2022 SCSC Annual Conference, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Hyatt Regency, Boundary Waters B Room
IAS-Sponsored Session

Media Papalis: New Approaches to Early Modern Papal Patronage

Hyatt Regency, Minneapolis, Boundary Waters B Room. October 28, 8:30-11:00am

Organizer: Joanne Allen, American University

Chair and Respondent: Tiffany Hunt, Catholic University of

The definition of patronage as “the action of a patron in supporting, encouraging, or countenancing a person, institution, work, art, etc.,” has endured since the 1950s, and, with it, an entire field of studies that crosses between history, art history, economics, sociology, anthropology, and gender studies. For papal patronage, in particular, the long shadow of Paolo Prodi has ensconced the discourse within a framework of case studies that aim to elucidate how an artwork reflects, reinforces, or reemphasizes a pope’s ecclesio-political agendas or ideologies. This panel reframes the topic through medial case studies, moving beyond the conventional typologies (painting, sculpture, architecture) into more dynamic considerations of perception making (taking into account built environments, figural/representational installations, the interface between mobile and static objects, etc.). These papers pursue more interdisciplinary approaches to the topic, be that media studies, critical theory, social/viral images, identity politics, etc., resulting in a more dynamic understanding of “presence making” between the visual arts of papal Rome.


Joanne Allen, American University
Ceremony, Splendor, and Identity: Furnishing Sixtus IV’s Choir Chapel in Old St Peter’s

Pope Sixtus IV’s new choir chapel in the left nave aisle of Old St Peter’s was dedicated in 1479. Most famous as a setting for Pollaiuolo’s bronze tomb and Michelangelo’s Pietà, its monumental and significant choir stalls have never been analyzed. Often overlooked by art historians, wooden choir stalls were expensive, decorative, and necessary church furnishings, vital to the performance of sacred liturgy. Prior to their destruction during the building of New St Peters, Giovanni Colonna da Tivoli completed a drawing of the choir in his 1554 sketchbook (Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Vat. Lat. 7721, fol. 80v). Three diagrams appear on this folio: an elevation of all three rows; a plan of the armrests of an individual stall; and a plan of seven corner stalls. Annotated dimensions in Roman piedi on the diagram enable a reconstruction of the choir and comparison with similar wooden constructions across Italy. Close similarities with other contemporary Franciscan choirs – in particular, the celebrated extant stalls in the Frari in Venice just recently completed – imply an intended statement of Franciscan identity on the part of Sixtus IV. That being said, since the stalls were primarily for the use of the College of Cardinals, they represented a range of communicative and practical functions for both the single patron and broader religious community, thus complicating our understanding of papal patronage. Constructed during the interregnum between Nicholas V’s aborted apsidal extension and the ground laying of New St Peter’s, and awkwardly situated in the left nave aisle, the choir chapel represented the tension between impermanence and permanence that was a hallmark of material additions to Old St Peter’s in the fifteenth century.

Konstantinos Gravanis, Independent Scholar
Safe Delivery and Theft on the Road of Gold-and-Silk: The Lost Tapestry of Leo X for the Sistine Chapel

One of the most enduring debates in the study of papal patronage concerns the original number and hanging arrangement of the Acts of the Apostles tapestries in the Sistine Chapel, a lavish set commissioned by Pope Leo X (born Giovanni de’ Medici) and designed by Raphael (c.1515-16). The two scholarly reconstructions of the number of tapestries (either ten or sixteen) are both undermined by their asymmetrical hanging orders. This paper brings attention to an overlooked payment of Leo X for eleven Flemish tapestries to be carried from Flanders to Rome via Lyon (21 April 1518), a document which has been unjustifiably disassociated from the Sistine Chapel commission. A close inspection of the chapel’s physical structure confirms that the addition of an eleventh tapestry with ‘St. Peter in Prison’ near the singing gallery brings the decoration to a long sought-after completion both formally and iconographically. After suffering the loss of the aforementioned piece for the Sistine Chapel, Leo X seemingly organized his tapestry business more cautiously: on 21 May 1520, Tommaso Vincidor was provided by the Pope with a letter of safe conduct for personally overseeing the weaving and transportation of another luxurious tapestry set from Brussels.

Livia Lupi, University of Warwick
Papal Patronage and the Reinvention of Architecture

This paper takes as its starting point Raphael’s famous letter to Leo X in order to explore how artists under papal aegis redefined architectural practice, shaping the figure of the architect in cultural, social and professional terms. Raphael’s letter is generally regarded as a milestone in the formation of antiquarian if not fully-fledged archaeological approaches to classical architecture. It is also considered the first theoretical record of ground plan, section and elevation as the most informative, reliable techniques for the visualisation of architectural structures, leading to the establishment of practices that continue to this day. Yet, by slighting more pictorial approaches and invoking a higher degree of objectivity, Raphael’s words also contributed to creating a rift between artistic and architectural practice which impinges on the social status of the Renaissance architect as much as it does on current historiography. This paper suggests that the division between these practices is perfunctory and aimed at crafting a professional niche for the emerging figure of the architect. Taking issue with measuring practices as cultural constructs and discussing representations of architecture across painting, sculpture and drawing, this research argues for a re-evaluation of artists’ contribution to architectural practice as it interrogates papal agency in this process.

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