Friday, 23 March 2012

Borgia Apartments: Sala delle Sibille

VI. Sala delle Sibille (Hall of the Sibyls in the Torre Borgia) (JB 69)

Length: 8,52 m; width: 7,16 m (SV 28).
 1. Baruch and the Samian Sibyl.
2. Zechariah and the Persian Sibyl.
3. Abdias (Obadiah) and the Libyan Sibyl.
4. Isaiah and the Hellespontine Sibyl.
5. Micah and the Tiburtine Sibyl.

There is a window to the right of the entrance with two seats on a raised step. Only remnants of old decoration remain in the arch, and the current designs in black and white chiaroscuro (representing fancy and mythology) have been copied from a room in the loggie (SV 28-30).

To the left of the entrance door (casing and arch painted in simple colours) is a fireplace (the mantelpiece is in sculptured marble) and, still further to the left, a door (finished in 15th century-style walnut) that leads to stairs rising from the Borgia Court to the tower’s summit. (Originally, a door opposite to the entrance led to the library but was walled up during the 1897 restoration. The walls were then decorated with a brocade imitation canvas on dark-green ground copied from a piece in Bosnia.) (SV 28-29).

The vaulted ceiling, which resembles that of the Sala del Credo, has a large square in the middle bearing Alexander VI’s arms. This square is flanked by stucco medallions and octagons decorated with gilt relief on polychrome ground (SV 28-29)
Paul Letarouilly, Le Vatican, 1882
Above: The designs of the central ceiling panel

Small pilasters mark off the walls into rectangles below the lunettes. Borgia devices are included in the designs on the pilasters. The corner ones have no designs except the Borgia devices in the centres, tops and bottoms (SV 28).

There are three lunettes on each side of the room, each depicting a sibyl and a prophet. Opposite the window (left of the entrance) are 1) Baruch and the Samian Sibyl; 2) Zechariah and the Persian Sibyl; 3) Abdias (Obadiah) and the Libyan Sibyl. Opposite the entrance: 4) Isaiah and the Hellespontine Sibyl; 5) Micah and the Tiburtine Sibyl; 6) Ezekiel and the Cimmerian Sibyl. Over the window: 7) Jeremiah and the Phrygian Sibyl; 8) Hosea with the Delphic Sibyl; 9) Daniel and the Erythraean Sibyl. Over the entrance: 10) Aggeus (Haggai) with the Cumaean Sibyl; 11) Amos and the Sibyl of Europe; 12) Jeremiah and the Sibyl of Aggripeum (SV 29).

The pairing of prophets with sibyls arose from "an old belief that links the sibyls (prophetesses of the Greco-Roman tradition) with the Old Testament prophets in a common expectation of the Messiah. In the octagonal panels are the astrological symbols of the seven major planets, much damaged and repainted" (DRC(b) 104).

1. Baruch and the Samian Sibyl.
2. Zechariah and the Persian Sibyl.
3. Abdias (Obadiah) and the Libyan Sibyl.
4. Isaiah and the Hellespontine Sibyl.
5. Micah and the Tiburtine Sibyl.
6. Ezekiel and the Cimmerian Sibyl.
7. Jeremiah and the Phrygian Sibyl.
8. Hosea with the Delphic Sibyl.
9. Daniel and the Erythraean Sibyl.
10. Aggeus (Haggai) with the Cumaean Sibyl.
11. Amos and the Sibyl of Europe.
12. Jeremiah and the Sibyl of Aggripeum.

Above the lunettes are roundels depicting (near the corners) Isis, Osiris and the Apis bull, or (in the middle) the Borgia devices. In the triangles of the pendants are scenes with Astronomy observing the seven greater planets: Opposite the window, left, is the Moon favouring fishers; right, Mercury encouraging commerce; “over against the entrance, Venus inspiring conjugal love” and Apollo dividing honours; over the window: Jove leading the chase, Saturn protecting the forlorn “and Astronomy studying nature in all the planets”. This was completed by Bonfiglio after Pinturicchio’s designs (SV 29-30).

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Attribution: [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
 Above: The northwest corner of the Hall of Sibyls

The floor tiles follow the pattern of the original remnants in white, green and black chequer work (SV 30).
In her biography of Lucrezia Borgia, Rachel Erlanger says that after the attack on Alfonso of Aragon, Duke of Bisceglie, Lucrezia's husband, he was taken to the Borgia Tower where he was cared for by Lucrezia and his sister, Sancia of Aragon. It was therefore in this room that he was murdered on 18 August 1500 (RE 134-36).

So at the one end of the wing of the Old Papal Palace containing the Borgia Apartments you find the Sala dei Pontefici where Pope Alexander VI almost died when the ceiling collapsed on him, and at the other end you find the Sala delle Sibille where the prophets and sibyls tranquilly looked on while the young Duke Alfonso di Bisceglie was being strangled on Cesare Borgia's orders. It was also in the Hall of Sybils, ironically, that Pope Julius II held Cesare Borgia captive  in 1503 (DRC(b) 104) before he was allowed to leave for Ostia, Naples, Spain, and his doom.


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.

RE:  Rachel Erlanger: Lucrezia Borgia: A Biography. New York: Hawthorne Books Inc, 1978.

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

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