In the late 19th century, the Vatican was an island surrounded by an enemy country, Italy. Pope Leo XIII was practically a prisoner inside the Vatican walls and to cheer himself up, he created the Candelabra Gallery. In this guide, learn the history of the Vatican Gallery of the Candelabra and the most important works inside.
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Vatican Gallery of the Candelabra Guide
The Vatican Gallery of the Candelabra houses an impressive collection of notable statues, relics, and works of art. In this guide, find out more about the history of the gallery to fully appreciate it when you visit. Here’s what we’ll cover:
- History of the Gallery of the Candelabra
- Where Did the Gallery Get Its Name?
- What To See in the Gallery of the Candelabra
- Vatican Tours with Gallery of the Candelabra
History of the Gallery of the Candelabra
During the second half of the 18th century, there was a need for more space in the Vatican. The pontifical collections were growing exponentially as further excavations took place across Rome and Lazio. The Gallery of the Candelabra forms part of the Pio Clementino Museum. The Cortile delle Statue is where the museum houses most of the classical sculptures in the pope’s collections.
The influence of Enlightenment thinking is what led the pope to turn the building into a museum. Therefore, in the modern sense, allowing the public to enter and experience the treasures that had been found across the country, and promoting the study and understanding of the collections.
Where Did the Gallery Get Its Name?
The Gallery of the Candelabra gets its name from the majestic candelabras that go with the colored marble columns. However, it was originally an open-air loggia built in 1761. The long hallway was walled at the end of the 18th century. Now, it’s divided into six sections full of notable statues, relics, and works of art.
Originally, Pope Pius VI designed the gallery between 1785 and 1788. Pope Leo XIII completely renovated the gallery, and this is largely the decoration you see today. Above all, Annibale Angelini directed the reorganization of the gallery. He appointed Domenico Torti and Ludwig Seitz for the paintings and appointed Giuseppe Rinaldi and Luigi Medici for the marble inlays. The works were arranged like furnishings in a home. You also enter through the original monumental bronze gates, which are still in place today.
Over time, the heat of the Roman summer caused the colors in the frescoes to fade away almost entirely. As a result, the gallery underwent its most recent restoration in 2016.
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What To See in the Gallery of the Candelabra
The Gallery is decorated with impressive chiaroscuro and grisaille frescoes across the walls and vaults. Chiaroscuro is a traditional technique using bold contrasts. Grisaille is a painting technique using grey tones as a base and is often an underpainting for an oil painting with other colors. These techniques are what make the frescoes in the gallery appear three-dimensional.
Pope Leo XIII commissioned the artist Ludwig Seitz and Domenico Torti for the ceiling between 1883 and 1887, as well as for the walls, although various other artists also contributed to these.
For example, one of the most notable works is the fresco by Torti, “The Triumph of Truth,” which shows the remarkable events of the time. However, the German artist Seitz painted the grandest and most important series across the ceiling, which took inspiration from Pope Leo XIII’s desire for St. Thomas Aquinas and his philosophy to have priority in Catholic theology. Therefore, in the middle of the ceiling, you can see St. Thomas kneeling and offering his works to the Roman Catholic Church.
Important Features of the Gallery
Luigi Medici, his son Paolo Medici, and Giuseppe Rinaldi designed the spectacular inlaid marble floor. They used marble found during excavations of the Tiber River in Testaccio.
The coat of arms of Pope Leo XIII in the middle of the gallery is particularly impressive because it contains the precious stone lapis lazuli. At the time, the price was the same as gold because the only place you could get it was in the mines of a remote region of Afghanistan.
Works of Art Found in the Roman Empire
The hall contains works found throughout Rome and Italy, bringing relics of the vast Roman Empire into the modern day.
For example, in the first section, after entering through the monumental bronze gates, one of the most interesting pieces is the “Gigantic Toe of a Right Foot,” which was found in early 1880 near the Colosseum. This is just one small part of a statue that originally stood around 13 meters tall, and was perhaps one of the cult statues of the nearby Temple of Venus and Rome.
Likewise, in the second section, there is a “Meridian,” which was found in 1858 In the ancient coastal town of Ostia. The dial is divided into twelve vertical segments, which in turn are divided into three horizontal bands. The first corresponds to the hours, the second to the winter solstice, equinox, and summer solstice.
Statues in the Gallery of the Candelabra
The third section contains an extraordinary mosaic with still-life from the second century from Tor Marancia on the Via Ardeatina, which is actually where most of the works in this section were found. The statues “Hypnos God of Sleep” and “Thanatos Genius of Death” are from the mid-second century, inspired by the work of Praxiteles, found in 1774 in the Villa of Cassius at Tivoli.
The impressive “Statue of an Old Fisherman” stands in the fourth section, another find from the second century and discovered in Anzio during excavations in the Pamphilj property. The Pamphilis were a famous Roman aristocratic family whose house today contains one of the most valuable private collections of paintings in the world.
The fifth section contains a Circular Altar. It dates from as far back as the first or second century B.C. from Tor Colombaro on the Appian Way. It depicts a scene of sacrifice in the presence of Mercury.
One of the most famed exhibits is in the sixth and final section of the gallery. “The Persian Warrior” is a Roman copy of a votive offering by Attalos II of Pergamon. They created it around 160-150 B.C. on the Acropolis in Athens. Workers found it during the construction of Palazzo Medici, now Palazzo Madama.
Vatican Tours with Gallery of the Candelabra
Supposedly, if you stand in front of each art piece for one minute in the Vatican Museums, it would take you 12 years to see everything. How incredible is that! While it’s certainly possible to visit the museums on your own, I highly recommend you join a tour guide.
Not only will a tour guide get you skip-the-line access, they’ll also guide you through the Vatican Museums quickly—getting you in and out before you go into overload and without missing anything important. There are lots of Vatican tour options to suit your interests and schedule, compare our best Vatican City tours.
In all of our Vatican tours, you’ll witness the Gallery of the Candelabra up close. Check out the video below for the top things to see at the Vatican—the Gallery of the Candelabra is featured at number five and you’ll get a short preview of this beautiful space.
Not ready to book a tour? Check out our Vatican Guide for more info.