How To Take A Stroll Through Raphael's Rooms

Vatican City is known across the globe as having some of the most priceless art pieces on earth. While many of them are framed and hung in one of the numerous Vatican Museums, others are a little more permanent. Much like the iconic scene on the roof of the Sistine Chapel, the Raphael Rooms have drawn in millions of annual visitors to view these sensational works of art.

Explore the Raphael’s Rooms

Raphael’s Rooms comprise four separate rooms in the Palace of the Vatican and they formed a part of the apartment of Pope Julius II (pontiff from 1503-1513). The walls of each room are beautiful with their immense frescoes that depict a variety of religious and mythological stories. Named after the master Raphael, these rooms were designed by Raphael himself. While a large number of the artworks were painted by Raphael, many of them needed to be completed by the students of the School of Raphael, due to the artist’s unexpected death in 1520 before the completion of the rooms. The inner walls and ceilings are a symphony of exquisite artworks, each alluding to a significant aspect of the Christian faith.

The Room of Constantine

Room of Constantine

The Room of Constantine was designed to be used for receptions and official ceremonies. The artwork in this room was completed almost entirely by the School of Raphael, basing the pieces on drawings by the recently deceased artist. The room was named after the first Christian Emperor to recognize the Christian faith, Constantine, who granted freedom of worship. It also represents his struggles but also the victory of Christianity over paganism. The paintings in the room include the ‘Vision of the Cross’, the ‘Baptism of Constantine’, the ‘Battle of the Milvian Bridge’, and the ‘Donation of Constantine’.

The Room of Segnatura

Room of Segnatura

Containing some of the most famous works by Raphael, this room marks the artist’s very first involvement in the Vatican. The artworks reflect this ‘new beginning’ theme by indicating the beginning of the renaissance. The room got its name from the Segnatura Gratiae et Lustitiae, which was once the highest court of the Holy See and was headed up by the Pope. Though today it welcomes hundreds of daily visitors, it was originally used as the private office and library of Pope Julius II. When inside, try to imagine books lining the lower walls and furniture complimenting an environment of learning. The four walls reflect the four branches of human learning; philosophy, theology, poetry, and justice. One of the most famous images is the fresco which represents philosophy. In this painting, Plato and Aristotle are seen walking through a grand building discussing different theories within philosophy and surrounding them are other great thinkers such as Pythagoras, Euclid, Diogenes, and Heraclitus. With all paintings such as these, there is far more than meets the eye. A closer inspection will discover more famous figures, each positioned in such a way that contains a great deal of meaning and significance. And if you look closely enough, you will see the faces of famous painters and religious figures placed onto the people within the paintings.

The Room of Heliodorus

Room of Heliodorus

Having completed his work on the Room of Segnatura, Raphael immediately began painting the Room of Heliodorus. Originally used by the Pope for his own private audiences, the artworks in the room depict a more political angle. On one of the walls Raphael painted the story of a travelling priest who doubted that the bread and wine at mass could be turned into the body and blood of Christ. Blood then appeared on the cloth upon the altar and the construction of the Orvieto Cathedral commemorated this event. Another wall in the Room of Heliodorus focusses on St Leo the Great who stopped Attila the Hun from invading Rome. Legend says that when Pope Leo discovered that Attila was heading to Rome went to meet him. At this meeting, Saints Peter and Paul miraculously appeared with swords and Attila decided not to invade. The final two walls depict the Liberation of St Peter and the Expulsion of Heliodorus from the Temple of Rome. Pope Julius did not live to see the completion of these rooms so Raphael honoured him by including him within the paintings. In the ‘Liberation of St Peter’, the face of St Peter is that of Pope Julius.

The Room of the Fire in the Borgo

Finally, the Room of Fire takes its name from the most famous fresco within; the ‘Fire in the Borgo’. This story tells of Pope Leo IV who put out a huge fire simply by making the sign of the cross. The image is dramatic and sees people frantically trying to put out the fire and rescue those trapped within. Pope Leo calmly stands on a balcony with people praying to him from below, showing devotion and trust in their religious leader. Though it was Raphael who drew the first designs for this room, it is likely that his apprentice, Giulio Romano painted the images after Raphael’s death. The other frescoes in the room are stunning and include ‘The Coronation of Charlemagne’, the ‘Justification of Leo III’ and the ‘Battle of Ostia’. While the Room of Segnatura was named after the court of the Holy See, the Room of Fire in the Borgo was, in fact, their meeting place.

Raphael’s Rooms are undoubtedly some of the most significant attractions of the Vatican City, and a trip here would be incomplete without a chance to marvel at these spectacular murals. When wandering through the rooms, take time to inspect the figures contained within the image as each character tells a tale and sometime hides a portrait of the artists themselves.

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