.)
Catalogue: Edizioni Musei Vaticani

N.B.: Free entry to the Vatican Museums and the exhibition every last Sunday of the month.
Opening hours: 09.00 a.m. – 02.00 p.m., last entry at 12.30 p.m.



Fresco Depicting St. Paul

In the niche of the short corridor that unites the Baptistery of the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Wallswith the room dedicated to Gregory XVI, there is a beautifully resorted fresco depicting St. Paul. The work is attributed to Antonio di Benedetto degli Aquili, better known as Anonianzzo Romano.

The elegantly coffered vault across from the aforementioned fresco is also decorated with brightly colored frescoes. At the base of the vault and along the perimeter of the niche, there is a grotesque frieze featuring fantastical animals interspersed with small palm trees. This roman ornamentation is decorative and demonstrates a typical the Italian Renaissance (XV-XVI century) pictorial practice.

The vault was most likely painted after the fresco of the saint because of its style and the quality of the frieze connected to it, which is more consistent in painted layers and uses more vibrant colors. The vault also appears to be of a different craftsmanship.

Coffered Vault Frieze

Niche Frieze with St. Paul






State of Conservation

The frescoes were seriously damaged by the separation of painted plaster from the wall structure, and the entire surface was at risk of an imminent fall. The separation also caused grave fractures, concentrated for the most part in the area on the top of the vault and in the center of the niche with the saint.

It was discovered that the frescoes had been restored already, and some parts were previously heavily reconstructed with substantial stucco work and pictorial remakes. In the niche fresco, the layers of colors were in some cases not cohesive.

The green background and the Saint’s yellow vestments showed signs of a significant loss of pigment exacerbated by the separation phenomenon. In the past, the painting had been treated with reviving and consolidating substances, which over time chromatically altered the substances, making them opaque and aesthetically spoiling the representations.

Abrasions and scratches were particularly evident and widely diffused, appearing most evidently on the niche’s green background. Dust and surface deposits covered the decorations extensively.

Stuccoing and Reconstruction

Abrasion on green background

Abrasion on St. Paul’s yellow vestments









Techniques of Execution

The direct incisions and compass marks for the design at the base of the vault.

The paintings, as already said, were done in fresco. The niche with the figure of St. Paul was executed with two coats of plaster, one for the saint for whom the Basilica is named and another for the rest of the green background.

Using a technique of indirect engraving i.e. tracing the contours of the figures and internal details, a cardboard inversion of the wall was created. The saint’s halo and the circular knob of the sword’s hilt were drawn with a compass, and a straight edge was used to draw the edges of the blade. There are no traces of incisions or linear transcription on the face and hands, which means the contours were likely delineated with a carbon dust technique and then covered with color. There are very thin but clearly defined direct etchings present on frieze that decorates the lower register of the niche.

Traces of sixteenth-century painting underneath layers of paint

The vault was painted on three segments of plaster, applied along the corridor. The profiles of the coffers were traced with direct incisions while the central rosettes were made with a carbon dusting technique. Traces of the lines used to determine the general design were also detected impressed in the plaster. The small studs, painted on the white segments of the coffers, were formed with a compass. There are no signs of graphic construction i.e. incisions or traces of dust present on the lower frieze, but this is believed to be due to the thickness of the paint layers obscuring this area.

Stratigraphic tests on the vertical walls revealed the presence of painted decorations similar to those of the vault covered by more modern coloring. During a recent meeting of Museum Direction, it was decided to remove the modern additions and bring the original paintings to light.

Scientific Studies

The Vatican Museum’s Diagnostic Laboratory for Conservation and Restoration completed the following scientific studies prior to the restoration:

  • UV fluorescent imaging
  • Infrared false-color imaging
  • IR reflectography taken with a digital camera
  • Geo/Radar structural detection

The UV fluorescent and Infrared false-color images made it possible to precisely determine the presence of retouches and other substance applied during previous restorations (e.g. fixatives) as well as original finishes applied as lacquers on a dry surface. The IR Reflectography gave clear indications of the foundational designs for the figure of St. Paul, and Geo/Radar Detection determined that there are no dangerous static disruptions, even near the plaster fractures.

Digital Photo

IR Reflectography

Infrared false color Image

UV image







Photo Documentation

The Vatican Museum’s Photographic Archive completed a photographic documentation of the restoration for each of the phases  (before, during, and after). The photos were taken with a digital camera.

