On 22 June 2011 the Vatican Museums unveiled to the public the Matisse Room, dedicated entirely to the one and only religious work of art conceived by the French artist - The Chapel of Our Lady of the Rosary - located in Vence on the French Riviera.
"When the stained glass windows are finished I wish to donate to a museum the preparatory sketches: it would be a folly for the original drawings and the stained glass windows to remain in the same place". These were the words the artist addressed to his son, Pierre, who decided in 1980 to donate to the Pontifical Collection the precious collection of works of art.
Sixty years on from the inauguration of the Chapel of Our Lady of the Rosary, that generous gesture has enabled Professor Antonio Paolucci, Director of the Vatican Museums, and Micol Forti, Curator of the Collection of Modern and Contemporary Religious Art, to display to the public for the first time, in the so called "marescalcia" room, the entire creative project which lead Henri Matisse to conceive that which he considered to be, "in spite of all its imperfections, his masterpiece".
The Matisse Room, situated in the heart of the section dedicated to the twentieth century, was set up thanks also to the advice of Vittoria Cimino, from the Curator's Office of the Vatican Museums. The Matisse Room displays the monumental drawings, all more than five metres high and drawn to scale, that were the bases of the splendid polychrome stained-glass windows for the apse and of the nave of the Chapel - created with the innovative technique of paper cut-outs - as well as the drawing of the Virgin and Child conceived for the white ceramic panels in the chapel's presbytery. Besides the drawings, visitors are able to admire the bronze cast of the Cross of the altar, donated by the Dominican nuns of Vence in 1973, for the inauguration of the Collection of Modern and Contemporary Religious Art, established by His Holiness Pope Paul VI.
Five silk chasubles, in a variety of colours, and the maquette for the bronze cross of the bell-tower, all made by Matisse, will also go on display.
The creative genesis of the Chapel of Our Lady of the Rosary of Vence will be the subject of the next book to be published byEdizioni Musei Vaticani, entiltled "Comme une fleur. Matisse e la Cappella di Vence", by Micol Forti.
The book will be enriched with a collection of inedited correspondence, edited by Claudia Lazzerini, that Matisse exchanged between 1949 and 1952 with Sister Agnès de Jésus, Prioress General of the Dominican Order, on which the Foyer Lacordaire depended, for whom Matisse conceived the Chapel. Sister Agnès de Jésus donated the collection of letters, enriched with drawings and details regarding the realization of the Chapel, to Paul VI in 1978, letters which were later acquired by the Archives of the Museums.
The creation of the Matisse Room was achieved thanks to the generosity of Liana Marabini, President of the Monte Carlo Chapter of the Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums, who sponsored the entire project.