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.

Crivelli Madonna with Child

n the Madonna and Child altarpiece, the signature and date of the artist are inscribed on the marble steps under the foot of the Virgin, reading: “OPVS.CAROLI.CRIVELLI / VENETI 1482”. The painting originates from the Church of San Francesco in the town of Force, near Ascoli Piceno. Pope Pius VIII wanted the work displayed in Rome in the Lateran Pinacoteca, where it was placed in 1844. In 1908 the altarpiece was documented as part of the Vatican Pinacoteca of Pius X, and after subsequent transfers within the galleries of the Museums, it is now exhibited in Room VI of the Pinacoteca.   

The enthroned Virgin lovingly holds the Christ Child. At her feet kneels a diminutive Franciscan in prayer, the identity of which is most likely the patron of the altarpiece. The composition is dense with symbolic references to Christ the Redeemer, such as the apple in the Christ’s right hand. The apple is an allusion to the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, a potent emblem of original sin. In the gesture of holding the forbidden fruit, Christ takes on the weight of man’s sin, which he will expiate with his blood during the Passion. 

Carlo Crivelli (ca. 1435-1494) was born in Venice but trained in Padua in the renowned workshop of Francesco Squarcione (1397-1468). In Squarcione’s workshop, Crivelli worked alongside other young artists such as Cosmé Tura, Marco Zoppo and Giorgio Schiavone. During the mid-fifteenth century, Padua was an important crossroads for the fluid coexistence and intersection of the different artistic tendencies active in the peninsula. The late Gothic tradition was still very much alive due to Byzantine culture prevailing in Venice, but there was also the budding presence of realistic and naturalistic styles of representation and a growing interest in recovering the ancients. The region experienced the innovative stimuli of the many Tuscan artists passing through the city such as Filippo Lippi (documented between 1434 and 1437), Paolo Uccello (in 1445), and the great sculptor Donatello (between 1443 and 1453). In the fervent Squarcione workshop, young talents with these seemingly contrasting artistic styles were discovered and encouraged. Crivelli merged many of these style within his art, thus giving his work extraordinary pictorial results. His growth as an artist was also due to his relationship with Donatello, from whom the painter would learn to combine figural monumentality and linear expressionism. 

With the painting’s gilded background and extreme richness of detail in the Virgin’s crown, her richly adorned mantle, and the variegated marble of her throne, Crivelli suspends the figures in an abstract and timeless dimension that clearly differentiates itself from the viewer’s reality. These particular visual elements of the work appear to both its Renaissance and contemporary viewers as divergent from the typical religious scenes created by artists in this period, thus making Crivelli one of the most intriguing painters of Northern Italy in the fifteenth century. 

Astarita Collection: Thirty-three Figurative Vases

The project entails the restoration of 33 figurative vases of Athenian production, all exhibited in the E – F – H – I display cases in the room dedicated to the Astarita Collection. The Astarita Collection began in 1913 thanks to the work of expert connoisseur Mario Astarita. In 1967, Astarita gifted his massed collection to Pope Paul VI for the Vatican Museums. The collection is comprised mainly of Attic pottery, ceramics of Corinthian, Eastern-Greek, Laconian, and Euboean manufacture, and many Etruscan pieces.

The vases included in this project are a review of the masters who originated the red-figure technique. This includes the example of Oltos, a pioneer who, on the same vessel, experimented with both the innovative red-figure and the more traditional black-figure technique around 520 B.C. He integrated mythological representations of the Centaurs (black figures) and the Amazons (red figures), as well as images of men in the gymnasium practicing discus throwing, and a military bugler. 

The painting on this selection of vases illustrates the transition of Greek figural representation from the Archaic to the Early and High Classical styles. Beyond their stylistic aspects, these objects express various facets of Greek life and culture. The viewer finds themselves in both the worlds of mythology, with the scene of Dionysius’s solemn procession by the Group of Vienna 1104 (450-440 B.C.), and of daily life, with the rare depiction of a young man reading by the Eucharides Painter (ca. 490 B.C.), and that of a symposium by the Painter of Tarquinia (460-450 B.C.).

Plaster Cast of the Bust of Pope Pius VII

Born in Trevisano, Canova was trained in Venice in numerous workshops of artisans and sculptors in which he learned to model in terracotta, marble and plaster. He arrived in Rome in 1779 to undertake a lengthy and fruitful collaboration with the Pius Clementine Museum, which was then in the process of enlargement. In Rome, he devoted himself to the study of the ancient and modern statuary conserved in the Vatican collections. He immediately distinguished himself by sculpting vibrant interpretations of the ancient models. For the artist, the Apollo Belvedere and the Dioscuri at the Quirinale were opportunities for the artist to create an unprecedented canon of contemporary beauty that earned Canova a place among the forerunning artists of Neoclassicism. Soon after his arrival, he joined the entourage of the Venetian Ambassador Zulian and the pontifical Rezzonico family, around whom the painters Hamilton, Pompeo Batoni and the French scholar Quatremère gravitated, friendships that proved significant for the artist. Between 1780 and 1790 he made numerous works for important patrons, sovereigns and foreign collectors. These include The Theseus who sits on the Minotaur (London, Victoria and Albert Museum), the Amorini for the Polish Princess Cecylia Lubomirska (Poland, Castle of Lancut) and Amour and Psyche for Colonel John Campbell (Anglesey Abbey, National Trust).  

