Stories of the Passion of Christ

The five paintings, depicting the Kiss of Judas, the Flagellation, the Crucifixion, the Deposition and the Resurrection, belonged originally to an altarpiece, since deconstructed, illustrating the Stories of the Passion of Christ. We do not know the church for which they were originally conceived. The earliest information for this work dates back to 1867, the year in which they are documented in the Sacred Museum of the Vatican Apostolic Library. By then, the dossal (frontal section of the altar) had already lost its antique frame. Its height could have varied between 40 and 45 cm, given the different elements distributed in scale towards the center. The scenes were separated by painted columns, suggested by the presence of the remaining semi-columns on the sides of each compartment. 

The dossal bears great witness to monastic spirituality produced by the hand of an unknown painter, conventionally called the Master of the Cini Diptych as well as Master of the Poldi-Pezzoli Diptych, named after the collection or the museum containing his works. The current name “Master of the Trevi Crucifix” is derived from another of his works: a large painted sculptural crucifix preserved in the Church of San Francesco in Trevi, near Spoleto.

Having been steeped in the innovative art of Giotto in the workshops of Assisi, the painter was active in Umbria perhaps already at the end of the thirteenth century and later in the second quarter of the fourteenth century. His style is distinguished by great refinement and the incorporation of Gothic motifs with the local figurative language of the culture of the Alps. 

The focal point of the composition is the scene of the Crucifixion, in which the painter represents only the essential figures: Christ, Mary, John, two angels, and the figure of a friar kneeling at the foot of the cross, a mute and timeless witness of the drama.

Christ is crucified with three nails on a cross in the shape of a “T.” His head is reclined, his eyes closed, and according to the typology of Christus Patiens, he has already passed away. Blood flows abundantly from the wounds on his forehead, from the sores of his hands and feet and from the wound in his side. The cross is planted on a small mountain, Calvary or Golgotha, which contains a cave with a skull. According to tradition it is that of Adam, the first sinner. Over the mountain flows the redemptive blood of Christ, the promise of salvation for all believers. The trauma of the Virgin’s sorrow is made visible by the dissonance between the dark mantle that envelops her and her pale face and hands that open in a gesture of abandonment. The faithful who gathered in prayer before the altar dossal were so emotionally involved in the aesthetic experience of the work that they physically scarred the figures of the wicked who were against Christ; this is evident in the first two scenes where the faces of Judas, the soldiers and the flagellators were heavily damaged centuries ago.

Twelve-month Patrons’Office Fellowship

As the Patrons of the Arts continues to grow and expand, so do the number of projects, events, and patron visits. In order to keep up with this increased activity, our Vatican office has created Fellowship positions for twelve months, renewable for a maximum of three years upon decision of the Director of the Patrons Office and the Direction of the Vatican Museums. 

The opportunity to provide one or more of these Fellowships rests on the generosity of our Patron community. Since its commencement in 2010, these special positions have become a crucial part of our Vatican office operations. In contrast to the short periods of volunteer work provided by our interns, the longevity and commitment required by one or more Fellowships affords the office an essential level of continuity and, in turn, a more comprehensive work experience for the Fellows. 

The Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums offers this opportunity to recent graduates and beginning professionals in several areas. Our Fellowship program provides the opportunity to learn about the operations of a non-profit art organization and to work in collaboration with competent museum professionals. 

The Fellows greatly help the Patrons of the Arts in handling its duties, function as reliable members of the team by taking on mid to long-term responsibilities, and assist with a variety of events, patron visits, and daily interactions. Fellows should also enthusiastically promote the mission of the Catholic Church through this non-profit organization. 

Sponsorship from our Patrons ensures that the high standards of service to our Patrons will be met. Fellowships are hired by the International Director of the Patrons of the Arts, and can be named after the sponsoring Chapter. The cost to support a single Fellowship includes the stipend for the fellow as well as administrative costs and insurance fees.

Swiss Guard Uniform

Many believe that the renowned uniform of the Swiss Guard was designed in 1500 by Michelangelo Buonarroti. This fact could not be more dubious, however, the uniform as we know it today was officially introduced on November 22, 1914 by Swiss Guard Commander of the Corps Colonel Jules Repond. The commander redesigned the uniform as a set of 154 pieces according to a sixteenth-century model studied and approved by the newly elected Pope Benedict XV.

There is little information in historical records regarding the uniform worn by the first Swiss guards welcomed in Rome by Pope Julius II on January 22, 1506. This is because the guards did not then have a special dress, but wore the same clothing as other soldiers during their service: a loose shirt and tights, metallic armor covering the chest and arms, a halberd, and a sword. Shortly after 1506, however, Raphael represented a group of four Swiss Guards in his painting Mass at Bolsena in the Room of Heliodorus in Julius II’s apartments in the Vatican. Here the guards are shown wearing loose and colorful trousers ending at the the knee and a cassock or tunic and doublet that extended to the hip. 

