Friday, March 2, 2012

Raphael Loggia Ornament

What's the most fun you can have without a King-sized bed and a rubber chicken? Yep, you guessed it: I just spent a day studying an original set of hand-painted engravings from 1770 of Raphael's designs for the painted ornament for the loggia at the Vatican.

It took three of us just to carry the first volume onto the viewing table. This thing looked like the Queen Mary hoving into view. Raphael himself could have delivered it on a unicorn and I'd be no more impressed. It was the most awesome object I've ever seen.

Three volumes, (the first of which measured about 24" x 36"), meticulously engraved, and subsequently painted in vibrant gouache of Raphael's panel, ceiling and pilaster designs for the Vatican in a riotous mixture of earthy fauna, gauzy maidens, beardy gods and grotesque ornament of every imaginable type.

Can somebody please explain the Universe to me, because I'm a little confused: How is it that one of only three complete sets in the world of these spectacular engravings can sell in November of last year for only $25,000, when Damien Hirst can sell horse manure for a million? It makes me so mad. And why am I finding out four months too late? I would have gladly cashed in my daughter's college fund if I'd known.

"The loggia, or colonnaded porch, on the second story of the Apostolic Palace is one of the Vatican’s most remarkable art treasures; its decoration, designed by Raphael (1483—1520) and executed by his workshop in 1517- 1519, epitomizes the spirit of the Italian Renaissance in its synthesis of Christian and classical themes. The thirteen square vaults of Raphael’s loggia each contain four frescoes of scenes from the Bible, from the Creation to the Last Supper." [source

Noah's Ark scene from the Vatican loggia...
... and the same scene as depicted in the set of engravings
"These splendid, large-size copperplate engravings, from the suite Le Loggie di Rafaele nel Vaticano (Rome: 1772-77), after the celebrated frescoes by Raphael in the loggia of the Vatican, are scarce, with OCLC recording only two complete copies in libraries worldwide.

"The Raphael Loggia consists of thirteen arches forming a gallery sixty-five meters long and four meters wide. Its construction was begun by architect and painter Donato Bramante in 1512, under Pope Julius II and was completed by Raphael under the reign of Leo X. Raphael began work on the frescoes in 1517.

"The plates, designed by P. Camporesi, G. and L. Savorelli Teseo and engraved by G. Volpato (1733-1803) and G. Ottaviani (1735-1808), depict, in a vibrant color gouache, the pilasters, paneling, ceiling panels and two doorways with floral, figural and architectural motifs. Where human figures in the original frescoes were compromised by weathering and erosion, engravers Volpato and Ottaviani replaced them with elements from the Vatican tapestries designed by Raphael.

"While Raphael's Vatican frescos were admired in their time, they were ultimately overshadowed by the work of Michaelangelo until the Neoclassicists of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries rediscovered the Renaissance, and Raphael earned his place as the era's greatest artist of them all.

""Raphael is categorically the greatest painter of the last millennium, and the Loggia is his most significant legacy," says Antonio Paolucci, director of the Vatican Museums and esteemed art historian.

"And yet the Loggia is the least known of Raphael's works. Millions of visitors to the Vatican Museums pass by it every year, but cannot go inside. Looking from Saint Peter's Square, it is in the second of the three glassed-in hallways across from the building in which the pope resides. When it was constructed, in the early part of the sixteenth century, it overlooked a garden. The thirteen arches of the Loggia frescoed by Raphael were not enclosed in glass until the nineteenth century. Originally, they were open to the luminous Roman sky, which made their colors even more brilliant" (Sandro Magister, Chiesa Espressonline)."


It has been notoriously difficult to find any images of Raphael's loggia work - the fact that the loggia are closed to the public and sealed behind glass has not helped - but Abbeville Press has published what looks like a fine book on the subject.


  1. We should be glad that this is such a bargain, and that there aren't any of the idiots who would waste their money on a Hirst in the bidding for it! I would gladly go in on it if another (of the 3) comes up for bidding soon- I already spent my kids' college education money anyways!
    How on earth did you get the opportunity to see this and spend time with it? Don't suppose you're going to put up some pics on Flickr- (hope hope!)

  2. I have about 400 photos of all the grotesque ornament details from the books. It'll take me a while to go through them all and crop, color correct each one. After all that work, I considered being greedy and keeping them to myself. But that wouldn't be fair. They're not mine to keep.

  3. I don't have any kids! hook me up, we can time-share this book! or Alan's digital copy at least. fabulous stuff. what a way to start my morning.

  4. Indiana Carroll Strikes Again!


    "Alan, why does the floor move ... Snakes?"

    "No... ornamental scrollwork."


    "You go first! "


  5. I'm choking on my own saliva over here! When I was at the Vatican, I sought out a manager at the help desk and asked if there was anyway to see the loggia on my next trip in a year. He looked at me like I asked if I could get naked and run around the museums!... as he answered in a very dry tone, 'no'.

  6. Amazing post! The engravings look more detailed and colorful then the original frescos.

  7. These are mouth-wateringly beautiful. The coloring of that enlarged tendril is gorgeous! I'm guessing you photographed every page, or at least were tempted to.

  8. Alan, you totally rock! Thank you for sharing these images! wow. I didn't even know this existed.

    Gotta say, though...that first sentence made me snort my coffee I was laughing so hard.


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  10. Many thanks for this report! The time and detail put into these volumes are a great testimony to the massive appeal Raphael had well into the 19th century, after which he increasingly became less popular and now sits somewhat behind his Renaissance counterparts Leonardo and Michelangelo in the public eye.

    It is simply wonderful that writers online are giving us more detailed accounts of Raphael's legacy that can be accessed by all - content previously only discussed in specialist circles. Many thanks!

    Kind Regards
    H Niyazi

  11. Don't know how you got such an opportunity,,,,but I will GIVE you my kid if you will share these on flicker!!!! I am dying over the ones you have shared....crop away and share soon!!!!!!!!!

    Loved the unicorn comment!

  12. I have to say this: Every time I read your blog it makes me so happy that you have such passion for ornament and decorative painting. The love for the artistry is so needed in this world -- to continue it, to nurture it, to share it, to further it. To expect high standards and to share with us those who exemplify it and those who strive for it daily. Thank you.

    Sublime post, btw. The artistry makes my heart sing.

  13. How did I arrive so late to the party?!

    The Loggia has long been one of my fascinations. We were obviously unsuccessful in seeing it when we visited the Vatican and were told we'd have to apply for permission and only if we were in academia.

    I'll also contribute! This is so exciting... and thanks for sharing!

  14. Wonderful. The photos are totally amazing and show the wondrous nature of these frescoes, which also give us a glimpse to be found nowhere else, of the art of the ancient Romans that inspired them. I can arrange for private visits with a scholar occasionally, with enough advance notice.

  15. Thank you for your photos. I share your amazement about the art market absurdities - I mean here Hirst and the like.