Model of Piazza Pius XII by Pierino Di Carlo

Pierino Di Carlo lavora al modello di Roma antica_1935_courtesy P. Di Carlo

The plaster model of Piazza Pius XII was made by the artist Pierino di Carlo from Abruzzo (1906-1992) in the 1930’s. Pierino di Carlo was already thModello 2e creator of the famous scale model of Rome in the Constantine age known as Grande Plastico dell’Urbe (scale1:250) that is kept in the Museum of the Roman Civilization. The artist was known as one of the most talented artisans and scholars of this typology of architectural replica. The quintessence of the Vatican collections is divided in two sections and faithfully reconstructs the wide entry that connects Via della Conciliazione to St. Peters, 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 had with material. At the same time, it is proof of the remarkable need the commissioner had. 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 ratio, 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 plaster in those parts which are not visible. Both are fixed with vegetable fibers. Thus, respecting the traditional techniques for the creation of plaster models.

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Copies of the catacomb paintings

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The collections of the Pius Christian Museum encompass 34 copies of ancient paintings that are principally dedicated to the decoration of the Roman suburban catacombs. The painting copies are made with tempera or oil on canvas applied on a canvas sustainment that is mounted on wooden frames.

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At times, they could reach monumental sizes. Moreover, they were made during the 19th century by specialized copyists, who were accustomed to entering the uncomfortable underground spaces to copy from the legitimate antique paintings, with torches as their only source of light. This was the only way to enable the general public and scholars to be part of this artistic heritage that would daily emerge from the archeological exploring from the underground cemeteries. Without them, these paintings would have been inaccessible to the public.

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The one-of-a-kind copies of the catacomb paintings are connected to the first developments of Christian archeology seen as a scientific discipline thanks to the work of the Jesuit Father Giuseppe Marchi and of his brilliant pupil, Giovanni Battista de Rossi. When Pope Pius IX (1846-1878) requested the creation of a «Christian Museum» in the Lateran Palace to Fr. Marchi, Marchi decided to commission copies of the catacomb paintings from the famous painter Carlo Ruspi and other specialists, as Silvestro Bossi. The Pius Christian Museum, named after its creator, was launched in 1854, with a section purposefully dedicated to the grand “fac-simile” of the catacomb frescoes. Unfortunately, when the archeological collections of the Lateran Museum were moved to the Vatican in 1963, the painted copies did not find space within the new set-up and ended up in storage. Here, they were essentially forgotten until the rediscovery and the appreciation occurred with the restoration project. Of the latter, some phases have already been concluded.

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Indeed, in the past years, the renewed awareness regarding these precious documents led to the recovery of the large paintings, currently exhibited in the Pius Christian Museum. A fourth painting, of large dimensions, is located in the Painting Restoration Laboratory of the Vatican Museums. The success of these first initiatives encouraged the beginning of a collective restoration project of the copies from the 1800’s, in order to give back to the Museums and to its visitors a patrimony of great aesthetic and documentary value.

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In particular, thank to the contribution of the California Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums it was possible to complete the restoration in 2014 and 2015: disinfestations, clearing and securing of the 34 painting reproductions. Moreover, the support of the Patrons allowed the restoration of a group of five paintings that had drawn attention to certain urgent conservation needs. Along with these, there were also missing parts, tears and detachments of the paint layer, seen as a cause of its preservative status, as well as the deteriorated phenomenon connected to the deformation of the wooden frameworks.

Four Decorated Coptic Tunics Fragments

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These four fragments constitute an important testimony to the art of Coptic textile, according to the documentations of the 4th to 5th centuries in Akhmim, the ancient city of Panopolis, one of the major centers in the Nile Valley. The city was the Episcopal Chair of the Bishop since the 4th century. Akhmim (Panopolis) was celebrated in the late ancient world for its textile industry, its factories capable of producing fabrics of grand refinement and artistic technicality. Surrounded by an extensive necropolis that was excavated from the end of the 19th century by French and German archeologists, Panopolis has provided us with precious textile artifacts, the major part of which are attributable to those well-endowed, as indicative of the refined executive techniques in its workmanship along with the incorporation of precious materials such as silk and gold in their design.

