Vatican restores Raphael paintings lost for 500 years

Raphael's final paintings unveiled in the Vatican after shock discovery in 2017.

The Vatican Museums have unveiled the final paintings of the High Renaissance master Raphael, which were discovered during the restoration of the frescoes in the Vatican’s Hall of Constantine.

The allegories of Justice and Friendship, comprising two female figures painted in oil on the bare wall - among the room's frescoes - are believed to be the last works carried out by Raphael before his death aged 37 in 1520, reports Vatican News.

The exceptional discovery was made in 2017 during restoration work in the great hall, which began five years ago, in a programme overseen Restoration Laboratory of the Vatican Museums with the support of the Patrons of the Arts.

During the restoration, nails were found beneath the surface of the wall to anchor a layer of rosin, spread on still hot and covered with a thin layer of plaster.

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At the time of the discovery, restorer Fabio Piacenti told Italian newspaper La Stampa: “By analysing the painting, we realised that it is certainly by the great master Raphael. 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.”

The paintings were scheduled to be unveiled on 20 April during an international conference to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the death of Raphael, however the event was cancelled due to the coronavirus emergency.

Instead the unveiling ceremony took place on 13 May in the presence of the director of the Vatican Museums, Barbara Jatta, and a handful of other people including technicians, art experts and Vatican officials.

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In 1509 Raphael was commissioned by Pope Julius II to paint four rooms in the papal residences, now known as the Raphael Rooms.

The largest of these - the Hall of Constantine - depicts four episodes in the life of the first Roman emperor to recognise the Christian faith and grant freedom of worship.

The paintings portray the defeat of paganism and the triumph of the Christian religion. On the death of Raphael, the surrounding frescos were completed by his students and collaborators, notably Giulio Romano and Giovan Francesco Penni with whom he worked in Villa Farnesina.

The restored work by Raphael will be on view to visitors to the Vatican Museums whose reopening, after a two-month closure due to the coronavirus, is expected imminently.

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Vatican restores Raphael paintings lost for 500 years

00120, Vatican City