The plates of Castel Gandolfo
The plates of Castel Gandolfo

The plates of Castel Gandolfo

Raphaelesque majolicas at the Court of the Popes

9 October 2019
Apostolic Palace - Castel Gandolfo (Rome)

Awaiting their permanent exhibition in the Pope’s Museums - and in the wake of the exhibition held last year in the Vatican Pinacoteca - the 34 precious istoriato ceramic plates of the Carpegna Collection will return from Tuesday 9 October to be viewed by the general public in the symbolic spaces of the Apostolic Palace of Castel Gandolfo.
The exhibition will open the way to the Vatican celebrations for the 500th anniversary of the death of Raphael Sanzio (1483-1520), and builds a commemorative bridge with the native territory of the Genius of Urbino, namely the Galleria delle Marche, where from 31 October the exhibition “Raphael ware” will unveil 147 fine examples of Italian Renaissance majolica.

The choice of the Castel Gandolfo site, far from being accidental, has a particularly significant character as it means displaying the dishes in the papal palace in which their presence in 1743 is historically affirmed.
This set of plates of great historical-artistic value was created in the mid-sixteenth century by skilled majolica masters of Urbino and is one of the lesser-known and, at the same time, among the most fascinating chapters of seventeenth-century collecting.
For a long time these artefacts were considered to be related to the great art of Raphael, whose influence was so profound that he guided all the artistic production of the time. “There is no doubt that Raphael’s iconology has had very many variations”, says the Director of the Vatican Museums, Barbara Jatta. “Prints, drawings and plates – which circulated even more than prints – were an extraordinary vehicle. In this case, we have a very high level of iconographic production and very refined dissemination of Raphaelesque work”.
Four large thematic groups can be identified in the drawings and decorations that characterize the precious service of ceramics: ranging from the biblical group inspired by the Old Testament and the Gospels, to the mythological set, passing then to subjects of literary derivation and to various allegorical themes.

The client who commissioned the plates is unknown, but we know that in the seventeenth century they were in the Kircherian Museum at the Roman College. The Collection was purchased a few decates later by Cardinal Gaspare Carpegna, a collector of early Christian art and artefacts, and constituted an element of curiosity in his home, opened liberally to guests who were able to observe them framed, with an effect not dissimilar to that of a museum.
In 1756 the Carpegna collection was purchased by Pope Benedict XIV, and the plates were briefly displayed at the Quirinal Palace, then in the summer residence of Castel Gandolfo. Alleged accusations of licentiousness for the presence of some nudes in the depictions inspired by classical iconography convinced Pope Leo XIII to sell the plates, which were later bought back under pressure from public opinion at the time of the birth of the Italian State. The series was then acquired for the collections of the Vatican Apostolic Library, which in 1999 passed into the hands of the Vatican Museums, which brought them back to life through the skilful restoration carried out between 2017 and 2018 in the Metals and Ceramics Restoration Laboratory.
The exhibition is curated by Maria Serlupi Crescenzi, Head of the Department of Decorative Arts of the Vatican Museums, with the collaboration of Luca Pesante. The Catalogue is published by Edizioni Musei Vaticani.
Entry to the exhibition is free of charge and included in the entrance ticket for the Apostolic Palace of Castel Gandolfo.