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Statue of Aura


This feminine figure majestically walks with her left leg in front and the right one flexed and back. A light Chiton falls to the woman’s ankles and_MG_8830 adheres to her breasts and legs, contouring her curves. Meanwhile, a mantel is wrapped around the central part of her body. Originally, it was supposed to appear lifted above her head, blown by the wind. As a matter of fact, the statue represents the embodiment of sea breeze -a subject that was frequently used in ancient Greece to decorate temples. Especially on the acroterion statues, which usually adorned the top of the pediments. It is assumed that it is precisely an acroterion figure which was held as a role model for our statue, along with other Roman replicas -of which the majority were made in Pentelic marble and can  be dated back to the 1st century AD. However, the original prototype can be found in Greece and is most likely done by the hands of an Attic sculptor who, influenced by Fidia, operated in the final decades of the 5th century BC. With regards to the sculptures which adorned the pediments of the Parthenon, the famous sculptor from Athens experimented innovative plastic solutions in order to render the movements of the draperies and the lightness of the clothing into the marble. The fabric wraps around the female curves and enhances them, almost as if it were wet. For the first time in the history of ancient art, the female curves are shown with their realistic nature. The statue of Aura, even though it is a Roman replica of later centuries, witnesses the grand artistic and cultural period that occurred in Athens in the 5th century BC; right after the victory against the Persians, and especially during the governing of Pericles.




Drawings from the Archives of the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls

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Thanks to the contribution given by many Patrons of the Arts of the Vatican Museums from different Chapters such as Canada and Minnesota, the restoration project of the first group of works on papers has reached its conclusion. This pertains to a very rich ensemble of documents, drawings and projects all drafted in 1823 and 1824, and that are now housed in the archives. These artifacts tell the story of the reconstruction of Saint Paul Outside The Walls. following the devastating fire of 1823. They are, therefore, quintessential to the preservation of the historical identity of this papal basilica. In order to complete the restoration of this collection, it is necessary to work on 300 more drawings which are very fragile. These artifacts are distinguishable from the previous lot as their sizes are much larger, their preservation status is more complex, and they need a more careful and thorough restoration in order to regain their decorative beauty.

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This is a collection of graphic works composed of heliographic prints embellished with graphite, colored pencils and inks on a 1:1 scale. The works depict architectural elements such as grooves and bases of columns, moldings and trabeations, and even decorative patterns used for designing pilasters on mural paintings. Included are architectural renderings made on tracing paper – waxed or cotton-based-which picture the transept, naves, altars and bell tower.

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Therefore, any kind of decorative patterns which is used on pilasters. There are architectural drawings made on tracing paper -wax or canvas -which describe the transept, the naves, the altars and the bell tower. Lastly, there are the general schemes of the exquisite decorative apparatuses, the representation of the details (mosaics, floor marbles, friezes and ceilings) all made on paper with colored pencils or tempera.