Inv 30631

On several occasions over the centuries, the uniform of the Swiss Guard has undergone changes. In the 1820’s, new modifications were made to the uniform under Pope Leo XII, and they remained largely unchanged until the present uniform was introduced in 1914.

This doublet jacket was recently found in the warehouses of the Department of Historical Collections. It is a very rare example of a nineteenth-century uniform, much in keeping with the heraldic motifs of Pope Leo XIII. It continues to reflect the yellow and blue colors linked to the oak crest of the family of Pope Julius II and the red of the Medici family of Pope Clement VII – the two popes historically connected to the origins of the Swiss Guards in the Vatican. The shape of this jacket, however, is completely different from the uniform we recognize today. This uniform of the nineteenth century made its first and only public appearance on May 6th, 1915. The feast of the Pontifical Swiss Guard Corps is still held on this same day in remembrance of the tragic massacre perpetrated by the Lanzichenecchi during the famous Sack of Rome of May 6, 1527 when, together with the commander and his wife, 147 guards lost their lives in order to allow Pope Clement VII to flee from the Vatican, finding refuge in the nearby Castel Sant’Angelo. 

The restoration of this uniform is therefore very significant, not only because this item is a rare heirloom linked to the centuries-old history of the uniform of the Papal Guard, but also because it will be a rich addition to the permanent installation of the Swiss Guard collection in the Vatican, which displays selected pieces of antique armor related to the history of the Holy See.

Model of Piazza Pius XII

The chalk model of Piazza Pio XII was made by the artist Pierino di Carlo in the 1930’s. At that time he had already created the very famous plastic model of ancient Rome in the Constantine age known as Grande Plastico dell’Urbe (scale 1:250) in the Museum of Roman Civilization. 

Di Carlo was known as one of the most talented artisans and scholars of this typology of plastic architectural model. The model of the Vatican is divided in two sections and faithfully reconstructs the piazza that connects Via della Conciliazione to Saint Peter’s Basilica and the buildings that delimit it. 

The prodigious technical competence with which this piece was made stands as witness to the vast experience that the artist held with this material. At the same time, it is proof of the remarkable challenge offered by this particular commission. 

As an elevated quality was asked of Pierino Di Carlo, he responded by offering excellence with regards to the technical aspect: Di Carlo meticulously represents each and every architectural element, each quota, molding, and profile, while faithfully respecting the dimension of the project in scale.

The two sections present a wooden framework and a “double level” in chalk in those parts which are not visible. Both sections are fixed with vegetable fibers, hence respecting the traditional techniques for the creation of chalk molds.

Clair de Lune

The painting Clair de Lune, completed in 1909, is the most recognized image of the Notturno painting series made by Previati. The series features three other panels depicting Wind, Dance, and Harmony.

Inspired by Beethoven’s Sonate au Clair de Lune, the four panels were conceived for the Milanese villa of Alberto Grubicy, a patron of the artist. The paintings were to be placed in the music room setup for Grubicy’s daughter, who studied piano. In 1920 the cycle, including another version of the Nocturne, was donated by Grubicy to his friend D’Annunzio, who then placed the work in the Vittoriale degli Italiani at the Gardone Riviera.

This same version of the work, acquired after the death of Grubicy by the Associazione Lombarda Mutilati di Guerra, was sold at auction and merged into the collection of the entrepreneur Aldo Rondo, where it remained until 1996 when it entered the collection of the Vatican Museums.

Drawing of the Pontifical Army Tabella

Popes have always had their own private armies, as did the Emperor Constantine: after the Edict of Milan promulgation in 313 A.D., he gave to Pope Miltiades (311-314) and then to his successor Pope Sylvester (314-355) a group of armed soldiers for the defense of and honorable service to His Holiness. 

The first group of twenty-five armed soldiers from the Middle Ages increased in members over decades, becoming a legitimate army to be conveniently used by the Pope. Pope Julius II (1503-1513) did not hesitate to employ his army to fight his enemies. Pope Pius V (1566-1572) succeeded in Lepanto thanks in part to this armed force in 1571. In the 1700’s, based on the reforms passed by Cardinal Alberoni, commanders were chosen from the members of noble papal families rather than by a military merit. After its defeat in the War of Spanish Succession, the Pontifical Army, which was generally ignored by the Pontifical Government, dwindled to a thousand soldiers who spent most of their time defending garrisons. With these changes made to the Pontifical Army in the eighteenth century, it is understandable how Napoleon’s “Army of Italy” was able to conquer the Vatican. 

