Two of the world’s most important art museums, the Vatican Museums and the Uffizi Galleries, joined forces for the first time on Friday to inaugurate a small exhibit of rarely seen works by two Renaissance masters that confirmed a painting long suspected of being by Raphael was indeed his work.
“Saints Peter and Paul by Raphael and Fra Bartlomeo. An homage to the Patrons of Rome,” marks the first exhibit for the Vatican Museums in over a year thanks to COVID-19 lockdowns that shuttered galleries precisely at the time that Italy was commemorating the 500th anniversary of Raphael’s death with a series of shows.
The nearly life-sized paintings of Saints Peter and Paul are normally kept outside public view in the Papal Audience Apartment of the Apostolic Palace. But they have been restored and are being displayed for the first time alongside their preparatory sketches, usually held in Florence by the Uffizi Galleries, that the Florentine master Fra Bartolemeo made around 1513 after he was commissioned to paint the saints for a Rome church.
Fra Bartolomeo finished the painting of St. Paul, but because of an artistic crisis, never finished St. Peter. The restoration and research done in preparation for the exhibit confirmed that Raphael - long believed to have finished his friend’s commission - indeed completed the work, the Vatican Museums' director, Barbara Jatta, told a press conference Friday alongside her Uffizi counterpart, Eike Schmidt.
“It’s not the moment for big shows ... but a small show allows us to enter more into the works themselves,” Jatta said.
While the Uffizi and Vatican Museums often exchange pieces for special exhibits, Schmidt and Jatta said this was the first time the two institutions had joined up to mount a show and catalogue together, with each museum restoring and offering new research into the pieces being exhibited and drawing on their respective patron groups to fund it.
“This is in a certain sense a novelty and its really beautiful to get out of the pandemic with this,” Schmidt said. Jatta added she foresaw future collaborative projects as well.
The exhibit, in a small gallery of the Vatican Museums' picture gallery, is included in regular museum tickets, which because of COVID regulations must be reserved online in advance, while visitors to the museum must show a health pass to get in the door.