Infant Coptic Tunic

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The expression “Coptic Art” practically defines artistic production in Egypt from the first centuries of our time until the end of the Ottoman Empire. This time period can be recognized in three distinct phases: the first extends from the Emperor Augustus to that of Constantine, who in 313 liberated the Christian religion; the second corresponds to when Christianity was most widespread in Egypt and lasts until the country’s Islamic conquest in 640 A.D.; the third takes place during this Islamic rule until its termination in 1798, marking the conclusion of the Ottoman domination.
Even if during the first phase, Coptic Art found expression within artistic sectors not directly connected to the field of Christian religion (i.e. wood relief, ivory, bronze works, painted ceramics), at the onset of the Islamic age it became practically synonymous with Christian Egyptian Art. In this age the Copts – a term now identifying solely the country’s Christian inhabitants – give life to a unique form of artistic production. This type of creative work, primarily cultivated in monastic communities, primarily found expression in the world of icons and textile art.
The textile is, in fact, among the best known artistic expressions relating to this cultural context. The pieces that have made their way to us are fragments of used clothing, commonly used liturgical garments, and, for example, tunics typical in men’s and women’s clothing. Other elements in this genre of art are found among the walls of religious buildings or sepulchral monuments, tablecloths, carpets, or curtains. The massive fabric production was favorable thanks to environmental conditions perfect for fostering the cultivation of flaxseed for linen, as well as by the high demand for such imports from centers of trade such as Rome or other imperial zones. Often textiles were used as money, as a method of exchange to bring other merchant goods into Egypt. It should not be forgotten that from the fourth century, the Christianization of the region was increasingly generated proportional to textile production: mummification practices had disappeared, and bodies were wrapped in simple bandages which essentially gave way to the custom of using ordinary clothing for burial.
A certain number of Coptic garments were conserved thanks to this practice of burying the dead in their own clothes. The dry Egyptian climate contributed to their well-preserved state. The clothes were generally in linen or wool, and the colors that were used included red, blue, yellow, green, purple, black and brown. Dyes were obtained from plants and natural elements such as rubia, indigo, Jerusalem woad, saffron, Tyrian dye from the murex shell, and from an insect known as carmine. Since the 17th century, Coptic cloths were transported to Europe because of grand curiosity expressive of an exotic and mysterious world, arousing the interest of collectors that throughout even the 19th century sought to claim by unconventional excavations, often cutting pieces to “fit” their various commissions.
The Vatican tunic was a discovery from the necropolis of Akhmim in Upper Egypt, the Greek Panopolis, towards the end of the 19th century. It was on display in 1898 in the Exposition of Sacred Art in Turin by the Missionary Fathers of Upper Egypt who subsequently donated it, along with other wearable art hailing from the same place, to the Sacred Museum.
Along with other works in the Vatican Museums, it is also reconstructed from various pieces. It presents an amply large area to be patched, approximately rectangular in form in the upper area found by the neck between the shoulder areas, along with several other intermediate attempts that were performed in an effort to fix the garment. The sleeves appear separate from the rest of the tunic and then re-sewn.
The decorative motif consists of the following elements: two red and green clavi, or elongated embellishments, which descend down the shoulders and back, terminating at a small green leaf; two yellow circles with a red dot on top and below (front and back of garment); two green heart-shaped leaves on the shoulders and at knee-height (front and back); wide stripes on the sleeves in green, red, and white. The tunic played a leading role in Egypt Coptic clothing design for both men, women, and children alike, generally woven in linen (even if the tunics during the later period were also in wool). Men’s tunics generally arrived to the length of the knee, while women’s went all the way to the foot. This fabric garment was normally woven in one piece, wherein the weaving pattern began on the frame at the end of one sleeve, expanded at the body – with the foresight to leave an opening for the neck – and then narrowed again at the second sleeve. The tunics for children were characterized by very narrow sleeves, and were typically long-sleeved as opposed to short. They added significantly to the figurative design repertoire also because they were generally brightly colored or included animal figures. Decorations were incorporated into the design for the purposes of compliance with Roman style in antiquity. The shorter Coptic tunics were richly bedecked by adding flair along the neck and edges. They actually appear as inserts, or additions to the tunic, called orbiculi (circular or oval form) or tabulae (square), which were woven or applied at shoulder to knee height. Decorating the Coptic tunics, unique in its time of fabric production of the age, created a type of language, which expressed the social position of the outfitted person.
Along with geometric motifs (i.e. stars, interlocking hexagons, circles) and natural vegetation (i.e. flowers, lotus buds, leaves and intertwining branches, often symbolizing abundant fertility), there were also more traditional and ancient motifs. These included animal decorations (especially birds, leopards, lions, fish, and the human figure), often classically inspired. With the liberation of the Catholic religion, Coptic tunics began to be decorated also with Christian symbols including crosses, images of saints, and scenes from the Bible.

Gallery of the Maps Catalog


In 1579, Gregory XIII, a Pope who was enamored with art and science, commissioned architect Ottaviano Mascherino, cartographer Ignazio Danti who was a Dominican friar, and a host of great painters to realize this massive project. By 1581, a mere three years later, work on the gallery was complete: this was the Gallery of the Maps. Within the hall, the whole of the Italian peninsula is painted from north to south. The viewer instantly feels the strong presence of the Church as the great force that links together the small and then divided territories of Italy. The Pope, coming from his apartments, could travel across the Alps and walk along the crest of the Apennines. To his right he could see the Tyrrhenian side of the peninsula, and to his left the Adriatic. Magnificent compass roses, masterfully painted and gilded, create a wonderfully glittering illusion, pointing to the Vatican Gardens on one side and the Cortile del Belvedere on the other. The hallway is absolutely brimming with beautiful detail, illuminated by large panoramic windows. The “magnificent walk” through the hall would have led the Pope among the valleys, hills, forests, rivers and streams, lakes and waterfalls, cities, towns and villages, in a model of reality. Roads and paths are represented precisely to scale, with distances measured in the Roman mile and carefully indicated. There are accurately depicted ports and islands, both large and small, with seas traversed by galleons, galleys, caravels, and brigs. And finally, the hallway also depicts historical events such as the allegory of Columbus, the troops of Caesar at the Rubicon, the army and elephants of Hannibal at the battle of Cannae, and the meeting between Attila and Pope St. Leo I, as well as the more recent battle of Lepanto and siege of Malta. The restoration on the hall began on September 17, 2012, with a group of restorers selected after a careful consideration of their curricula and experiences to work under the supervision of Francesco Prantera. That fall, when the group of conservators, restorers, painters, and decorators climbed on scaffolding they found the maps in a serious state of deterioration. Large parts of the plaster were marred by deep fractures, which meant that the frescoes were in danger of collapse. In addition, the pigment of the seas was fragile and discolored.
The walls were scattered with patches of old, incorrect restorations while the surfaces were coated with a thick varnish that had yellowed, improperly altering the delicate green and blue tone of the gallery. After the unveiling of the extraordinary Gallery of the Maps in April 2016, thanks to the California Patrons Chapter, the Vatican Museums will publish a bi-lingual (English-Italian) book illustrating the details of its restoration.

