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Cappella di Urbano VIII is a 17th century papal chapel in the Apostolic Palace of the Vatican.

History Edit

The chapel is one of a series of private chapels in the Vatican Palace, used in turn as this pope or that moved the Papal Apartments (the suite where the pope actually sleeps) from one part of the palace to another.

So, it is a predecessor of the present Cappella Privata del Papa.

The ranges around the so-called Cortile del Papagallo to the east of the Cappella Sistina constitute the original 15th century core of the Palace, which was rebuilt after the Avignon Captivity came to an end in 1377. Before the Captivity, the popes lived at the Lateran Palace but that had fallen into ruin during their absence in France.

The word pappagallo attracts very old jokes -it means "parrot", but can also mean "wolf" or "piss-pot".

What are now called the Raphael Rooms were created as a new residential suite for Pope Julius II (1503-13) on the third floor of the north range fronting the Cortile. However, it was Pope Urban VIII over a century later who ordered a small ordinary room adjacent to the suite to be properly fitted out as a chapel, in 1631.

The fresco work was by the Florentine artist Alessandro Vaiani, assisted by his better known daughter Anna Maria Vaiani. It used to be attributed to Pietro da Cortona, who did provide the extant altarpiece which replaced a work by Vaiani.

Some time in the later 19th century, the walls were covered with what the Italians call corami, which are panels equivalent to wallpaper except made of very fine leather. These were scavenged in a refitting of some other part of the palace, but the work was unrecorded so the original provenance is unknown.

When the little church of San Filippo Neri a Via Giulia was deconsecrated and gutted, one of its altar frontals was installed for the altar here.

The corami wall coverings suffered decay, and also damage from being rubbed by visitors. Hence, they were removed in 2005 for conservation. However, a restoration programme was entered into in 2012 under the supervision of the architect Michelangelo Lupo. This involved a new lighting system (the chapel lacks windows), a renewal of the corami and the provision for them of clear plastic shielding to avoid contact from visitors.

Fabric Edit

This used to be a very ordinary room, measuring about five by four and a half metres. It is not perfectly rectangular -the angles are slightly wonky. The dimensions make it obviously that the chapel was intended as the place where the resident pope could say a purely private Mass, being able to shuffle there and back without having to walk very far.

There is one large door in the far end of the left hand side wall for the pope, and two smaller doors in the right hand wall for his ministers to join him. The former is recessed at the end of a very short passage, because it is in a thick load-bearing wall. The latter have a pair of identical simply molded marble door-cases.

The floor is patterned in a grid of black marble, surrounding an array of little rectangles in grey-veined white marble. The axis of this arrangement is diagonal to the major axis of the chapel, and the effect is quite striking. The main floor pattern is separated from the walls by a band of grey marble, and the same stone is used for a low wall dado.

The walls are all covered by corami in very fine calfskin leather, bearing an endlessly repeated grotesque device in vertical strips, in gold on a blue background.

There is a very ornate Baroque vault. Each side has a segmental central lunette taking up half the width, and this sits on an entablature running round the entire interior. From the corners of the lunettes, a pair of ribs run up to meet at an angle at the midpoint of one side of a central vault panel. This arrangement divides the vault into eight zones, four triangular ones over the lunettes and four wide diagonal strips.

The altar fits snugly into a recess below the far lunette, and the cornice is also recessed to match. The lunette here is a window, the only one that the chapel has. There is no altar aedicule, instead the wall on either side of the recess is itself slightly recessed to give the impression of a pair of pilasters. The window lunette above is provided with an ornate archivolt, a feature that the other lunettes lack.

The stucco work in the vault and altar niche is very good. It is in gold and white.

Artworks Edit

Altar recess Edit

The altar frontal is in very fine pietra dura work but is not original, having come from the deconsecrated church of San Filippo Neri a Via Giulia. The mensa is in yellow marble.

The "pilasters" flanking the recess each have three panels on their front and side faces. The six facing out have grotesquerie in gold on white, each panel having a different pattern. The six facing each other have charming bas-relief figures in white, representing allegorical virtues (unfortunately, the bottom two have hand their faces vandalized). Two more such figures are in the intrados of the lunette arch, flanking the Dove of the Holy Spirit.

The large altarpiece painting by Pietro da Cortona (1635) depicts The Deposition, and features Our Lady, SS Mary Magdalen and John and also Nicodemus in the background. Its molded frame, with a winged putto's head at the top, fits snugly into the niche.

The front of the archivolt has five further separate panels of grotesquerie.

Vault Edit

The winged putto's head just mentioned intrudes into the vault entablature, which runs round the chapel ahd features a repeated stylized acanthus device on its frieze. The thin architrave has simple beading, but the cornice has egg-and-dart molding.

The other three lunettes have frescoes by Vaiani, and depict The Flagellation, The Crowning with Thorns and The Veil of Veronica.

The triangular vault compartments above the lunettes each have a round tondo fresco, and the wide strip compartments above the corners each have a square fresco panel. These depict putti holding The Instruments of the Passion. The square ones are topped by little split segmental pediments with little masks. The latter also top the tondi.

In the corners of the vault, below the square panels, are four shields depicting the heraldic bees of the Barberini family (Pope Urban was one of them), supported by high-relief putti.

The square crowning vault panel depicts The Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Access Edit

This chapel is part of the Museum circuit, and you get to it after passing through the Raphael Rooms. Many visitors hurry through, which is a pity -although understandable, given the quantity of things already seen and to be seen.

External links Edit

Vatican Museums web-page

Michelangelo Lupo web-page

Youtube video

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