April 1 – June 12, 2016
Cortile delle Corazze
Among the several chapels that populate the museums, the palaces and the Vatican corridors, there is one named Chapel of St. Pellegrino. Presently this Chapel provides religious services for the men of the Gendarmeria; for centuries until 1977 it was the Chapel of the Pontifical Swiss Guards, the armed body who defends the Holy Father, as founded by Pope Julius II in 1506. The walls of this Chapel are entirely covered with frescoes indicating the name and coat of arms of the Commanders of the Swiss Guard. Among them, there is one coat of arm that merits remembrance: that of Commander Kaspar Röist. The incision in Latin states that he died while fighting “in illa infelici urbis direptione”, “in that unfortunate disruption of the City”. And here the terrible day of May 1527 is evoked, the Sack of Rome. Fourteen thousands Lanzichenecchi, mainly Lutherans guided by Georg von Frundsberg, attacked the Apostolic Buildings. There were 147 Swiss soldiers to defend them. It was a fierce fight; pike against pike, sword and dagger against sword and dagger, Swiss against Germans. At the end of this massacre all the Swiss soldiers of the Pope were dead. Among them was Commander Kaspar Röist, who scarified his life with his soldiers in order to allow the Pope Clemens VII to flee with his entourage in the impregnable fortress of Castel Sant’Angelo.
The army of the Swiss Guards, still today recruited in the cantons of the Swiss Nation, remains the guardian of glorious and heroic memories such as those represented by Commander Kaspar Röist. The awareness of that ancient story is always present in the daily life of the young soldiers. They are, therefore, proud of the role they represent and the service to which they are called. However, they are also young men in their twenties with the same dreams, enthusiasm, and hope that any 20-year-old has. This is what the photographic service of Fabio Mantegna shows. Here the photographic image itself, through the choice of subject, the composition of the shot, and the effects of light, offers a glimpse on the reality of the Guard which is never banal. It shows us, through some of the most well known architectonic views and the lesser known sides of the Vatican, of the sense of duty and humanity with which the Swiss Guards are committed to carrying out their tasks. We wanted, together with Commander Christoph Graf, to transform this into an exhibition that, born from an idea of Dr. Romina Cometti with the support of Father Mark Haydu LC, will be unveiled in the Vatican Museums. Thanks to the generosity of the California Chapter of the Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums headed by Mr. Michael Scott Feeley, this exhibition is destined to travel in several cities worldwide. It is an exhibition showing a noble and ancient story, but it also speaks of the beautiful youth of a group of young men who are at the service of the Roman Pontiff.
Prof. Antonio Paolucci