Artists of the Vatican City

Throughout its rich history, the walls of the Vatican City have been lavishly decorated with artwork from master painters, sculptors and architects. The Renaissance era saw the beginning of the golden age for Italy, with many of the Popes wanting to rebuild the Eternal city of Rome back to that of its glory days. This meant that an influx of artists, sculptors and architects were ripe in predominantly the cities of Rome and Florence, creating masterful works that would live on to shape the cities we now love and admire. These prized possessions each represent some of the best work to come out of their relevant art periods and historical eras, and while much artwork in the Vatican is varied, there are a few who stand out above the rest due to their incomparable style of painting or sculpting. So who were the masters behind these iconic works?

Michelangelo

Michelangelo Buonarroti was born in 1475, Florence, and was considered one of the greatest Renaissance artists of his time, being the first of his kind to have a biography written about him while he was still alive. A man of many talents, Michelangelo was a sculptor, painter, architect and poet, however he considered sculpting, predominately with marble, to be his main line of work. He is known for arguably the greatest marble sculpture in the world; the statue of David, sculpted at Michelangelo’s young age of 26 who was immensely proud of his sculpting of the piece.
He is best remembered for his meticulous and inspiring frescoes located in the Sistine Chapel of the Vatican City. Whilst initially Michelangelo balked at the idea, under the influence and encouragement from Pope Sixtus IV, he spent 4 years of his life perfecting his technique, leaving the painting of God until the very last so that he could portray him without error. His frescoes in the Sistine Chapel remain extremely reverent as it is the room in which all new Popes are elected by the conclave. Today, over 5 million people annually visit the Sistine Chapel to marvel at his impeccable work that leave tourists awestruck.

Raphael

The frescoes of the Raphael Rooms are to date some of the most visited rooms in the Vatican. Painted by Raphael in 1508 under the patronage of Pope Julius II, these frescoes are amongst the most recognised of his works found in a series of 4 rooms in the Apostolic Palace. Born in 1483 in Urbino to a wealthy merchant family, Raphael lives a short life till only the age of 37 years old but still contributes greatly to the Renaissance period. When Raphael moves to Florence, the living heart and soul of the Renaissance period, he encounters two of his rivals Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, the three we know now to be masters of that period.

His last and most iconic painting; ‘Transfiguration’ was supposed to be sent to France however after his untimely death it was kept by a cardinal in Rome. It can be seen today in the Vatican Museums, also notably the final stop of the grand funeral procession of the artist after his death. The procession was one of the largest of its kind as Raphael was a popular and likeable figure during his life. At the time of death, his workspace was a warehouse of sorts, with over 50 apprentices under his tutelage there.

Caravaggio

Born on the feast day of archangel Michael, Caravaggio was born Michelangelo Merisi in 1571. By the age of 5 years old, the bubonic plague had begun its rampage around Europe, taking most of his family by the age of 11 years old. This may be in part the reason why the artist was so hot headed with a fiery temper. His interest in violent and bloody biblical scenes led to many of his paintings being dramatic and realistic. The Beheading of St. John the Baptist for example, is a prime example of his raw and tension filled work. He was known to work quickly, sometimes finishing paintings in 2 weeks, and rarely did preliminary drawings, meaning he went straight to canvas. His greatest work; The Deposition is housed in the Pinacoteca of the Vatican and depicts the moment in which Jesus is laid on the Anointing Stone.

Although not the first to use chiaroscuro, he was a prominent figure in bringing this style of painting to the surface, having mastered the skills of juxtaposing shadows and light. At the height of his success, he kills a man in a violent brawl and becomes a fugitive, heading to Malta where he again gets into a dispute, this time at the Conventual Church of St. John. After this incident he is continuously on the run, going from place to place before he finally secures a Papal pardon and attempts to journey back to Rome. He dies soon later but his memory is resurrected in the 50’s by an exhibition portraying his work that thrusts him back into the limelight. His baroque style of painting, and realism is remembered today for his audacious and intense use of chiaroscuro.

Bernini

A master of the Baroque style, Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini was born in Naples in 1598 and was influenced early on by antique Greek and Roman statues found in the Vatican. He adopted his passion for the arts by his father who was a Mannerist sculptor of some notability. He was the lead sculptor of his time, and notably sculpted many of the statues in the Borghese Gallery in the Vatican. During his youth, he was pinned to be the next Michelangelo of his generation, this proving to be true. Many of Rome’s churches, fountains and piazzas are the work of Bernini.
A devout Roman Catholic, he was encouraged by Pope Urban VIII to study architecture, going on to design the throne of St. Peter as well as St. Peter’s Basilica itself. Over time, he becomes leading architect of the Vatican and serves 8 Popes during his lifetime. In true Re He is remembered as the father of the Baroque movement for his pioneering dramatic sculptures that paved the way for other artists in the movement after him.

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