Graphic Documentation

The work was graphically documented by hand, recording on paper the relative state of the painting’s conservation and techniques used in previous and current restorations. This information will then be digitized using AUTOCAD 2014.

The Restoration Process

The most urgent problem to confront was the painted plaster detaching from the wall structure. First, the parts in danger were “bandaged” using cotton gauze sheets painted onto the surface with lycraine-diluted Cyclododecane (1:1 ratio). The surfaces not covered by the bandages were protected with a layer of Cyclododecane, diluted in 20-40% Ligroin and applied by brush before the restoration work continued.

The restorers then moved on to filling in the gaps proceeding from the bottom to the top. In the thinner cavities, an acrylic resin diluted in water at various percentages was injected (ACRILEM IC 33) while the larger cavities were filled with a pre-mixed hydraulic mortar fluid (LEDAN SM02). To avoid unsecured plasters from falling during the consolidation, the surface was supported with precautionary props. The work yielded very satisfactory results as the plaster is now restored and firmly anchored to the wall structure.


Cyclododecane Usage: surface protection and sealing of plaster fractures; shoring

After the re-adhesion of the detached plaster, the fresco surface was consolidated and the color degradation was addressed. The latter involved soaking especially deteriorated areas with algae. In some cases, restorers also used Paraloid B72 diluted to 3% in acetone.

Restorers applied a paper pulp compress soaked in an ammonium carbonate saturated solution to clean the frescoed surfaces. A sheet of Japanese papers was placed between the fresco and the layers of solution soaked paper pulp. Each compress was applied for 10 minutes on average so as not to damage the image. The more stubborn dirt was then removed using Ammonia suspended in a gel (Carbopol).


Cleaning of the fresco surface


Before & After cleaning

The gaps and fractures in the stuccowork were filled with a mortar made with lime putty, pozzolan, quartzite and marble powders. The very thin fractures were addressed with a ready-made filler (Modostuc).

The entire image was reintegrated using watercolor. In a few cases, however, a titanium white powder was added to the watercolor to lighten some of the stains on the green background.











The fractures on the disfigured face of St. Paul were filled and reintegrated with watercolor restoring the image to its original integrity.









The assistance of Angela Cerreta (cleaning, grouting and retouching) and Federica Cecchetti (retouching) was integral during the final phases of the restoration. The apprentice Giorgia Donadio also participated in all of the stages of work (consolidation, cleaning, grouting and retouching), while the apprentice Ilaria Liguori helped in the final stages of the retouching.

Raffaello. Le Stanze

Thursday 25 October 2018 | 04.00 p.m.
Conference Hall, Vatican Museums

The presentation of Christoph Luitpold Frommel’s volume “Raffaello. Le Stanze” (Raphael. The Rooms), edited by Jaca Book, could surely be hosted only in the Pope’s Museums, in the context of the cultural and scientific appointments of the Thursdays in the Museums programme. Special speakers will be present at this editorial event, to be held at 04.00 p.m. on Thursday 25 October: from Antonio Paolucci to Claudio Castelletti, from Claudio Strinati to Stefania Pasti; all will be received by the “host”, the Director Barbara Jatta, who with particular satisfaction emphasizes the happy coincidence between the publishing of this monograph, with its superb photographic accompaniment, and the completion of the restoration works – although those of the Room of Constantine are still in progress – which have brought the paintings of the Rooms to a state “very close to the original”, as Frommel himself acknowledges.





Free admission from 03.30 p.m. on presentation of the invitation

Statue of Mars – Conservation Project


Before Restoration

The exact origin of this sculpture is unfortunately unknown, but has been a part of quite a number of private collections. At the end of the 700s, antique dealer and painter Gavin Hamilton laid claim to the piece, after which it was part of the Marconi collection from Frascati, and in the 19thcentury became part of the pontifical collections for installation within the Lateran Museum.

Finally, in 1963 it was transferred to the Vatican along with other findings, and some years later was exhibited in the new Gregorian Profane museum.

The body is that of a young man in heroic nudity, dressed only with a cape fastened by a clasp on the right shoulder, partially covering his back. The statuary type of this artifact is notable by comparison with other replicas of the imperial age, inspired by Greek sculpture models of the 5th century BC. However, this one appears to have been adapted in the course of the 2nd century AD.  For honorary statues this was often the case—especially portraits of emperors such as Antonino Pio, Marco Aurelio, and Lucio Vero. In this case, the military character of the iconographic typology is revealed by the armor shaped like a tree trunk, which lies on the support next to the right leg.