Inv. 57778

The bust depicts Pope Pius VII Chiaramonti, founder of the Chiaramonti Museum, and is the plaster copy made by the artist himself. Canova had created several marble and plaster portraits of Pope Pius VII between 1803 and 1807, including the original of this bust sent to the Emperor Napoleon on the occasion of his coronation (today at the Musée de l’Histoire de France in Versailles). The bust was donated to Chiaramonti and then exhibited in Promoteca Capitolina where it appeared in 1820, the year of its inauguration. A copy of this bust was destined for the Braccio Nuovo in the Vatican Museums. Among the various copies of the bust is this plaster cast, which appears to be a faithful version of the marble portrait preserved in the Vatican. the work is striking for the naturalistic grace with which the artist captures the pontiff – the spontaneous expressiveness evident in the half-open mouth, in the softness of his hair and in the design of his bushy eyebrows. The minutia with which the cape and corded shirt are carved allow the sculpture a high quality of detail, which leads to the assumption that the cast was conceived for its exhibition in the Vatican. 

Despite the continued contact with Napoleonic France (between 1814 and 1817), for Josephine of Beauharnais, the first wife of the Bonaparte, he made the Three Graces), Canova was always openly critical towards the appropriation of artworks by the Emperor in Italy during his military campaign. In 1815, the artist was officially commissioned by Pope Pius VII to go to Paris to facilitate the repatriation of Italian art stolen by the French, as guaranteed in the Treaty of Tolentino. This delicate task and its success were celebrated in Rome by Pope Pius VII, who honored the sculptor with the title of Marquis of Ischia and his inscription in the Golden Book of the Capitol.

Madonna and Child with Annunciation and Saints

The foreground of this triptych depicts the Madonna and the Christ Child united in a tender embrace. The left lateral shutter door displays St. John the Evangelist with the Gospel and a martyr holding a palm frond symbolic of the victory of martyrs. The right lateral shutter displays St. Catherine of Alexandria with a crown, palm frond, and spiked wheel, the instrument of her torture, and Saint John the Baptist wearing a cloak over his traditional camel hair garment and displaying a scroll with the inscription: Ecce Agnus Dei.

The figure of the Madonna depicted in the oversized, central compartment of the triptych is most likely derived from an older model, one that was particularly revered at the time of the artist but has since been lost. This older model would have been created by a copyist closely imitating the Byzantine iconography of the Theotókos Glykophilousa, or “the Mother of God who sweetly loves her Son.” In this triptych, the artist has renewed and enriched this venerated, popular icon model by modifying the appearance of the Madonna’s mantle, which the artist has painted with sumptuous fabric preciously embroidered with phytomorphic and floral motifs. The artist has also inscribed the halo of the Madonna with the Gothic script: ave maria gratia plena dominus tecu(m). As narrated in the Gospel of Luke (1, 26-38), it is with these words that the Archangel Gabriel announces to the Virgin, gathered in prayer, that she is to give birth to the Son of God. It is precisely this scene that is depicted in the center of the triptych, at the center of which appears the figure of God the Father amidst the celestial spheres. 

The images of the characters stand out against the background of thickly-applied gold leaf decorated with leaves and flower clusters on the lobed margin. This type of ornamentation of the late Gothic style recalls the work of goldsmiths in Northern Europe, but such techniques in metalwork were also present in central-southern Italy and in the region of Umbria and Orvieto. 

This triptych was originally believed to be of Senese origin around the years 1355-1388, and was attributed to the artist Niccolò di Bonaccorso. Later dating by the Vatican Museums pushed the estimated date of the triptych to the second decade of the fifteenth century based on the precise choices made by the artist and the archaizing character of the work. It was during the studies of the painting performed by the Vatican that the triptych was identified as belonging to the early work of an anonymous painter active from the second to the fourth decades of the fifteenth century in the Marche and in Rome, known conventionally as the “Master of the Brancaccio Triptych” after his well known triptych created for the Cardinal Rinaldo Brancaccio in c. 1425-1427, now kept in the Piersanti Museum of Matelica. This work reinforces the historical conception of fifteenth century Italy, particularly its central regions, as alive with an interest in the ancient icons and their repetition by means of copies or newly created icons due to a strong cultural link with the iconographic heritage tradition nascent in ancient history and continued into the Early Renaissance period. In Rome, for example, the last decades of the fifteenth century would feature well-known painters such as Antoniazzo Romano and Melozzo da Forlì creating famous copies of ancient Madonna icons widely-used in popular devotion, such as those in Santa Maria Maggiore, the Salus Populi Romani, and Santa Maria del Popolo.

