Soul mates

An art-lov­ing pope and the Vatican’s first-ever fe­male di­rec­tor of mu­se­ums are up­scal­ing the city-state’s cul­tural archive

Wallpaper - - October - Pho­tog­ra­phy Alex Ma­joli Writer Emma O’kelly

The Vatican Mu­se­ums’ new di­rec­tor in­vites Wall­pa­per* be­hind the scenes

N esto is one of the 25,000 tourists who visit the Vatican City ev­ery day. For him, like many oth­ers, the trip to the heart­land of the Holy See is a once-in-a-life­time pil­grim­age. How­ever, he also had the op­por­tu­nity last June to visit an ex­act replica of its great­est at­trac­tion, the Sis­tine Chapel, in his home town of Mex­ico City.

The $2.4m copy of Catholi­cism’s best­loved church was the brain­child of Mex­i­can en­tre­pre­neur An­to­nio Beru­men and funded pri­vately. A team of Mex­i­can pho­tog­ra­phers took more than two mil­lion pho­tos of the orig­i­nal chapel’s ev­ery de­tail. These were then printed and mounted on can­vas, and in­stalled in a full­size wooden replica of the chapel in Mex­ico City’s Plaza de la República.

It was the first time the Vatican had au­tho­rised such a project, but it won’t be the last. There are also plans to re­pro­duce other sa­cred sites, among them the Raphael Rooms, a se­ries of four pa­pal apart­ments painted by the Re­nais­sance artist in 1508.

‘The Sis­tine art project has been in­cred­i­bly pop­u­lar,’ says Bar­bara Jatta, the new di­rec­tor of the Vatican Mu­se­ums. ‘But it’s costly and we can’t keep du­pli­cat­ing the same thing. How­ever, we do want to re­pro­duce those im­por­tant mo­ments in Chris­tian his­tory that you wit­ness when you visit the Vatican.’ Tak­ing the Vatican to the peo­ple in­stead of bring­ing the peo­ple to the Vatican is not only canny pa­pal PR but it’s a prac­ti­cal win, too.

Ev­ery day, crowds large enough to fill the San Siro foot­ball sta­dium stream along the tiny city-state’s walk­ways, tak­ing self­ies and cran­ing to glimpse fres­coes through a sea of bod­ies. But tourism on this scale an­ni­hi­lates the thrill of see­ing Michelan­gelo’s ge­nius in the flesh and damp­ens the spir­i­tual aura that those of faith an­tic­i­pate. By repli­cat­ing its trea­sures be­yond its walls, the Vatican can reach those with­out the funds to make the jour­ney, while man­ag­ing the flow of vis­i­tors.

When she was ap­pointed as the first fe­male di­rec­tor of the Vatican Mu­se­ums ear­lier this year, Jatta be­came the high­es­trank­ing woman within the Holy See. Above her are bish­ops, car­di­nals and the pon­tiff him­self, a self-con­fessed art lover. She heads a team of around 600 and is re­spon­si­ble for the mu­se­ums’ 54 gal­leries, among them the Eth­no­log­i­cal Mu­seum, which is filled with more than 80,000 ‘gifts’, of­fered to popes over cen­turies. They range from rare abo­rig­i­nal death totems and carved pan­els from Borobudur, one of the world’s largest Bud­dhist tem­ples, to Hindu deities and Is­lamic scrolls. ‘When you think of the Vatican, you think of Michelan­gelo or Raphael, but more than half of our col­lec­tion is non-euro­pean arte­facts,’ says the mu­seum’s cu­ra­tor Padre Ni­cola Mapelli. ‘Mis­sion­ar­ies gave us most of these things. The Vatican didn’t re­ally doc­u­ment pa­pal gifts back then, so I’m rewind­ing a few hun­dred years and un­cov­er­ing the sto­ries be­hind the ob­jects.’

