26 September 2009

Overlooked Ornament in the Salette Borgia

detail of Pinturiccio's  ceiling in the Borgia Apartments, Vatican
Visitors to the Vatican Museums have enough to take in without looking at all the painted borders and ornament that encrust nearly every square foot of the place. However, on my last visit, that is precisely what I was doing!

---- in the Salette Borgia: splendidly painted in jewel tones, and blissfully empty of visitors.

After bidding my companions not to wait for me, and after further hours of careful ceiling-gazing, I was still stopped in my tracks by two small chambers of the Salette Borgia, whose early Renaissance ornamentation is noticeably different in style than the majority of the palace. Ironically these rooms are the entrance to what is now the Collection of Modern Religious Art, which many visitors nearly run through on their way to the Sistine Chapel.

These and other parts of the Borgia Apartments were decorated with wonderful frescoes and ornament including some stylish grottesche, and fresco murals, painted in 1493, by renown artist Pinturicchio and his sizable atelier of assistants. 
These are some of the earliest grottesca paintings done in the Vatican.

painted drapery with the Papal coat of arms of Alexander VI
This entire suite of rooms in the Apostolic Palace was abandoned in 1503, after the death of Pope Alexander VI, because of their association with the disgraced Borgia family. Shuttered and largely disused for nearly two centuries, they escaped  redecoration by later popes.
worn tile floors: evidence of hundreds of thousands of visitors passing through.
A wall paneled with stenciled patterns, and a trompe l'oeil window.
Above it, a fresco by Pinturicchio depicting the Annunciation.
Another detail of the ceiling- note the jewel tone color scheme

In 1891 the rooms and the artwork in them were restored under Pope Leo XIII and opened to the public. Now they seem to be treated as a mere passageway between the more famous parts of the museum... except by those of us who stop to look up.

Click on any image to view much larger

photos in this post by Lynne Rutter, Vatican City, 2008


  1. Wonderful, wonderful treat this morning! You bring attention to an often ignored area (ignored due to perceptual overload!LOL!)

  2. Never had the luck to visit Vatican... so thank you for the virtual tour, Lynne !
    Special notice to the old tiles - very inspiring & poetic pic.

  3. total overload! that's why it's nice you can take pictures (no flash) but i wish i could go back and stay for a month in this one building studying the ornament.

  4. Lovely, divine images. It IS overload, in the best way imaginable.


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