Celestial Globe by W.J. Blaeu

Willem Janszoon Blaeu was a famous cartographer and manufacturer of Dutch mathematical and astronomical instruments. He learned the fundamentals of cosmography, geography, and the construction and use of astronomical instruments as a pupil of the famous Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe. 

He returned to his home in Amsterdam, where he soon distinguished himself as a manufacturer of globes and instruments of astronomy, then as a cartographer and printer. His first dated work was a terrestrial globe (1599), followed in 1603 by a celestial globe of equal size. Later, he gave the public a much larger pair of globes (with a circumference of 2.16 meters) of which there were several reprints.

He was appointed Cartographer of the Republic in 1633 and he founded his cartographic workshop Blaviana in 1625, associating his sons Giovanni and Cornelius. His work was so successful that the State General obliged the commercial companies with traffic in India and the merchant ships to use the Blaeu maps. Their outstanding production, printed in the major languages of Europe and widely imitated, also included the contributions of scientists and geographers. Among his numerous works worth noting are the Appendix Theatri A. Ortelii et Atlantis G. Mercatoris continens tabulas geographicas diversarum orbis regionum nunc primum editas cum descriptionibus (1631), the collection of 103 maps serving as supplements to the two most famous atlases of the time, which increased to later editions, thus forming the nucleus of the major collection entitled Theatrum Orbis terrarum sive Atlas Novus (1635).

The construction of the first celestial globes dates back to the Greeks, returning only at the end of the first millennium in the Arab world, from which it spread throughout Europe in the fifteenth century. Globes were used both to indicate the positions and movements of the celestial bodies as well as an aid for navigation. 

The first globes were engraved or painted directly on the spherical support up until the end of the sixteenth century, when the images were printed on paper. These were broken down into strips, segments that branched out to the point of the poles, widening in proportion to the equatorial line in order to faithfully render the spherical surface. The strips were glued to the globe, consisting of a round papier-mâché and plaster-lined wooden armature to create a uniform surface, supplemented by the Meridian Ring: it was mounted on the connecting axis between the poles, with an inclination of about twenty-three degrees, indicating the plane of the Earth’s orbit. The wooden ring on the horizon has a paper circle indicating the months and zodiac signs and is supported by three wooden legs in an English-style mounting (there are four legs in the Dutch type).

Globes were useful scientific instruments and at the same time works of valuable artistic quality. Globes were generally arranged in pairs (terrestrial and celestial) to ornament the libraries of monks, scholars, princes and sovereigns. The globe in question, signed and dated, is a pendant with a terrestrial globe (Inv. 70157) coming from the Chigi collection. It was bought by the Italian State in 1918 and donated to the Holy See, merging into the collection of the Vatican Apostolic Library in 1923 from which it passed to the Vatican Museums in accordance with the Rescriptum of John Paul II in 1999.

Amphora and a Hundred Fragments of Bucchero

This conservation project is dedicated to the restoration of an amphora painted in the black figure technique by an unknown Etruscan master. It shows a rare depiction of an Etruscan chariot mounted by a charioteer holding the reins with one foot still resting on the ground. The young charioteer is beardless and semi-naked, covered only by the typical semicircular Etruscan mantle (tebenna).

The scene is repeated on the other side of the amphora but with the charioteer dressed in a short chiton and wielding a long rod to spur the horses. The representation of horse races and athletic competitions often occurs in the pictorial cycles of Etruscan tombs and is also found in pottery imported from Greece. Here the typical Etruscan motif is not only the mantle of the charioteer, but above all the model of the chariot with the sinuous line of the handlebar. Similar artifacts have been found dating to the middle of the sixth century B.C.

More ancient are the hundred or so fragments of pottery, bucchero and ceramics of various manufacture, which are in some cases painted and come from the the Regolini-Galassi tumulus complex in Cerveteri. This archaeological site of extraordinary historical importance and artifact richness is known for its gold artifacts, but these assorted ceramic fragments, scrupulously collected and preserved, are waiting to be studied after their restoration so that they may further our understanding of Etruscan life in Cerveteri. 

