Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Borgia Apartments: Sala dei Santi

III.  Sala dei Santi (Hall of the Saints, second "private" apartment) (JB 69)

 Length: 10,56 m; width: 8,46 m (SV 16)

The apartment is decorated with depictions from the lives of the saints. The door posts are painted with colourful candelabrum designs and figures. The window recess has two marble seats on a step, and the sides are decorated with large candelabrum patterns with men, beasts, fauns, dolphins, etc. In the window arch, the Borgia arms are flanked by a warrior and a lady in stucco (SV 16-17).

Slight traces of initial decorations were left in this apartment, which made it possible to distinguish the main portions of designs and colours. Secondary parts were left to the discretion of the restorers (1897), who covered the lower parts of the walls with panels of intarsia work (wainscoting, as Volpini refers to it) almost contemporaneous with Pinturicchio in that they were said to have been used for the Library of Sixtus IV in the rooms below. The upper parts were covered over with canvas painted in imitation of traces of the original decorations (DBWS 433). The wainscoting also covers a fireplace that used to be opposite the window (SV 17).

The east and west walls have single pilasters in full relief in the middle, “egregiously painted” with great candelabra, animals,“babes” [cherubs or putti], armour and a shield on top bearing the words “Alexander PP. VI Pont. Max.”, and “Fama” blowing trumpets, with streamers carrying the Borgia emblems. This all is surmounted by a candelabrum design with “six curved branches, an axe on each” (SV 17-18). Over the entrance door (the one just entered by the viewer)  is a roundel with a Madonna and Child. The stucco decoration of the frame has been damaged (SV 18).

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Attribution: I, Sailko [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Above: Pinturicchio's Madonna and Child above the door. Also note the bulls in the cornice frieze.

About the Madonna in the roundel Sladen has the following to say:
Over the door by which you enter this room from the third room, is the Madonna with the Child, which is supposed to represent Giulia Farnese, the mother of Alexander VI’s youngest son. The attitudes of mother and child have rather a Byzantine stillness, but their faces, like those of the cherubs round them, are sweet and gracious. The frame is of the gilded papier-mâché, which so offended Vasari’s sense of fitness. Ricci calls it one of the most lovely Madonnas which Pinturicchio ever painted. With regard to the question of the identity, Ricci says: "Was Vasari alluding to this Virgin when he said that Pinturicchio painted Giulia Farnese over the door of a room, in the form of Our Lady? Some are of that opinion. But in this case, where is the head of Alexander adoring her? And if the Madonna really represents the fair friend of the Pope, how easy it must have been for the painter to portray a face which is one of the most usual types of Umbrian beauty, and particularly characteristic of his own art”(DBWS 444).
A related story can be found here:

The tops of the walls contain hooks for hangings or tapestries, and above them a carved marble moulding contains, to the left of the entrance,  a medallion with the bust and and name of Alexander VI (SV 18).

Above the cornice are six lunettes. Opposite the window:  St Catherine disputing before Emperor Maximian. To the right is St Anthony visiting St Paul the Hermit. Next, to the right of the arch, is the Virgin visiting Elizabeth. Over the window is the Martyrdom of St Sebastian. Above the entrance door cornice is Susanna and the Elders (referred to as “St Iuliana, conducted to her martyrdom” by SV), and to the right of the arch is St Barbara escaping from her tower (SV 18).

a.  A roundel with the Madonna and Child
1.   St Catherine Disputing before the Emperor Maximian
2.  St Anthony Visiting St Paul the Hermit
3.  The Visitation: The Virgin and St Elizabeth
4.  The Martyrdom of St Sebastian
5.  Susanna and the Elders
6.  St Barbara Escaping from the Tower

Page URL: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ABorgia_Apartment_013.jpg
Attribution: By Pinturiccio [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
 Above:Over the window of the Sala dei Santi – The Martyrdom of St Sebastian

