Page 1

“Beauty that Leads to Faith” Dr. Barbara Jatta on the Vatican Museums, Pandemic, and the Celebration of Raphael The 2021 Keeley Vatican Lecture April 28, 2021


The Keeley Vatican Lecture, 2021 “Beauty that Leads to Faith”: Dr. Barbara Jatta on the Vatican Museums, Pandemic, and the Celebration of Raphael BY GRÁINNE MCEVOY

The Nanovic Institute for European Studies was honored to welcome Dr. Barbara Jatta, director of the Vatican Museums, to deliver the 2021 Keeley Vatican Lecture. Although the global pandemic prevented an in-person event, as with the museums’ modified celebrations of the Italian Renaissance artist Raphael, Dr. Jatta enriched the audience’s virtual experience with an exquisite exhibition of beauty, creativity, and inspiration. In his introduction, Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., president of the University of Notre Dame, welcomed Dr. Jatta with great personal joy. He described her as “an art historian of the first rank...an uncommonly adept and capable leader, who combines remarkable expertise in her field, unyielding zeal for excellence, and a graciousness and kindness that can make anyone in her presence feel like a friend.” He outlined her career trajectory, including her work as an art historian and sought-after instructor and mentor, to her current role overseeing hundreds of curators, archivists, and restorers, with responsibility for some of civilizations’ priceless and most beautiful works of art. Referring to an interview with Vogue magazine in 2018, which highlighted Jatta’s path-breaking appointment as the first female director of the Vatican Museums, Jenkins highlighted her description of the art that she stewards and shares with the public as “beauty that leads to faith.”

A System of Museums Jatta’s lecture was an extended demonstration of how the Vatican Museums adapted to the restrictions imposed by the coronavirus pandemic using the example of the celebrations surrounding the “Sanzio year,” the 500 year anniversary of the death of Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino (1483-1520).

Nanovic Institute for European Studies | Keough School of Global Affairs | University of Notre Dame


Beauty that Leads to Faith

The museums’ mission is to “make known, preserve and share that extraordinary legacy of culture, history, beauty and faith that the Roman Pontiffs have collected and preserved for centuries.” Pursuit of that mission, Jatta explained, was challenged, but not scuppered by the global lockdown. Jatta opened with an overview of the Vatican Museums, as a way to exhibit the centrality of Raphael’s work and legacy to the papal collection. A system of museums, rather than a single unit, the Vatican Museums have been developed over five centuries through “constantly evolving cultural orientations, aesthetic choices, museological and museographic criteria.” This composite group of buildings is a mixture of those originally conceived as museum spaces and others that have been adapted, all thanks to the intelligence and receptivity of a series of popes, cardinals, bishops, and their lay advisors. The collections range across human history, from Egyptian, Greek, and ancient Roman art, through masterpieces from the medieval and modern periods by Giotto, Caravaggio, Van Gogh, and, of course, Michelangelo.

The Master of Urbino The 2020 Sanzio Year celebration of Raphael was envisioned as a fabulous celebration of an individual whose faculties of beauty, harmony, taste, and creativity have, for hundreds of years, inspired generations of painters, sculptures, creators, and architects. Raphael, Jatta says, “was a universal artist who provided the supreme model of beauty and purity to western civilization,” and for centuries, she noted, it was his work, not that of Michaelangelo, that attracted scholars and admirers of art to the Vatican. Recognizing this legacy, the celebration of 500 years of Raphael was designed to be an immersive experience, one that impressed upon visitors his centrality to the papal collections. This included the sculptures of Raphael and Michaelangelo positioned imposingly above the galleries’ entrance, a piece commissioned by Pope Pius XI when the collection was opened to the general public after the Lateran Treaties in 1929, and the image of Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle displayed on entrance tickets, a portion of perhaps his most famous fresco, The School of Athens (1509-1511).

Nanovic Institute for European Studies | Keough School of Global Affairs | University of Notre Dame

3


Beauty that Leads to Faith

Jatta gave an overview of how the Master of Urbino was brought into the Vatican and became so central to the papal collection. Raphael spent 12 years at the Vatican before his sudden death in 1520 at the age of 37, a period that Jatta described as a “very happy moment for the arts.” The patronage of Popes Julius II (1502-1513) and Leo X (1513-1521) was decisive in cultivating a contemporary presence of highly refined artistic personalities, from artists and writers to philosophers and theologians. It was during this time that Raphael left his mark on the Vatican. Leo X, son of Lorenzo de’ Medici, appointed Raphael to multiple roles: as artist charged with the completion of a series of tapestries, or visual catechesis, representing the Acts of the Apostles for a major chapel in the apostolic palace, the Sistine Chapel; as architect on a new basilica; and as lead excavator and conservationist of antiquities scattered around the city of Rome that belonged to the papacy. These three roles—artist, architect, and conservator—Jatta explained, “made Raphael a Master of art, in a wide sense, in this very sophisticated time for the [papal] court.”

