Sunday, 18 March 2012

Borgia Apartments: Sala dei Misteri

II.  Sala dei Misteri (Hall of the Mysteries of the Faith, first "private" apartment) (JB 69)

Length: 10,47 m; width: 8,55 m (SV 12).
De Redig Campos notes that Pinturicchio probably began his work on the apartments in this room. He started his labours at the end of 1492 and would be occupied with them until 1495. He was assisted by pupils such as Benedetto Bonfigli of Perugia, Piero d'Andrea of Volterra and Antonio da Viterbo ("Il Pastura") (DRC(b) 102). 

This hall is also known as the “Life of the Madonna and Christ . . . because of the principal events being represented of Christ and the Virgin in our redemption”. It has a door opposite the entrance door and one window to the right. In the left corner opposite the window is a door frame to a type of closet and towards the right corner is a fireplace, with an awning curtain painted above and down the sides of the mantelpiece (which is of modern make). To the [far] left of the fireplace is an open "closet", as already mentioned, possibly used as a wardrobe, whose inside is without decoration. The inner arch, however, has Alexander VI’s emblem in gilt, while the architrave bears the shield of Nicholas V in white marble. (This wardrobe closet is visible in the map below.) (SV 12-14)

In the middle of the wall behind the viewer is a pilaster in design; opposite is a pilaster in relief. The Gothic ceiling has a heavy central arch with acute-angled cross-springers on either side, forming fans. The walls are painted in emerald green [rather more a shade of jade green] with golden network. Each square of the wall has a wall closet painted on it (“tabernacle-like”). They show a small escutcheon of Alexander VI with streamers in the background (SV 12-14).

There is a double moulding running on top of the wall: a purple narrow one in a Grecian pattern (in white chiaroscuro and gold) , and the other broader, dark blue, in similar style, entwined with beading and foliage. The broad marble cornice around the top of the shows a festoon of flowers and carved fruits; below are hooks for tapestries (SV 13- 14).

The window is similar to those in the other rooms, with tall candelabrum designs painted in the recesses. The arch bears three medallions: the centre one with Borgia arms and the other two with Borgia devices (coronet with rays, in champ vert, and vermilion tongues of fire upon dark sand). The window seats, positioned on a step, have marble tops. The door leading to the next room has a marble arch and posts. The ogee bears the Borgia arms with laurel wreaths supported by genii, formerly stucco covered with gilt (SV 14).

Above the cornice are six large lunettes. The one opposite the window is divided in two: the left has the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin; the right has the Birth of Christ. The ogive has Alexander’s arms, borne by three angels (SV 14-15).

To the right is the Epiphany, the Virgin with the Child standing on her lap while she is blessing the Magi. Further to the right is the Resurrection with Pope Alexander kneeling in pontifical robes (over the door leading into the next room). Over the window is the Ascension into Heaven (SV 15).

Over the entrance door (behind the viewer) is the Descent of the Holy Ghost (Pentecost). Next to it is the Assumption of the Virgin (SV 15).

1.  The Annunciation
2.  The Nativity
3.  The Epiphany
4.  The Resurrection
5.  The Ascension
6.  Pentecost
7.  The Assumption

The main arch, dividing the room longitudinally, is decorated with gilt stucco. Each part has cross-springers in acute angles. The devices of the Borgia arms are displayed in small discs. Four large medallions have busts of prophets “as legend holders”. They explain the events in the lunettes, pointing as follows:
  • Malachi > Annunciation;
  • David > Nativity;
  • Isaiah > Epiphany;
  • Solomon > Assumption.
The other half has Jeremiah, Sophonias (Zephaniah), Micah and Joel (SV 15).

A particularly good image of Isiah can be found at the following link, as well as an excellent photo showing the "closet" space  in the corner (note, too, the floor tiles):, images 4, 5 and 7.
Lovely images of the Pinturicchio frescoes can be found here:
At is a close-up of the painted awning/drapery and a good photo of the corner with the closet.

I am deeply grateful for permission granted by to use the high-resolution image below, which is the best image of a Borgia apartment that I have encountered on the Web.

The image is from the cover of the above book by Claudia la Malfa, Pintoricchio a Roma. La seduzione dell'antico, a book that I have hinted at before.

This image shows (aside from the frescoes and ceiling vault) marvellous detail of the window seats, the painted decoration in the recesses (note the candelabrum design on the side panel and the decoration in the arch) and the painted “wall closets”. Elsewhere on the Web someone has commented on these “closets” and guessed that they might possibly be tromp l’oeil windows. However, here it is obvious that they are wall closets, possibly illustrating a form of "credenza" shelf such as that on which gold-and-silver dinner services used to be displayed during the Renaissance. It should also be noted that the windows used to have marble crosses that were replaced when iron grilles were fitted (I'm afraid I've lost the reference).
The following link contains a close-up of the "closet" to the left of the window in the image above, and it also shows the gold patterning on the wall:

The majolica floor tiles have been copied after the original ones (SV 15-16).


DRC(b):   DRC(b):   D Redig de Campos: “The Apostolic Palace”, in The Vatican: Spirit and Art of Christian Rome. Edited by John Daley. Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, New York; Harry N. Abrams Publishers, New York, 1982.

SV:      Salvatore Volpini: Description of the Borgia Apartments Restored in the Vatican Palace (1897). Vatican Press: Rome. 1897.


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