Sladen is not much impressed with St Sebastian's Martyrdom (as a work of art, of course, and which I rather like), but considers the Disputa to be the crowning glory of Pinturicchio’s work:
We now come to the great Disputa of St. Catherine, which is considered Pinturicchio’s masterpiece. I do not propose to enter into the controversy as to which figure is supposed to represent Prince Djem, the brother of the Sultan Bajazet II, whom the Pope obligingly, and in consideration of a large annual subscription, kept a sort of prisoner in the Vatican, though I should like to believe that he is the superb figure on the white horse, as striking as the figure of Aeneas Sylvius on the white horse in the first of Pinturicchio’s frescoes in the Library of Siena, and Benozzo Gozzoli’s figure of Lorenzo de Medici in the Riccardi Chapel. Few ordinary visitors will be interested in the argument whether the other Greeks and Turks are or are not derived from Gentile Bellini’s studies: they will be satisfied with the magnificent grouping of the picture; the gorgeous Renaissance arch, adapted from the Arch of Constantine, which fills the centre, and the very peaceful and soft outlines of the landscape. The colouring of the picture is immeasurably rich; it is a regular feast of beauty. In front of the Royal figure of the Emperor Maximian is the youthful figure of Catherine, modest, but fortified with innocence, making the points against the fifty philosophers on the fingers of her hands, which have much-faded golden fetters hanging between them. She is said to represent the Pope's daughter, the lovely Lucrezia Borgia, though Lucrezia was very young at the time for a figure on the borderland of girlhood and womanhood, which has hardly any superior in the whole of Italian painting (DBWS 443-44).
Page URL: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ABorgia_Apartment_002.jpeg
Attribution:  Pinturicchio [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
 Above: The Disputa

The vault contains the story of Isis and Osiris and “the apparition [apotheosis?] of the sacred bull Apis” (with reference to the bull in the Borgia arms). (The translation of the Volpini text can sometimes be quite puzzling.) (SV 19)

The main arch halves the vault and there are five octagons in each half, with: 1) in the middle, the “love-making” [courting?] of Isis and Osiris; 2) (with the viewer's back to window) the arrival of Isis in Egypt and her meeting with Osiris ; 3) a little lower, Mercury putting Argus to sleep with his reed pipe. To the left of the arch: 1) Isis upon a throne as queen; 2) below, Mercury beheading Argus (SV 19).

Along the arch, on the window side, achievements of Isis and Osiris are portrayed. Near the window, 1) the marriage of Isis and Osiris; 2) to the right, Osiris teaching humans the art of tilling; 3) over the window,the cultivation of the grape vine; 4) over the entrance door, the apple harvest. Opposite the window, up, to the right: 1) the death of Osiris; 2) the finding of his body; 3) the apparition of Apis after the death of Osiris; 4) Apis being carried in triumph (SV 19).

Page URL:  http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AAppartamento_borgia%2C_sala_dei_santi%2C_episodi_del_mito_di_iside_e_osiride_02.jpg
Attribution: [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Above: The section of the ceiling vault with the Apis bull myth

With a last interesting comment about the Disputa, Sladen turns to the decoration of the ceiling vault:
. . . the Disputa of St. Catherine, which Ricci, with Italian cynicism, suggests may have been selected by the Pope because she was the protectress of illegitimate children, and, as such, of great importance to him. It is more certain that the subject was chosen because St. Catherine came from Alexandria, and his name was Alexander. The Pope had the ceiling of this very room decorated with the superbly painted story of Isis and Osiris, because it pleased him to identify the Bull Apis with the ox of the Borgias. This wonderful ceiling is so rich and beautiful that it is almost impossible to look into it properly. Your eyes lose themselves in the richness of the general effect, as they do when you are inspecting a rich Byzantine paliotto. But the details are exquisite; the child figures especially are purely lovely. All sorts of scenes will be recognized, from the marriage of Isis and Osiris, in the orthodox Christian fashion, to David and Goliath, and Judith and Holofernes [see below]. Ricci draws attention to the beautiful figure of a putto riding a swan, and to the representation of little field industries, such as ploughing and the culture of apples, which Osiris taught, given at the sides of his temple. The most striking subject is the hewing of Osiris to pieces. The ox in a litter, shaped like a temple, and carried upon the shoulders of four men, is the triumph of Osiris changed into the god Apis. Very much of this glorification of the Borgia ox is from the hand of the great master [Pinturicchio] himself, and its splendour is almost inconceivable; in fact, some of the little pictures contained in it are among the most beautiful creations of Pinturicchio, who was one of the most prodigal creators of beauty (DBWS 439-40).
From Paul Letrouilly, Le Vatican, 1882
Above: David doing a contrapposto on the head of Goliath, and Judith displaying her Holofernic trophy

The floor tiles, designed after the originals, are laid in rectangular divisions. Some have rhombic patterns of crossed foliage, blue upon white, whereas others have “studs” in the centre with lines around them. Each quadrangle is bordered by small squares with green foliage (SV 19-20).

Page URL: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AAppartamento_borgia%2C_02.JPG
Attribution: I, Sailko [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Above: The majolica (ceramic) tiles in the Sala dei Santi


DBWS:           Douglas Brooke Wheelton Sladen: The Secrets of the Vatican, London: Hurst and Blackett, 1907. http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Secrets_of_the_Vatican

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

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