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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

The Vatican

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



The hollow of the Janiculum between S. Onofrio and the Monte Mario is believed to have been the site of Etruscan divination.

" Fauni vatesque canebant." Ennius.

Hence the name, which is now only used in regard to the Papal palace and the Basilica of S. Peter, but which was once applied to the whole district between the foot of the hill and the Tiber near S. Angelo.

"...Ut paterni Fluminis ripae, simul et jocosa Redderet laudes tibi Vaticani Montis imago."

Horace, Qd. i. 20..

Tacitus speaks of the unwholesome air of this quarter. In this district was the Circus of Caligula, adjoining the gardens of his mother Agrippina, decorated by the obelisk which now stands in the front of S. Peter's, near which many believe that S. Peter suffered martyrdom.

Here Seneca describes that while Caligula was walking by torchlight he amused himself by the slaughter of a number of distinguished persons -senators and Roman ladies. Afterwards it became the Circus of Nero, who from his adjoining gardens used to watch the martyrdom of the Christians I - mentioned by Suetonius as " a race given up to a new and evil superstition "- and who used their living bodies, covered with pitch and set on fire, as torches for his nocturnal promenades.

The first residence of the Popes at the Vatican was erected by S. Symmachus (A.D.498-5I4) near the forecourt of the old S. Peter's, and here Charlernagne is believed to have resided on the occasion of his several visits to Rome during the reigns of Adrian I. (772-795) and Leo III. (795-816). During the Twelfth Century this ancient palace having fallen into decay, it was rebuilt in the Thirteenth by Innocent III. It was greatly enlarged by Nicholas III. (127 781); but the Lateran continued to be the Papal residence, and the Vatican palace was only used on state occasions, and for the reception of any foreign sovereigns visiting Rome. After the return of the Popes from Avignon, the Lateran palace had fallen into decay, and, for the sake of the greater security afforded by the vicinity of S. Angelo, it was determined to make the Pontifical residence at the Vatican, and the first Conclave was held there in 1378. In order to increase its security, John XXIII. constructed the covered passage to S. Angelo in 1410. Nicholas V. (1447-55) had the idea of making it the most magnificent palace in the world, and of uniting in it all the government offices and dwellings of the cardinals. He wished to make it for Christendom that which the Milliarium Aureum in the Forum was to the Roman Empire, the centre whence all the messengers of the spiritual empire should go forth, bearing words of life, truth, and peace. Unfortunately Nicholas died before he could carry out his designs. The building which he commenced was finished by Alexander VI., and still exists under the name of Tor di Borgia. In the reign of this Pope, his son Cesare murdered Alphonso, Duke of Bisceglia, husband of his sister Lucrezia, in the Vatican (August 18, 1500). To Paul II. was due the Court of S. Damasus. In 1473 Sixtus IV. built the Sixtine Chapel, and in 1490 "the Belvedere" was erected as a separate garden-house by Innocent VIII. from designs of Antonio da Pollajuolo. Julius IL, with the aid of Bramante, united this villa to the palace by means of one vast courtyard, and erected the Loggie around the court of Damasus; he also laid the foundation of the Vatican Museum in the gardens of the Belvedere. The Loggie were completed by Leo X.; the Sala Regia and the Paoline Chapel were built by Paul III. Sixtus V. divided the great court of Bramante into two by the erection of the library, and began the present residence of the Popes, which was finished by Clement VIII. (1592-1605). Urban VIII. built the Scala Regia; Clement XIV. and Pius VI., the Museo Pio-Clementino (for which the latter pulled down the chapel of Innocent VIII., full of precious frescoes by Mantegna); Pius VII., the Braccio Nuovo; Leo XIL, the picture-gallery; Gregory XVL, the Etruscan Museum, and Pius IX., the handsome staircase leading to the court of Bramante.

The length of the Vatican Palace is 1151 English feet; its breadth, 767. It has eight grand staircases, twenty courts, and is said to contain 11,000 chambers of different sizes.

The principal entrance to the Vatican is at the end of the right colonnade of S. Peter's. Hence a door on the right opens upon the staircase leading to the Cortile di S. Damaso, and is the nearest way to all the collections, and the one by which visitors were admitted until the fall of the Papal government. The fountain of the Cortile, designed by Algardi in 1649, is fed by the Acqua Damasiana, due to Pope Damasus in the Fourth Century.

Following the great corridor, and passing on the left the entrance to the portico of S. Peter's, we reach the Scala Regia, a magnificent work of Bernini, watched by the picturesque Swiss guard of the Pope. Hence we enter the Sala Regia, built in the reign of Paul III. by Antonio di Sangallo, and used as a hall of audience for ambassadors. It is decorated with frescoes illustrative of the history of the Popes.

On the right is the entrance of the Paoline Chapel (Cappella Paolina), also built (1540) by Antonio di Sangallo for Paul III. Its decorations are chiefly the work of Sabbatini and F. Zucchero, but it contains two frescoes by Michelangelo.

On the left of the approach from the Scala Regia is the Sixtine Chapel (Cappella Sistina), built by Baccio Pintelli in 1473 for Sixtus IV.

The lower part of the walls of this wonderful chapel was formerly hung on festivals with the tapestries executed from the cartoons of Raffaelle; the upper portion is decorated in fresco by the great Florentine masters of the Fifteenth Century...

On the pillars between the windows are the figures of twenty-eight Popes, by Sandro Botticelli...

The avenue of pictures is a preparation for the surpassing grandeur of the ceiling.

