The cycle of monumental frescoes that occupied Raphael for most of his working life is undergoing the final phase of an even lengthier restoration. Last month, the Vatican Museums began the conservation of the Hall of Constantine, 1517-24, the last and largest of the four rooms in the former apartments of Pope Julius II that the artist spent 12 years decorating. The project, which is due to last eight years, continues the work that began in 1982 with the Room of the Fire in the Borgo, 1514-17. The Room of the Segnatura, 1508-11, followed in the 1990s, and the Room of Heliodorus, 1512-14, was restored between 2002 and 2013.
Dark and dusty patina
After preliminary analysis by the museums’ diagnostics specialists, a team of six is assisting the paintings conservator Fabio Piacentini. Antonio Paolucci, the director of the Vatican Museums, and the curator Arnold Nesselrath will oversee progress. Paolucci says: “The frescoes will be liberated from that dark and dusty patina that we are accustomed to, revealing as never before how truly universal the legacy of Raphael is.”
The work may make it possible to identify which parts of the frescoes were painted by Giulio Romano, Raphael’s most trusted apprentice. The artist died in 1520, aged 37, leaving his assistants to complete the scheme—four episodes from the life of Constantine I, the first Roman emperor to profess Christianity—based on his cartoons, which covered only two of the walls and have since been lost. “We will only understand after the restoration how Raphael continued to [inspire] Italian and European painting through his School,” Paolucci says.
The hall will remain open to the public throughout the project, which the newspaper La Repubblica reports will cost €5m. It is being paid for by the Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums.