The Pauline Chapel Historical Events


The Pauline Chapel was built during the works of renovation around the Sala Regia commissioned by Pope Paul III (Farnese, 1534-1549). These renovation works lead to the demolition of the Chapel of St. Nicholas and the construction of the “Staircase of the Maresciallo”.

The construction of the new sacellum (small chapel), which began in 1537 and was based on the project of Antonio da Sangallo il Giovane, was meant to serve the very same functions as the previous chapel and would be located not on the east side as before, but on the south side of the Sala Regia. The works must have been almost completed by November 1538 because on All Saints day Mass was celebrated in the “Cappella Noviter Erecta”. The Pauline Chapel, as still today, had a rectangular plan, covered by a vault “a schifo,” followed by a more narrow rectangular room which was covered with a barrel-vault and destined to become the presbytery with the altar.

The commission given to Michelangelo to decorate the new chapel must have been contemporary to the finishing of The Last Judgement in the Sistine Chapel. The artist first painted the Conversion of Saint Paul between the end of 1542 and July, 1545. The works for the Crucifixion of Saint Peter began immediately after the completion of the Conversion of Saint Paul and ended in March of 1550.

The iconographic program of the Chapel, was most certainly suggested in part by the Pope himself and it is possible that originally it was different than the present one. In fact, Vasari in his first edition of “Lives of the painters,” wrote about a Consignment of the Keys, and not about the Crucifixion of St. Peter. Thus it could be — unless the Aretino made a mistake — that the original theme for the frescoes was the “call” of the two Princes of the Apostles.

The glass in the windows was completed in 1543 by Pastorino, while Perin del Vaga was commissioned in 1542 to decorate the vault with stuccoes.

The final appearance of the Pauline Chapel after the interventions of Perin del Vaga and Michelangelo is unclear and it is particularly uncertain if the decorations were even completely finished.

L’abbellimento della appella riprese con The The embellishing of the Chapel started again with Gregory XIII (Boncompagni, 1572-1585) who, in 1573 sought the advice of Vasari for a new iconographic program, but which was never carried out. However, the second phase of the decoration started during the same year when Lorenzo Sabatini painted the Stoning of St. Stephen, the Healing of Saint Paul in the house of Anania and the The Fall of Simon Mago, which were all completed by the end of 1577, the same year as the death of the artist. Between 1580 and 1585 Federico Zuccari and some helpers finished the decorations by painting the Baptism of the Centurion and replacing the ceiling decoration with the fifteen Stories of St. Peter and of St. Paul.

Until the papacy of Leo XIII (Pecci, 1878-1903), the intervention of Pope Paul V (Borghese, 1605-1621) in the Chapel was testified to by the presence of his large papal coat of arms on the floor. These renovations must have focussed primarily on the altar area and been connected to the works done by Maderno for the façade of Saint Peter as well as to the construction of the new Bell Tower next to the Apostolic Palace. In fact, some documents clearly acknowledge that the walls of the Pauline Chapel were also affected by the new façade.

Nei due ecoli successivi sono During During the next two centuries, restorations are documented during the papacy of Alexander VIII (Ottoboni,1689-1691), possibly in order to repair damages caused by a fire while another three minor restorations occurred in the XVIII Century. To Clement XI (Albani, 1700-1721) we attribute the construction and embellishment of the wooden structure or “machina” of the 40 hours devotion for the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament which covered the area of the altar. In 1741, Pope Benedict XIV (Lambertini, 1740-1758) commissioned Domenico Spolia “restorer of paintings and stuccoes” the complete restoration of the Chapel. Another intervention, probably more limited, must have been done in 1786 by the “figurative painter” Bernardino Nocchi who was paid for the “restorations of paintings and frescoes in the Pauline Chapel and in the Sala Regia.”

The Nineteenth Century was characterized by two very important restorations: the first one was commissioned by Pope Gregory XVI (Cappellari, 1831-1846) and focussed not only on the paintings and stuccoes, but also on the altar area where the “bella machina” was removed along with its entire wooden apparatus. As a result, the wall behind the altar was renovated with a magnificent marble tabernacle to keep the Blessed Sacrament, four granite columns, and precious marbles as well as the painting The Transfiguration of Our Lord by Simone Cantarini. Pope Gregory XVI also added a “new floor of marble sections covering the presbytery, separated from the rest of the Chapel by a grate” (“L’Album”, 25th December, 1837, p.330). A commemorative marble inscription was placed on the lunette above the altar (and subsequently removed) as a testimony of these works. In 1838 the engraver Pietro Girometti made a medal representing the Pauline.

A further renovation took place during the Pontificate of Pius IX (Mastai-Ferretti 1846-1878), as the archival documents and the presence of his coat of arms in the Chapel testify. A dedicatory plaque was placed above the door before the intervention of Pope Paul VI which held the inscription “PIUS IX PONT. MAX. PAULI III SACELLUM ANTIQUAE FORMAE MAGNIFICENTIUS RESTITUIT. ORNAVIT AN. MDCCCLV”.

È nell’ambito dei lavori di PioIX During the During the works commissioned by Pius IX, the “machine of the 40 hours” was placed back in its former location. The same machine was definitely removed once again during the papacy of Leo XIII during the years of 1890-91. This renovation focussed once again on the altar wall and the floor where the architect Virgilio Vespignani replaced the coat of arms of Paul V with the coat of arms of the reigning pope. The execution of the works was given to the “marmoraro romano” Paolo Medici (a specialist in marble sculpting). Also the walls of the presbytery, which were evidently affected by the presence of the machine of the 40 hours, were newly decorated.

A complete new restoration took place in the XX Century between 1933 and 1936. The results of this restoration were presented at the Roman Pontifical Academy of Archaeology on the 12th of January 1934 by Bartolomeo Nogara, the then Director of the Vatican Museums and Biagio Biagetti, Director of the Paintings of the Holy Apostolic Palace. Furthermore, a complete photographic documentation of the frescoes by Michelangelo both of the Pauline Chapel and the Last Judgement was completed.

The restoration took place simultaneously with the one of the Last Judgement, under the direction of Biagetti and utilised the same methods. The restoration started with the Conversion of St. Paul (January 1933 — November 1933), followed by the Crucifixion of St. Peter (August 1933 — February 1934) and continued with the side frescoes of Lorenzo Sabatini and Federico Zuccari. The restoration of the decoration of the vault was continued between July 1935 and January 1936.

In 1975, during the papacy of Paul VI (Montini 1963- 1978) and after the liturgical reformation of the Vatican Council II, the last arrangement took place in the Pauline Chapel. On this occasion, the Medici Company, constructed an oval altar in yellow imperial block as well as a round base under the tabernacle of the same stone (the project was prepared by the architect Giovanni Carbonara). During this restoration the marbles of the apse were cleaned and a new commemorative plaque was placed on the entrance wall.

~ by superbowlnyc on February 23, 2011.

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