The Vatican Museums are home to numerous famous art treasures, created by masters like Caravaggio, Leonardo da Vinci, and Michelangelo. Now, artnet News reports, the galleries can add two previously unattributed paintings by Italian Renaissance painter Raphael to their list.
Inside the Palace of the Vatican is a suite of four frescoed rooms called Raphael's Rooms. During the early 16th century, they served as Pope Julius II's apartments. The Pope commissioned Raphael and his pupils to paint the rooms, and they adorned each one with a different theme.
Three of the rooms contain paintings by the master himself. But experts didn't think that the fourth—and largest—chamber, called the Room of Constantine, bore Raphael's personal handiwork.
The Room of Constantine depicts four significant moments in the life of Emperor Constantine I, who's credited with converting the Roman Empire to Christianity. Experts had always believed that Raphael had sketched plans for the frescoes, and his pupils finished them after Raphael's sudden death on April 6, 1520. But new restoration efforts prompted experts to take a closer look, and they noticed that two allegorical figures in the frescoes appear to have been painted by Raphael.
One fresco depicts the Vision of the Cross, the moment Emperor Constantine claimed to have seen an image of a holy cross in the sky before a decisive battle. At the edge of the large-scale painting floats a woman who represents Friendship, Smithsonian reports. A second scene, which depicts the battle between Constantine and his pagan brother-in-law Maxentius, shows the figure of Justice. Experts now say that Raphael painted both images.
Italian newspaper La Stampa was the first to break the news, which they reportedly received from a YouTube video released by the Vatican’s press office.
"By analyzing the painting, we realized that it is certainly by the great master Raphael," said restorer Fabio Piacentini, according to a translation provided by artnet News. "He painted in oil on the wall, which is a really special technique. The cleaning and removal of centuries of previous restorations revealed the typical pictorial features of the master."
"We know from 16th-century sources that Raphael painted two figures in this room as tests in the oil technique before he died," added art historian Arnold Nesselrath, who serves as the Vatican Museums' technical and scientific research head. "According to the sources, these two oil painted figures are of a much higher quality than the ones around them."
"Raphael was a great adventurer in painting and was always trying something different," Nesselrath continued. "When he understood how something worked, he sought a fresh challenge. And so, when he arrived in the largest room of the papal apartment, he decided to paint this room in oil, but he managed to paint only two figures, and his students continued in the traditional method, leaving only these two figures as autographs of the master."
[h/t artnet News]