‘The Eth­no­log­i­cal Mu­seum is a pet project of Pope Fran­cis [he’s the first non-euro­pean pope in over 1,000 years] and we want peo­ple to see the scale of what we have,’ says Jatta. Next year, a fur­ther 8,000 sq m of»

ex­hi­bi­tion space will open, al­low­ing many gifts in stor­age to be dis­played for the first time. So what does the pon­tiff give as a gift? ‘An­cient books, rosaries,’ says Mapelli. (Barack Obama re­ceived the lat­ter in 2014.)

Also re­open­ing in the near fu­ture are the Etr­uscan Mu­seum, founded in 1837 by Pope Gre­gory XVI, and the Gre­go­ri­ano Pro­fano Mu­seum. Here, ar­chae­o­log­i­cal finds, mo­saics and sculp­tures are dis­played in a strik­ing mod­ernist ad­di­tion cre­ated in 1970 by Ro­man architects Stu­dio Pas­sarelli. ‘One of the rea­sons these mu­se­ums have been closed is due to a short­age of guards,’ says Jatta. In 2013, pick­pock­ets op­er­at­ing within the Sis­tine Chapel be­came so nu­mer­ous that even the tour guides threat­ened a strike. The Vatican is now re­cruit­ing more guards. ‘We need pro­fes­sion­als, es­pe­cially now ter­ror­ism is a huge threat.’ Ar­moured trucks, armed sol­diers, cara­binieri and air­port-style se­cu­rity checks are the new re­al­ity at Rome’s ma­jor sites. Vatican em­ploy­ees must also be tightlipped, will­ing to op­er­ate un­der the veil of se­crecy the Holy See de­mands. ‘These are the mu­se­ums of the Pope,’ says Jatta care­fully. ‘They are dif­fer­ent to na­tional in­sti­tu­tions.’

Next year, a new en­trance will help re­duce queues, and a sec­ond route to the Sis­tine Chapel around the Apos­tolic Palace (which Pope Fran­cis chose not to oc­cupy in favour of a suite in the Vatican guest­house) is open­ing. Other plans in­clude fea­tur­ing art­works that are not on dis­play in the Vatican on the re­vamped Mu­se­ums web­site, mak­ing sou­venirs and books avail­able to buy on­line 24/7, and ex­tend­ing open­ing times.

While Pope Fran­cis is a mas­ter of dig­i­tal di­vin­ity – he has more than 12 mil­lion fol­low­ers on Twit­ter, while four mil­lion on In­sta­gram ad­mire his apho­risms and films of his trav­els – Vatican City has no so­cial me­dia pres­ence. A seem­ingly of­fi­cial Face­book page is op­er­ated by an en­thu­si­ast whom no one knows and whom they choose to ig­nore, but the lack of on­line en­gage­ment does noth­ing to help the Holy See’s im­age. ‘Lit­tle by lit­tle, we’ll adopt Twit­ter and Face­book,’ says Jatta.

Be­fore be­com­ing mu­seum di­rec­tor, Jatta spent 20 years work­ing in the Vatican Li­brary. ‘In some ways it’s eas­ier to get things done in here than in the out­side world,’ she claims. Here, in her pri­vate of­fice, real life feels very far away. Her huge win­dows of­fer views across pri­vate man­i­cured gar­dens to the dome of St Peter’s. ‘I don’t have to deal with so many points of ref­er­ence. I go straight to my boss, the car­di­nal pres­i­dent, to get things agreed.’

A por­trait of Pope Fran­cis hangs on the wall. Is he in­volved in ev­ery de­ci­sion? ‘No. Art is im­por­tant, but it’s not his main fo­cus.’ How­ever, he does call her ev­ery now and then. ‘Just the other day he phoned out of the blue to find out how the ren­o­va­tion of Cas­tel Gan­dolfo [the pa­pal sum­mer re­treat] was pro­gress­ing,’ she pauses, and chuck­les at the no­tion of her hot­line to the pope.

‘In some ways it’s eas­ier to get things done in here than in the out­side world’

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