Maori Cloak


Aotearoa New Zealand fine cloaks, usually made by women, are the most valuable example of Maori fiber arts. One of the basic type is the korowai, in which the surface of the cloak is decorated with hanging black cords. Sometimes the artist/ maker used to apply decorative elements, such as red wool pompoms, colored wool panels, or feathers. These cloaks were mainly worn by men of high status. This particular embroidered cape proposed for restoration was donated to St John Paul II during his visit in Aotearoa, New Zealand in 1986.

Fresco by Antoniazzo Romano from the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls

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The fresco is located in an area of the basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, accessible by way of Via Ostiense. Its particular concave lunette shape is due to its decorative function for a space that was originally a small apse.  In the architectural alterations of the latter centuries, it lost its function. Curiously, the work is now above the door of one of the small spaces in the passageway that, from the Gregorian Room, leads to the Baptistery and Transept. Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles, is rendered with his characteristic beard and elongated profile. He is reading a book, opened in his left hand, while his right hand wields a sword. The weapon is typical in iconographic depictions of the saint, who upon his conversion, no longer persecuted the Christians, but instead fought for their salvation and was eventually martyred, beheaded by the sword. Despite the current problematic state of conservation, underneath the efflorescence (salt migration on the surface) and below the incoherent deposits, the quality of the image can still be seen. The sacred solemnity of a medieval inspiration is fused with an organic, fluid rendering of the saint, already alluding to figurative elements of the Renaissance. This is a combination characteristic of the artistic hand of Antonio di Benedetto Aquili, better known as Antoniazzo Romano. It is also a style prevalent in painting cycles of the late 15th century, particularly in the 1480’s and 1490’s. Generally considered one of the most masterful interpreters of the Roman art scene of the second half of the 15th century, Antoniazzo is the only one to be mentioned by Giorgio Vasari in his “Lives” as ‘one of the best that ever was in Rome’ and who had a flourishing workshop. The painting’s authorship was first attributed to Antoniazzo in 1909 by Bernhard Berenson (from the “Central Italian Painters of the Renaissance”).

Lion of Monterosso by Arturo Martini

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Leone di Monterosso is one of the preparatory models that Arturo Martini completed during the creation of an artwork commissioned by Arturo Ottolenghi in 1932. The desired location for this masterpiece was his villa on a hill in Monterosso, near Acqui Terme. The Ottolenghi Counts, Arturo and Herta von Wedekind zu Horst, relied on the well-known architect Marcello Piacentini to build their residence in 1920. Following its completion, they entrusted very important artists with the decoration of their villa. Among these were Fortunato Depero, Adolfo Wildt, Libero Andreotti, Ferruccio Ferrazzi and Arturo Martini.
The amazing sculptor from Treviso started working on the Lion project during the summer of 1932. He carried out various replicas in which he developed the composition’s structure. The artist gave particular attention to the animal’s muzzle and tail -elements that for artists associate with the description of the animal’s personality.
It is interesting to remember how Martini initially intended to depict a chimaera rather than a lion. A Chimaera is a beast from Greek mythology that has a lion’s head and body, a snake’s tail and a second head -that of a goat. This choice reveals the grand fascination the artist has with regards to Etruscan sculptures: «I am the true Etruscan -Martini declared -they gave me the language and I gave them voice to speak. I expressed them. I could have created thousands of statues, made just as they would have imagined them». For the Lion of Monterosso, the artist drew his inspiration from Chimera d’Arezzo, an absolute masterpiece, found in 1553 near the city after which it takes the name. Today, it is in the National Archeological Museum in Florence. Enlightened by this model, Martini molds a first study out of plaster. Ottolenghi appreciated the “bozzetto”, which he defined as «strong and terrible, and marvelous»; while other people closer to the artist criticized it. To these perplexities and criticisms Martini responded that he did not «want to create a lion like those that are in the Zoological Museum», rather he intended to create «a Chimaera, inspired by a lion and all the other beasts. Monterosso will distinguish himself thanks to the fantastic Lion.» This variation will appear clearly in the following phases of the creative process, while keeping the memory of this fantastic beast alive. This metamorphosis is shown even more in the terracotta version that was brought to the Vatican in 1959, when Pius XII commissioned the creation of two rooms dedicated to the art of the 20th century within the art gallery. The finalized artwork, made out of red Simona rock from Valcamonica, reached its completion in September 1934.