Museums at Work
Museums at Work

Museums at Work

An infinity of lights

Gilded carvings of an Altar Machine

20 March – 8 June 2024
Room XVII, Pinacoteca

A new appointment with the Museums at Work programme which, from 20 March, in Room XVII of the Vatican Pinacoteca, will showcase the rediscovery of a newly restored masterpiece.
The exhibition, entitled “An infinity of lights. Gilded carvings of an Altar Machine” is curated by Alessandra Rodolfo, Head of the Department of XVII-XVIII Century Art, and is the first of three exhibition initiatives - two of which can be visited from 23 March at the Castel Gandolfo Museum Complex - conceived for the Lenten season by the Directorate of the Museums and Cultural Heritage in order to suggest a reflection on the themes and rituals that accompany the Easter solemnities.

The altarpiece at the centre of the exhibition was the object of detailed diagnostic examinations performed by the Cabinet of Scientific Research applied to Cultural Heritage, and a complex restoration intervention carried out at the skilful hands of Stefano Tombesi, Massimo Alesi and Marco De Pillis, all three of whom work at the Paintings and Wood Materials Restoration Laboratory directed by the master restorer Francesca Persegati.
It is a sumptuous carved and gilded wood structure identified by oral tradition as the so-called Machine of the Quarantore – forty hours, recalling the forty hours of mourning and faith between death on the Cross and the Resurrection of Our Lord. This scenic form of representation, most likely a readaptation of an older sacred aedicule or a late-Baroque processional machine, re-evokes an ark where the body of Christ reposes, and is linked to the popular tradition of the Sepulchres which, starting from Holy Thursday, mark the time of meditation, adoration and prayer.

Probably originating as a sacred processional aedicule, the Machine arrived in the Vatican in an unspecified period, to then be transformed – in more recent times and with the addition of the mystical Lamb at the centre and a sunburst in the background - into a Machine of the Quarantore for the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. It was probably used in the Pauline Chapel, but more certainly in the Church of Saint Apollinaris in Rome, where it remained from 1984 to 1991, the year in which it was musealized and exhibited in the Historical Museum of the Lateran Palace.
The entire project for the recovery and enhancement of the precious artefact was made possible thanks to the generous support of the Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums - Ohio Chapter.