The Vatican holds many secrets, and some of them are on display in its many museums for the public to behold. The Vatican’s treasures include many religious texts as well as other historical artifacts. These include maps of the world and ancient Rome.
Between 1880 and 1885, a team of mapmakers and artists created 40 different maps that covered the walls of a gallery in the Vatican based on the works of Ignazio Danti, a famous geographer of the time. The maps represent the Italian regions and the papal properties at the time of Pope Gregory XIII (1572-1585).
The paintings were large, some measuring 15 by 16 feet. The maps created a nearly 3D affect, immersing viewers in the landscapes of the land outside their doorsteps. The Vatican’s Gallery of Maps is the world’s largest series of painted maps, but many have been dulled by the passing of time. A restoration project is now underway to restore the maps to their former glory and to preserve these important historical pieces.
Famous artists of the day were commissioned to help out with the Vatican’s project, including Cesare Nebbia and Girolamo Muziano who worked on the decorative ceiling. The original 16th century maps were meticulously detailed, omitting no details unless the artists weren’t sure of the geographical facts. Later maps and restorations blurred these detailed lines, especially under the eye of Pope Urban VIII. His symbol was a bee, which he ordered to be painted on the maps.
Restoration efforts included using original painting methods to restore the original colors of the paintings. Artists also used natural adhesives and eco-friendly materials to maintain the paintings and recover as much of their original splendour and detail as possible.
The Vatican’s Gallery of Maps Comes Back to Life, WSJ (subscription required for access).