Moreover, the head, which also was modified during modern restoration interventions, can be compared to other replicas of the imperial ages. The origin is hypothetically from a bronze statue that depicts the Greek god of war, Ares, and created in Attica between 430 and 420 BC.


After Restoration


  • Chemical cleaning, removal of coherent surface particle deposits using a stone pack of sepiolite (a magnesium mineral), pulp paper and water, interposed by a sheet of Japanese paper treated with a 10% ammonium bicarbonate solution;
  • On the uneven upper vertical surface areas, buffer cleaning was done with the help of Japanese paper, hot water and a 10% ammonium bicarbonate solution;
  • Traces of brown-reddish paint were eliminated using swabs and acetone;
  • Extraction of removeable salt deposits left on the painted surface; this was done using Japanese paper and water;


  • The plaster fig leaf was removed with the aid of water and a chisel; the large plaster grout located at the rear of the stone base was also removed;
  • Pin removal: the oxidized metal pin holding the sword was replaced with one in stainless steel. Bonding was carried out with EPO 121 epoxy inserted in the pivotal area at the base of the handle (only at the top). This area was then liberally filled with Plasticrete mixed with marble powder. The sword was secured by creating light gluing points with EPO 121 on the support of the handle adjacent to the sword;


  • Gaps were filled with stucco composed of lime putty and marble powder and chromatically matched to the color of the marble surface.


Apostolic Palace of Castel Gandolfo: once again witness to art’s mission of dialogue

24 October 2018

Two years on from 21 October 2016, when the notes of the Chinese Guangzhou Opera House Orchestra resounded for the first time, the Apostolic Palace of Castel Gandolfo will once more become, on Wednesday 24 October, the symbolic and special backdrop for another significant musical event which, in the name of art and the unifying power of Beauty, forms part of the process of opening and dialogue already undertaken by the Vatican Museums with various Chinese cultural entities.

This time it will be a concert of operatic works, entitled “Mater: la Bellezza ci unisce” (Mater: Beauty unites us) evoking the imaginary embrace between distant peoples, and the vibrant voices of the tenor Cristian Ricci and the Chinese soprano Ma Fei will lift up hearts to promote trustful mutual listening.

The initiative is the result of collaboration between the Governorate of Vatican City State and the Culture&brand Research Group of the organization Chinese Attendees of Academic Exchange on Religion and Culture.

The Restoration of the Mastiff Dog

The sculpture of the Cane Molosso statue (Mastiff Dog) is located in the Octagonal Courtyard and it is a very famous work dating back to the first century A.D. In 2016, a curious visitor broke this sculpture, inserting his hand inside the mouth, causing very serious damage to the jaw. The detached jaw piece then fractured in the fall.

The sculpture, acquired by the Vatican Collections in 1770 and integrated by Gaspare Sibila in 1779, was subject to a complete restoration beginning with a double phase cleaning with chemicals and laser.  Through these techniques, the restorer, Anna Lea Mattozzi, freed the stone surface from layers of powders (mixed with altered protective materials) and anthropogenic deposits.

    Subsequently, the innovative systems proposed by Ulderico Santamaria (responsible for the Scientific Research Laboratory) were used to consolidate the fragments. Afterwards, the fragments were reconstructed, and the jaw was reattached to the work.In the course of the restoration, restorers also found some coins inside the mouth that allowed them to understand the meddling visitor’s actions. Currently Giandomenico Spinola and Claudia Valeri are analyzing a protection system for this sculpture in order to prevent other curious visitors from causing further damage. The Mastiff Dog will return to the courtyard shortly as soon as its protection is secured.


Homage of the Vatican Museums to Paul VI on the occasion of his canonization

12 October – 5 November 2018
Collection of Contemporary Art, Vatican Museums

To pay homage to Pope Montini in the month of his canonization, which occurs officially on 14 October, the Vatican Museums will hold a symbolic exhibition event in the spaces that house the art collection – now known as the Collection of Contemporary Art – which was conceived by Paul VI himself and which he strongly desired and supported during the years of his papacy.