Napoleon’s French supremacy spread through Italy, unfettered by the Pontifical Army’s presence. Soon the towns of Loreto and Ancona capitulated. On June 23, 1796 Pope Pius VI (1775-1799) signed a mortifying armistice in Bologna. On that day, the Pope not only ceded the regions of Bologna, Ancona, Ferrara, Forlì, and Ravenna, but also paid twenty-one million ecus and ceded hundreds of artworks and valuable manuscripts from the Vatican Museum and Library to Napoleon.

This general framework of Pope Pius VI’s troops, recently rediscovered in the storage of the Historical Collections Department, is a rarity of historical documentation in that it provides information as to how the Pontifical Army was composed at the time of Pope Pius VI-its original structure, its various military units before being defeated by the French army, its role in Papal State territory and the number of soldiers and officials it contained. 

Two Jousting Shields

Among the pieces exhibited in the in the Sala Vecchia degli Svizzeri (the Old Hall of the Swiss), the room where new soldiers from Switzerland appeared in front of Pope Julius II, are two exquisite Jousting Shields. These shields are part of a larger set of sixteenth-century armors from the armory of Pope Urban VIII. 

Although art historians are not sure as to whom these Jousting Shields belonged, by analyzing the figures depicted in the shield’s scenes of “The challenge of  Rodomonte and the combat of Gradasso” and “The challenge of Lampedusa with Orlando that kills Gradasso” – both referring to the poem Orlando Furioso by Ludovico Ariosto, it can be concluded that these shields were included in the Armory of Pope Urban VIII as a memento of a remarkable knightly joust that took place in Belvedere Courtyard in the Vatican City on March 5th, 1565. 

The joust was held on the occasion of the marriage between Annibale Altemps and Ortensia Borromeo, who was Pope Pius IV’s granddaughter. Six thousand spectators and twenty-five cardinals watched twenty Spanish and Italian knights compete in various events.

The Two Jousting Shields were also ad pompam vel ostentationem (to be shown and displayed), for they were not only weapons but indicators of the prosperity and importance of their possessor. The shields are indeed real works of art that were often coordinated with other valuable armors and flaunted on special occasions and ceremonies, such as marriages. 

The production of luxurious armor and weaponry began in the fourth decade of the sixteenth century. The decoration of shields was often done by well-known artists, as is the case with the famous Head of Medusa shield by Caravaggio. Artists following the Mannerist style, pupils of Raffaello and Giulio Romano, often decorated shields with images concerning ancient history and classical mythology.

Christus Patiens Crucifix

The ancient provenance of this crucifix is unknown. The item was donated to the Vatican Museums by Pope Paul VI (Montini, 1963-1978) in 1978. The work belonged to a group of medieval and Renaissance wood sculptures acquired from the antiques dealer Nella Longari in Milan through the interest of his personal secretary Don Pasquale Macchi. 

The crucifix is depicted according to the iconography of the Christus Patiens: dead and hung on the cross with 3 nails, the feet overlapping and pierced by a single nail. This typology of the dead Christ favors the aspect of the humanity of Jesus, emphasizing not so much his victory over death, but the sufferings he endured as a man during the Passion and ending by his dying on the cross to redeem mankind from sin. Such images, larger than life, brought believers closer to the incarnate and suffering God.

For this crucifix, the head is resting on the left shoulder, with closed eyes and mouth abandoned in the sleep of death. On the head of Christ rests the crown formed by two intertwined branches, now almost completely missing their thorns. The face expresses silent pain; the body is slender, built without pronounced muscular structure. 

The body was not arched on the cross (now lost), but rather straight; the same applies for the legs, which are rigidly closed without touching each other except at the point where the feet overlap. The feet are very damaged from the weight of the wooden statue, and the nails that affixed the sculpture to the cross. It is attested that during the Middle Ages some crucifixes possessed a particular device on the shoulders and had movable arms. This suggests a special use for the sculpture during Lent. For the celebrations of Good Friday, the sculpture was removed from the cross and placed in the crypt. The arms of the crucifix seem too well preserved to be of the original workmanship. This is evident when comparing them to the extremely damaged feet. 

The restoration will provide an opportunity to explore these aspects and to verify the cultural heritage of the sculpture: the modeled refinement and realistic content for the anatomy seems to lead to the identity of an unknown carver in central Italy, perhaps Tuscany, at the beginning of the fourteenth century.

Embroidery Drawings for Papal Vestments

These ten drawings describe the preparatory phase of the refined production of embroidered fabrics. Since the seventeenth century, records have shown the presence of remarkable artisans who often frequented the Papal household. These artists and their workshops made preparatory drawings for the production of a wide variety of holy adornments and liturgical garments. These preparatory drawings were accurately realized with fabrics through the use of different techniques based on the fabric fineness, such as retracing the design on to the fabric with pencil, or using the pouncing technique. 

