I saw this article and immediately, with much excitement, ordered the book. We have seen the most famous pieces. The Vatican collection is massive though. Of the many books on the Vatican art collections, I have not seen one with ALL of the Old Master paintings, reproduced so well andaffordable. I base the quality on the images below. I am giddy.
A book by Anja Grebe celebrates the stunning art collection of the Vatican by featuring every Old Master painting on display. “The Vatican: All The Paintings” also includes images of sculptures, maps, and tapestries which span centuries of artistic genius.
If geography is destiny, it is only appropriate that the Vatican Museums hold one of the world’s greatest art collections. Home to masterpieces by Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, and Titian, the Vatican has always been a place sacred to the arts. The poetic and creative impulses of the hill beside the Tiber are revealed in its name: The ancient Romans called this modest eminence the Mons Vaticanus, a reference to the poets and seers, or vates, who dwelled there. For many centuries, popes, cardinals, and the religious orders were responsible for the realization of dozens of masterpieces. So many of the treasures in the collections of the Vatican Museums—gorgeously reproduced in Black Dog & Leventhal’s The Vatican: All the Paintings and clearly described by Anja Grebe—depict a vibrant and vivid view into a world of beauty and faith. Walking through the Vatican, or turning the pages of the book, we get an incomparable lesson in the history of art and a profound impression of the skill and passion of the artists, and of their wonderful “force of mind.”
— Introduction by Ross King, author of Brunelleschi’s Dome and Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling
- 1 Leonardo da Vinci: Pinacoteca, St. Jerome
- 2 Giotto: Pinacoteca, Stefaneschi Polyptych
- 3 Pietro Perugino: Pinacoteca, Sala VII, Madonna and Child with Saints
- 4 Pinturicchio: Borgia Apartments, The Annunciation
- 5 Raphael: Raphael Rooms, The School of Athens
- 6 Michelangelo: The Sistine Chapel, The Last Judgement (detail with Jesus, Mary, and Saints)
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Leonardo da Vinci: Pinacoteca, St. Jerome
This panel of St. Jerome is one of Leonardo da Vinci’s more enigmatic works. It was painted around 1482, the year Leonardo moved from Florence to the ducal court in Milan. It is not known why the highly innovative picture was never finished. It may be that the work failed to meet with the approval of a possible patron or that Leonardo’s own perfectionism led him to abandon it. From a contemporary point of view, the work is fascinating precisely because of its sketch-like state, as this affords an insight into Leonardo’s painting method. The work was only identified in the early nineteenth century—by the painter Angelica Kaufmann—as the work of Leonardo. It was acquired by Pius IX for the Pinacoteca Vaticana in 1856.
Me: This is fantastic! I love da Vinci’s drawings – see post, so seeing a sketch transform into a fully rendered work is an exciting opportunity. Having a quality image of the detail is so much the better.
Giotto: Pinacoteca, Stefaneschi Polyptych
The Stefaneschi Polyptych is one of the oldest works in the Pinacoteca. It is closely tied to the history of the Vatican. The Florentine painter Giotto di Bondone completed this richly gilded double-sided work between 1320 and 1330 for the high altar of Old St. Peter’s. The polyptych was commissioned by Cardinal Jacopo Caetani Stefaneschi (ca. 1270–1343), whom Giotto portrays at the feet of St. Peter’s throne holding a detailed model of the altar on which the donor himself can be seen. This likeness is regarded as one of the first realistic portraits in the history of painting.
Me: I encountered Giotto by chance scouring through a book in high school, many years ago. He became an instant favorite. I favor transitional pieces in art, history and music. He represents a striking, startling, break from Medieval art. A precursor to the High Renaissance. He rendered life-like figures, as individuals, with volume occupying space and depth of space – elements of perspective. Yet his work is still remnisent of the Middle Ages. And gorgeous.
Pietro Perugino: Pinacoteca, Sala VII, Madonna and Child with Saints
The “Madonna and Child with Saints” is one of Pietro Perugino’s most beautiful paintings. Especially stunning is the virtuoso rendering of the sumptuous fabrics. Each figure is given an individual, almost portrait-like expression. The artist proudly signed his masterpiece on the footrest underneath the Madonna.
Me: A couple of notes. An incredible and influential Early Renaissance painter. Raphael studied under him. He was one of the first Italian painters to use oil on canvas. He has famous pieces on the walls of the Sistine Chapel.
Pinturicchio: Borgia Apartments, The Annunciation
The first room Borgia Apartments, the Room of the Mysteries of Faith, is decorated with scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary. The Annunciation of the Birth of Christ is the first in the sequence. Pinturicchio has painted the event, which according to the Gospel of St. Luke occurred in Mary’s house, in a palatial Renaissance-style interior closed off at the back by an architectural element resembling a triumphal arch. The Annunciation itself takes place in the foreground of this rigorously symmetrical fresco. Mary, wearing a blue mantle, kneels on the right and offers a humble gesture of greeting to the angel, who approaches her from the left holding a lily.
Me: Notes. Find some of his best work around Rome. Opulent and elegant. He was student of Perugino, and a contemporary of Raphael.
Raphael: Raphael Rooms, The School of Athens
One of the most famous paintings in the Raphael Rooms is the School of Athens representing philosophy and science, disciplines in which Raphael includes painting and architecture. It is in part an homage to some of the most important artists and scholars active at the papal court at the beginning of the sixteenth century, most importantly the architect Bramante, to whom Raphael owed his recommendation to Julius II. This painting, whose sophisticated perspective opens up a deep vista in the small room, represents an idealized gathering of scholars and artists from the classical world, the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance, and constitutes one of Raphael’s greatest achievements.
Michelangelo: The Sistine Chapel, The Last Judgement (detail with Jesus, Mary, and Saints)
Michelangelo’s enormous painting unites some 390 persons around the central Christ figure, and almost all are naked. The work depicts the resurrection of the dead and their separation into the saved and the damned. While the saved souls ascend to heaven on Christ’s right-hand side, the side of the “just,” the damned descend to hell on his left. The nude figures, particularly the saints, offended many of Michelangelo’s contemporaries. The stern theologians at the Council of Trent denounced the fresco and commissioned painter Daniele da Volterra to paint vestments and fig leaves over some of the naked figures in 1565, a year after Michelangelo died. These alterations were reversed during the chapel’s restoration.
Me: I am not a fan of Michelangelo’s paintings. But the Sistine Chapel as a whole is breathtaking and overwhelming. Incredible. I spent many hours as a kid with his paintings – copying nudes for drawings. His nudes are very bulky, masses of flexed muscle, and imposing (distracting) – both male and female. Female nudes look like men with grape fruits on their chests. The nudes are rendered beautifully. Clearly he is a master, but sculpture is where his vision is best realized.