Paolo VI il giorno dell’inaugurazione della Collezione con Kengiro Azuma e la famiglia Foto © Servizio Fotografico L’Osservatore Romano

The Artist is Prophet and Poet” is the title chosen for this intimate but dutiful photographic tribute by the Pope’s Museums, and it is a citation from the speech given by the Brescia-born Pontiff on 1973 to mark the inauguration of the new Collection. His words on that occasion had already been significantly preceded, ten years earlier, in his homily for the “Mass of Artists”, in which Paul VI clearly expressed his intention to cancel the distance that had been created between the Church and artists, and thus to recompose a bond that had been interrupted for too long.

From 12 October to 5 November, in an extraordinary form along the itinerary of the Collection of Contemporary Art, the visitor to the Vatican Museums will therefore find a small but significant selection of original photographs bearing witness to some fundamental phases in the history of the collection, expressing heartfelt acknowledgement of the modernity and farsightedness of its founder.





Conference “Preventive conservation in major museums. Comparing strategies”

12 October 2018
New Wing, Vatican Museums

The directors of the most important museums in the world will meet on Friday 12 October at the conference sponsored and organised by the Vatican Museums on the theme of preventive conservation in large museum contextsThe Vatican Museums are pleased to host the directors of the great universal museums, visited by millions of people every year. Their daily challenge: to find new ways for the management and material conservation of such an important and strongly displayed heritage. I hope that this conference, by promoting a real and direct exchange, will contribute to the development of common strategies that may be a concrete help for all museums. These are the words with which Barbara Jatta, Director of the Pope’s Museums, announces and presents the significant moment of exchange and reflection on what is presented as one of the most urgent questions of the third millennium: the management of mass tourism and planned heritage conservation.

The participants in the meeting will describe the working strategies or specific cases faced in their role, and analogies and differences, critical issues and opportunities will emerge from the exchange between various demands and situations: a synthesis of points of observation and concrete activities, useful for defining what may be the future guidelines for museum institutions.



Useful info

Attendance by invitation.
Registration closed on 17 September 2018.


The Vatican Museums in Frankfurt for the 70th Book Fair

10 – 14 October 2018

The presence of the Vatican Museums also for the 2018 edition of the Frankfurter Buchmesse, the prestigious international book fair in Frankfurt from Wednesday 10 to Sunday 14 October, is confirmed again this year. With Georgia as the guest of honour, the event, greatly anticipated both by professionals in the sector and keen readers, will involve the participation of over 7000 exhibitors from 100 different countries.

Edizioni Musei Vaticani and Libreria Editrice Vaticana (LEV) – as is by now customary – will represent Vatican publishing in a joint exhibition stand where, aside from the presence of new publications, there will also be fruitful and stimulating exchanges with publishers and visitors.


This past weekend, the Leaders from all twenty-six Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums chapters convened in Rome for the 35th Anniversary of the Patrons Organization.  The meeting began on Thursday and concluded on Sunday evening.

After many weeks and months of preparations, the Patrons staff welcomed the Leaders to Villa Grazioli in Castel Gandolfo on Thursday.  On Friday morning, the Leaders and staff traveled by bus to Vatican City for a full day of activities.

The morning began with a tour of Redemptoris Mater, the Pope’s private chapel in the Apostolic Palace.  Next, the Patrons had a private Audience with His Holiness, Pope Francis.

Francis spoke for about five minutes on the importance of preserving and promoting art as a means of living out our faith.

Every member in attendance was able to greet and shake hands with the Holy Father, so it was a true blessing to meet him. After a delicious lunch at the Casina Pio IV in the Vatican Gardens, Dr. Barbara Jatta spoke on behalf of the restoration labs.  She shared her vision and expectations for the Patrons by stating some of the needs of the Wishbook.

Saturday was held entirely at the Apostolic Palace at Castel Gandolfo.  The morning sessions, led by Fr. Kevin Lixey and members of the staff, overviewed the mission and identity of the Patrons. They discussed a new Patrons logo, new website templates, and an overall goal of greater consistency between the Rome office and the chapters.

The highlight of the afternoon session was a presentation of Salesforce, a new database system used for communication and event planning.  After the sessions, there was a lovely dinner at Villa Grazioli. The Leaders showed their gratitude toward Fr. Kevin, the staff and each other for the collective efforts of the Patrons.

The six informative sessions and conferences gave an insider look on the work, the concerns, and the future plans of the Patrons. The 2018 Chapter Leaders Meeting was a very valuable experience, and it helped us all understand the goals that must be perceived  in  the next months.