Two lost Raphael paintings discovered in Vatican after 500 years
500-year-old mystery is solved! A cleaning crew made a shocking discovery during the restoration of a room inside the Vatican Museums. Two paintings executed by Renaissance artist Raphael
were hidden between other historical frescoes. The paintings didn’t fit in with the other art,
and the crew soon realized that they’d found something sensational. Experts believe these works are Raphael’s last works before the artist`s early death at the age of 37,
"It’s an amazing feeling,"
said the Vatican’s chief restorer for the project, Fabio Piacentini.
"Knowing these were probably the last things he painted, you almost feel the real presence of the maestro."
The two female figures, one depicting Justice and the other Friendship, were painted by Raphael around 1519, but he died before he could finish the rest of the room. After his death, other artists finished the wall and Raphael’s two paintings were forgotten.
These two paintings were the last pieces Raphael worked on before his death. They were hidden and blended in within the frescos that were completed after he’d passed away. With infrared technology, it was confirmed that the paintings were indeed Raphael’s and separate from the rest of the wall on which they were executed.
In 1508, Raphael had been asked by Pope Julius II to paint the walls of his private apartments. This is around the time when oil paints were first used.
The artist completed three rooms, known today as the "Raphael rooms," where he painted frescoes on the walls and ceilings using water colours on plaster (the famous frescoes "The School of Athens").
Then he began plans for the fourth room, the largest in the apartment, a banquet hall called the Hall of Constantine. His plan was to paint the room using not the traditional fresco technique, but oil.
Left: Allegory of Justice, from the Room of Constantine, Vatican Palace by Raphael.
An ancient book from 1550 by Giorgio Vasari, "Lives of the most excellent painters, sculptors and architects," attests that Raphael began work on two figures in a new experiment with oil. That clue was the key to the discovery. When restorers began to clean the walls of the Hall of Constantine in 2017, they realized two female figures were painted in oil, while the rest of the room was painted using the fresco technique.
Some of the other famous works of Raphael include the Resurrection of Christ (housed at the São Paulo Museum of Art, Brazil) and Madonna with the Blue Diadem (at the Louvre, France), which are both oil paintings on wood.
Raphael. The Resurrection of Christ (1499–1502)
Raphael. The Madonna with the Blue Diadem (1512-1518)
The experts used many techniques to find clues including making ultra-violet and infrared photos of the paintings. These two works were not like the rest, the oil painting clearly showing through in the advanced technology. To the expert eye, it was clearly Raphael for other reasons as well.
The brushwork and shading of colour can not be confused with Raphael’s signature style.
Vatican restorer Fabio Piacentini says there is a confidence in the brushwork that is typical of Raphael: "The way the paintbrush moves," Piacentini explains, "even the subtlety of the point of the brushes used to create the small wisps of hair."
Raphael also created unusual shades of color, which began to show through during the cleaning, according to Piacentini.
Left: Raphael, a fragment of the figure of Friendship in the Room of Constantine. Vatican Palace
The fact that there is no sign on these two figures of a preparatory drawing underneath, such as a lesser painter might have used, is another sign of the maestro’s hand.
Battle of Constantine against Maxentius on the Milvian Bridge, with Raphael’s figure of Justice on the far right (public domain photo by Giulio Romano)
The head of the Vatican Museums, Barbara Jatta, says restoring the Raphaels and the whole room will take them until at least the year 2022: "It's one of the most important projects of the last decades — apart from the Sistine Chapel -- done in the Vatican Museums," she says.
Although it is unlikely that there are other hidden masterpieces on the walls of the Vatican, the Museum’s restorers and scholars always keep their eyes open: "That's the beautiful thing of different projects," Jatta says. "We are still searching… it never ends."
The restoration of the two re-discovered Raphaels and the rest of the Hall of Constantine at the Vatican will last until 2022, with the estimated cost 2.7 million euros (around $3.1 million).
Much of that expense, so far, has been covered by the New York chapter of the Vatican’s Patrons of the Art, says Vatican Museum Director, Barbara Jatta. The Patrons are a special group of donors, mainly from the United States, but also Europe and increasingly from Asia, who support art restoration at the Vatican.
Individuals can become patrons of Vatican art for a $600 annual membership fee. They can then adopt special restoration projects from the Vatican Museums Wishbook and contribute to the restoration and safekeeping of the Vatican’s -- and the world’s -- art patrimony.
Keep an eye out the next time you are cleaning up, you never know what treasures you might accidentally stumble upon.
Based on materials CNN, Vatican Museums
Title illustration: Raphael. Allegory of Justice in the Hall of Constantine (detail)