The “Sanzio” Year Turning to the planned celebrations for the Sanzio Year, Jatta reiterated that “it is necessary to come to the Vatican to realize the universal value of the great Master of Urbino.” Museum staff began preparations in 2018, mapping out a series of in-house exhibitions and national and international collaborations all devoted to Raphael’s art and legacy. In October 2019, the celebrations began as planned, with an exhibition in the papal summer residence at Castel Gandolfo of beautiful Renaissance plates related to Raphaelesque models and iconographies. Two additional exhibitions, of the recomposed Decemviri Altarpiece in the Pinacoteca Vaticana and of the celebrated and restored Acts of the Apostles tapestries in the Sistine Chapel, also opened as scheduled and to larger than expected numbers of visitors. Then, in March 2020, pandemia arrived in Italy. Amidst the shock and grief of those early days, Jatta recalled traveling to the museum through a silent, empty city, scenes as terrifying as they were dramatic. The Vatican Museums remained closed for three months, but Jatta made the decision

Nanovic Institute for European Studies | Keough School of Global Affairs | University of Notre Dame

4


Beauty that Leads to Faith

to reopen again in June, with a focus on the celebrations of Raphael as a way to convey a message of positivity through beauty and art. A highlight of this reopening was the new installation in Room VIII of the Pinacoteca Vaticana: three major altarpieces, including the restored Coronation of the Virgin (1502-3), Madonna of Foligno (1511-1512), and Transfiguration (1520), and the restored tapestries, now displayed with a new, highly sophisticated lighting system. A number of pieces are also displayed in Napoleonic-era gilded wood frames that were recently discovered in storage; the initial pandemic lockdown provided an opportunity for their restoration. Despite a second lockdown towards the end of 2020, the museums have pressed on with preparing other projects planned for the Sanzio Year. This includes restoration of the Courtyard of the Bramante and the reopening of Constantine Hall, which has been undergoing restoration since 2014. This was the last major and more public hall conceived and begun by Raphael before his sudden death in 1520. Within this depiction of the Victory of Constantine the Great, restoration has revealed that two figures, Comitas and Iustitia, were painted by Raphael himself using oil directly on the wall, rather than in fresco like the rest of the painting. This is an exciting discovery, not evident in existing documents, of the more delicate technique that the master likely intended to be used for the entire piece.

Looking to the Future Jatta concluded her lecture with some thoughts on the future of the Vatican Museums, given the experience of this year of pandemic. In terms of in-person visitors, she laments that we won’t see the familiar lines outside the museums’ entrance, both because of public reticence and a need to limit admissions. In 2020, the museums suffered an 82% decline in the number of visitors, especially from outside of Italy, and this trend is continuing in 2021. However, Jatta is determined to rethink and restart, and find new ways to pursue the museums’ mission. This includes expanding some of the virtual programming launched during the pandemic year, such as the online exhibition of the museums’ historical photographic archive.

Nanovic Institute for European Studies | Keough School of Global Affairs | University of Notre Dame

5


Beauty that Leads to Faith

A focus on exhibiting existing collections and pieces will also define this next phase in the museums’ work. While she insists that no digital experience can substitute the transcendence of an in-person encounter, Jatta wants to use all tools at her disposal to pursue the museums’ mission to “make known, preserve and share” its collections, in spite of the pandemic.

Question & Answer Session Dr. Jatta’s lecture provoked far more questions than the allotted time allowed. These included questions about Jatta’s career trajectory, the connection between beauty and faith, showcasing the work of female artists, using beauty to reach the minds and hearts of students, and the ethical dilemma around repatriating artwork collected from other parts of the world. One attendee asked if Jatta and her team considered how the prevalence of plague at the time of Raphael’s life and premature death might have resonance in the current moment. Jatta said that they did note the connection and realized the need to be sensitive to marking the master’s death (which may not have been due to viral infection) and so decided to reopen in June 2020 in a spirit of celebration and welcome. The Nanovic Institute expresses sincere gratitude to Dr. Jatta for her wonderful lecture, and to all of those who attended and enlivened the discussion. The Keeley Vatican Lecture, facilitated annually by the Nanovic Institute for European Studies, seeks to connect Notre Dame and the Vatican. Established in 2005 through the generous support of Terrence R. Keeley ’81, lecturers typically spend several days on campus, joining classes, celebrating Mass with students and conversing with faculty members.

See also: Hamish Bowles, “Meet Barbara Jatta, the First Woman Director of the Vatican Museums,” Vogue, February 13, 2018, https://www.vogue.com/article/barbara-jatta-interview-voguemarch-2018-issue.

Nanovic Institute for European Studies | Keough School of Global Affairs | University of Notre Dame

6

Profile for Nanovic Institute for European Studies

Nanovic Institute Event Brief: “Beauty that Leads to Faith”  

An event summary of the 2021 Keeley Vatican Lecture hosted by the Nanovic Institute for European Studies, Keough School of Global Affairs, U...

Nanovic Institute Event Brief: “Beauty that Leads to Faith”  

An event summary of the 2021 Keeley Vatican Lecture hosted by the Nanovic Institute for European Studies, Keough School of Global Affairs, U...

Profile for nanovicnd

Recommendations could not be loaded

Recommendations could not be loaded

Recommendations could not be loaded

Recommendations could not be loaded