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Thursday, March 14, 2013

Papal Illumination

With all the news this week being about the conclave and the new pope, I couldn't resist writing this week's post about an illustration of a pope. 

Pallavicini Master, Presentation of a book to Pope Julius II by a Benedictine. Rome, ca. 1505-1510.Rosenbach Museum & Library. 1954.569
This lovely illustration on vellum exists in our collection as a single illuminated leaf. It depicts a kneeling Benedictine monk presenting a book to a pope. The pope has sometimes been attributed as Sixtus IV (pope from 1471 to 1484), but it seems more likely to be Julius II (pope from 1503-1513). Both popes were of the Della Rovere family, whose oak tree emblem appears on the cover of the book the monk is presenting. Julius II commissioned the famous Michelangelo ceiling frescoes in the Sistine Chapel (a chapel named for Sixtus IV), frescoes which also incorporate oak leaves and acorns.

The pope in this image is wearing the papal tiara, also known as the triregnum or triple crown. The tiara evolved over time, but the triple version was used from the 14th century until the 20th century. Pope Paul VI was the last pope to use one. The pope wears the traditional red shoes (which Benedict XVI more recently received so much attention for); the rest of his clothes are also red, which was the traditional papal color until 1566, when Pope Pius V kept his Dominican white and the color change stuck.

The illustration is by an unidentified artist known as the “Pallavicini Master" for similar images he made for Cardinal Antoniotto Pallavicini (1442–1507). The artist is distinguished by his classical taste--note the cameos and medallions in the border, which feature figures from Nero at the upper left to Augustus at the lower right, by way of Vulcan, the three graces, and other identifiable scenes. The artist also incorporated a relief into the central scene itself--look in the background under the window.

This piece was included in the 2001 exhibit Leaves of Gold at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and to find out more about how this and similar manuscripts were made, you can check out their wonderful site. 

Kathy Haas is the Associate Curator at the Rosenbach Museum & Library and the primary poster at the Rosen-blog

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