Embroidery drawings were depicted in different ways according to the characteristics of the various fabrics: if the garment did not include colored threads, the decoration was produced tone on tone or white on white. 

Before the production of the garment, fabrics were firstly acquired from merchants by textile workers and then passed to embroiderers, whose tasks were to produce sumptuous decorations on supreme pontiffs’ clothes on the occasion of ecclesiastical events. Such decorations were considered essential elements for celebrations’ scenography.

Embroiderers played a key role in the production of these extravagant liturgical garments, which were often real masterpieces. The artists’ refined technique can be better understood through their drawings, which have been stored over the years and include descriptions of the materials used. Once the garments were produced, they were acquired by the so-called “banderaro,” the person responsible for affixing embroidered crosses and other intricate motifs on the fabric of the various clothing items. In the records concerning these embroiderers, which are still stored in archives, it is possible to find names of each artisan.

Madonna of the Childbirth

On a golden background adorned with an original golden frame is a majestic young woman with blond hair representing the Virgin. A white dove, representing the Holy Spirit, hovers above the scene and releases three distinct rays of golden light. The Virgin’s drapery greatly contributes to the majesty of this vision. She is dressed in a silken blue cape with a golden hem, a rose-colored gown decorated with delicate gold stars, and tight belt worn under her chest that underlines her advanced stage of pregnancy. Each of these pieces is meticulously decorated with great detail. 

On her chest the Virgin wears a locket composed of sun rays. In her left arm she holds the scriptures beautifully bound in a red cover with gold binding. The presence of the scriptures conveys the Word of God and its role in the Virgin’s pregnancy. The sun and twelve stars that surround the Virgin and the golden decorations on her garment allow art historians to identify this depiction of the Virgin as the Virgo amicta Solis that appears in the the Apocalypse of John. The woman in this biblical episode appears pregnant and “surrounded by the Sun and with the moon under her feet and a tiara with twelve stars on her head.” Since the medieval period, exegesis has linked the “Woman of the Apocalypse” to a theology of the Virgin freed from original sin in becoming the mother of Christ. 

The painting displays a harmony between its spiritual and material aspects. In addition to the naturalistic image of the pregnant Virgin and the scriptural references to the divine pregnancy and Immaculate Conception, there are also allegorical representations of her virtues. The Virgin, depicted as the Virgo Virtutum, is surrounded by eight virtues that take the form of seraphim. These angels represent the three theological virtues and the four cardinal virtues. An additional angel has been added for the purposes of maintaining symmetry in the image. 

On the left-hand side of the painting are the theological virtues: Charity depicted with a cornucopia and flame,Faith with a cross and chalice, Hope raising its arms in exaltation, and Prudence, who presents a disquieting image of two faces and holds a snake that refers to the Gospel of St. Matthew (10:16): “prudentes sicut serpentes.” The cardinal virtues appear on the right-hand side of the painting. To the right of the Virgin’s shoulder hovers the virtue representative of her most important quality of Humility. This virtue enacts a gesture of shyness by concealing herself with her veil. Positioned next to Humility is Strength wearing lion fur and holding a column, both of these items referring to the biblical story of Samson. Beneath Strength there is Temperance, depicted pouring content from one vase to another. Justice, beneath Temperance, is shown with a sword and the devil chained at its feet. 

Information on the painting’s origins are well known due to a written and glued cartouche on the back side of the painting by the former owner Lamberto Cristiano Gori. Gori acquired the work 1772, believing it to be a work of Cimabue. Gori states in his writings that the piece was originally located on the altar of a small chapel in an abandoned suburban villa, and that it was used for private worship. In 1842, the painting was acquired by the Vatican Apostolic Library Sacred Museum, and in 1908 it was moved to the Vatican Museums galleries. 

During the fourteenth century, naturalistic images of the Pregnant Madonna became popular in art produced in Tuscany. These depictions of the pregnant Madonna often personified the presence of the Divine, an artistic phenomenon that began in the twelfth century that can be seen in this painting with the anthropomorphic forms taken on by the virtues. During the twentieth century, some critics attributed the painting to several different Florentine painters of the fourteenth century such as Agnolo Gaddi, Giovanni del Biondo, Bernardo Daddi and Cenni di Francesco. 

The naturalistic rendering of the female form, the representations of the virtues well-illustrated with their allegorical objects, the refined gilding process used for the gold elements, and the shape and surrounding frame of this image represent new trends in pictorial representation which spread in Florence at the end of the fourteenth century.