Ostia Collection: Two Hundred and Eighty-three Household Artifacts

The Ostia Collection is composed of the archeological finds discovered in the Ancient Roman port city of Ostia during nineteenth century excavations, with many objects originating from those excavations led by Pietro Ercole Visconti between 1855 and 1870. These excavated artifacts were collected in two exhibition halls of the Gregorian Profane Museum in the Lateran Palace. The entirety of this collection was later preserved in the new building in the Vatican Museums inaugurated in 1970.

This collection includes a diverse collection of instruments made of terracotta and metal used in the daily life of Ancient Romans in the Imperial Age. When exhibited, these artifacts are distributed inside several display cases. Unfortunately, the collection, particularly the bronze artifacts, shows evident signs of gradual degradation of structural integrity, and it is therefore urgent that restorers intervene in order to restore a secure state of conservation.

On the occasion of this collection’s restoration, efforts will be made to better conserve the newly-restored objects by reformulating new display cases.

Funeral Procession of Pope Pius VII

This rare and detailed drawing of ink and white heightening represents the funerary procession for Pope Pius VII to the Vatican. The pontiff died at the Quirinal Apostolic Palace on August 20, 1823 after the Apostolic Penitentiary Cardinal Francesco Saverio Castiglioni (later Pius VIII) recited for him pro infirmo pontifice morti proximo.

On the morning of August 21st, the corpse of Pius VII was embalmed, covered with pontifical vestments such as a white soutane, a surplice, a red mozzetta (a short elbow length cape) and a camauro (a cap). The body was then venerated by the faithful for two days. In accordance with tradition. On August 22 at midnight the vase containing the pontiff’s organs was carried to the church of St. Vincent and St. Anastasius and then, at exactly at 1.00 a.m. on August 23rd, a funeral procession from the Quirinal Apostolic Palace took place so as to transport the pontiff’s corpse to the Vatican.

The convoy descended the Quirinale towards Via delle tre Cannelle; then, it walked along the Papal Route to cross Ponte Sant’Angelo, passing through the Borgo Nuovo and arriving at St. Peter’s colonnade and then at the Colossus of Constantine where four Catholic priests of St. Peter’s removed the corpse from the stretcher and brought it inside the Sistine Chapel. 

They clothed him with pontifical garments appropriate to his highest rank and placed the corpse on a high bed surrounded by torches. During the night, Catholic priests continued to pray next to the pontiff’s corpse while a group of noble guards kept watch.

In terms of the painting, the building facades shown in the background allow for the identification of the setting as St. Mark’s Square (today known as Piazza Venezia). On the right side of the painting is the Palazzo Venezia in Via del Plebiscito; on the left side are the walls of its ancient cloister and the facade of the Palazzo dei Frangipani. 

Concerning the exact location of what is depicted in the drawing, it appears that the funeral procession is shown making a stop at the majestic front door of the Palazzo d’Aste Rinuccini where, from 1818 Maria Letizia Ramolino, emperor Napoleon Bonaparte’s mother and adversary of Pope Pius VII, lived in exile.

Enthroned Madonna and Child

This antique wooden statue depicting an enthroned Madonna and Child came to the Vatican Museums in 1978 as a gift from Pope Paul VI (Montini, 1963-1978). The work was part of a group of medieval and Renaissance wooden sculptures purchased in Milan from the antiques dealer Nella Longari, but their original provenance is unknown. The status of its conservation is damaged: the Virgin lacks part of her right arm and her crown. Most glaringly, the Christ Child is missing his head. 

Such a critical state of preservation is unfortunately common in medieval wooden statuary precisely because of the fragility of its constituent element, – wood -and the age of the artifacts. 

This means that, with the passage of time, artifacts that were damaged or that no longer appealed to the taste of the devoted were abandoned in sacristies or storage deposits, and often ended up on the antiques market. This was probably the case for this work.

This statue is part of a typology that was common in the eleventh and twelfth centuries and continued up the beginning of the fourteenth century (the date of this statue). These centuries preferred hieratic representations of the Virgin – those in which the Virgin is shown as a queen with veil and crown, covered by a large cloak, and seated on a throne with the Christ Child supported on the left arm and resting on her lap. 

Medieval theology intended to represent the divine incarnation of Christ and the figure of the Madonna as the Mother of God. The Virgin was also associated with Divine Wisdom, alluding to the throne of Solomon (I Kings 10, 18-20), and also as a dispenser of justice. Above all, however, she is the Sedes Sapientiae, the concurrent receptacle and throne of Divine Wisdom.

As a queen, it is possible that the Madonna originally held a scepter, while the Christ Child was often depicted in the act of blessing or holding a globe. At present, it is only possible to present these hypotheses in the light of comparisons with similar works diffused in the central regions of Italy that have reached us in better conditions. 

In this regard, it is particularly important to restore this antique sculpture, which is a valuable testimony to art and faith as an object of devotion, as well as an expression of medieval theological thought.