The pictures from the Old Testament, beginning from the altar, are: - 1. The Separation of Light and Darkness; 2. The Creation of the Sun and Moon; 3. The Creation of Trees and Plants; 4. The Creation of Adam; 5. The Creation of Eve; 6. The Fall and the Expulsion from Paradise; 7. The Sacrifice of Noah; 8. The Deluge; 9. The Intoxication of Noah.

The lower portion of the ceiling is divided into triangles occupied by the Prophets and Sibyls in solemn contemplation, accompanied by angels and genii. Beginning from the left of the entrance, their order is- 1. Joel; 2. Sibylla Erythraea; 3. Ezekiel; 4.. Sibylla Persica; 5.Jonah; 6. Sibylla Libyca; 7. Daniel; 8. Sibylla Cumaea; 9. Isaiah; 10. Sibylla Delphica.

In the recesses between the Prophets and Sibyls are a series of lovely family groups representing the Genealogy of the Virgin, and expressive of calm expectation of the future. The four corners of the ceiling contain groups illustrative of the power of the Lord displayed in the especial deliverance of His chosen people.

Only 3000 ducats were paid to Michelangelo for all his great work on the ceiling of the Sixtine; less than a common decorator obtains in the Nineteenth Century. It was when Michelangelo was already in his sixtieth year that Clement VII. formed the idea of effacing the three pictures of Perugino at the end of the chapel, and employing him to paint the vast fresco of The Last Judg-ment in their place. It occupied the artist for seven years, and was finished in 1541, when Paul III. was on the throne. During this time Michelangelo frequently read and re-read the wonderful sermons of Savonarola, to refresh his mind, and that he might drink in the inspiration of their own religious awe and Dantesque imagination...

The small portion of the Vatican inhabited by the Pope is never seen except by those who are admitted to a special audience. The three rooms occupied by the pontiff are furnished with a simplicity which would be inconceivable in the abode of any other sovereign prince. The furniture is confined to the merest necessaries of life; strange contrast to Lambeth and Fulham. The apartment consists of the bare Green Saloon; the Red Saloon, containing a throne flanked by benches; and the bedroom, with yellow draperies, a large writing table, and a few pictures by old masters. The Papal life is a lonely one, as the dread of an accusation of nepotism has prevented any of the later Popes from having any of their family with them, and etiquette always obliges them to dine, etc., alone. Pius IX. seldom saw his family, but Leo XIII. is often visited twice a day by his relations-" La Sainte Famille," as they are generally called.

No one, whatever the difference of creed, can look upon this building, inhabited by the venerable men who have borne so important a part in the history of Christianity and of Europe, without the deepest interest...

The windows of the Egyptian Museum look upon the inner Garden of the Vatican, which may be reached by a door at the end of the long gallery of the Museo Chiaramonti, before ascending to the Torso. The garden which is thus entered, called Giardino della Pigna, is in fact merely the second great quadrangle of the Vatican, planted, under Pius IX., with shrubs and flowers, now a desolate wilderness-its lovely garden having been destroyed by the present Vatican authorities to make way for a monumental column to the Council of 1870- Several interesting relics are preserved here. In the centre is the Pedestal of the Column of Antoninus Pius, found in 1709 on the Monte Citorio. The column was a simple memorial pillar of granite, erected by the two adopted sons of the Emperor, Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus. It was broken up to mend the obelisk of Psammeticus I. at the Monte Citorio. Among the reliefs of the pedestal is one of a winged genius guiding Antoninus and Faustina to Olympus. The modern pillar and statue are erections of Leo XIII. In front of the great semicircular niche of Bramante, at the end of the court-garden, is the famous Pigna, a gigantic fir-cone, which is said once to have crowned the summit of the Mausoleum of Hadrian. Thence it was first removed to the front of the old basilica of S. Peter's, where it was used for a fountain. In the fresco of the old S. Peter's at S. Martino al Monte the pigna is introduced, but it is there placed in the centre of the nave, a position it never occupied. It bears the name of the bronze-founder who cast it -" P. Cincivs. P. L. Calvivs. fecit." Dante saw it at S. Peter's, and compares it to a giant's head (it is eleven feet high) which he saw through the mist in the last circle of hell.

"La faccia mi parea longa e grossa Come la pina di S. Pietro in Roma." Inf. xxxi. 58.

On either side of the pigna are two lovely bronze peacocks, which are said to have stood on either side of the entrance of Hadrian's Mausoleum.

A flight of steps leads from this court to the narrow Terrace of the Navicella, in front of the palace, so called from a bronze ship with which its fountain is decorated. The visitor should beware of the tricksome waterworks upon this terrace.

Beyond the courtyard is the entrance to the larger garden, which may be reached in a carriage by the courts at the back of S. Peter's, Admittance is difficult to obtain, as the garden is constantly used by the Pope. Pius IX. used to ride here upon his white mule. It is a most delightful retreat for the hot days of May and June, and before that time its woods are carpeted with wild violets and anemones. No one who has not visited them can form any idea of the beauty of these ancient groves, interspersed with fountains and statues, but otherwise left to nature, and forming a fragment of sylvan scenery quite unassociated with the English idea of a garden...

The Sixteenth Century was the golden age for the Vatican. Then the splendid court of Leo X. was the centre of artistic and literary life, and the witty and pleasure-loving Pope made these gardens the scene of his banquets and concerts; and, in a circle to which ladies were admitted, as in a secular court, listened to the recitations of the poets who sprang up under his protection; beneath the shadow of their woods.



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