Cappella Paolina


Cappella Paolina

The Cappella Paolina (Pauline Chapel) is a famous chapel in the Vatican Palace, which serves as the parish church of the Vatican. It is separated from the Sistine Chapel only by the Sala Regia.Commissioned in 1538 by the order of Pope Paul III and completed in 1540 under the design and supervision of Antonio da Sangallo the Younger, the Cappella Paolina served as both the Chapel of the Sacrament and the Chapel of the Conclave. Paul III dedicated the chapel to the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, a festival to which he displayed particular devotion. Given the ceremonial and personal significance of the chapel, it was to be expected that the Pope would require the services of a great artist for its decoration, and, in the opinion of both the Papacy and the people, there was no one greater than Michelangelo. [Leo Steinberg, Michelangelo’s Last Paintings: The Conversion of St. Paul and the Crucifixion of St. Peter in the Cappella Paolina, Vatican Palace (New York: Oxford University Press, 1975), 15-16.] Even before the unveiling of Michelangelo’s Last Judgment, Paul III had already decided that Michelangelo, who desperately wanted to fulfill his contract with the della Rovere for the Tomb of Julius II, must paint the frescoes of the Cappella Paolina. This is shown by a letter dated October 12, 1541 from Cardinal Alexander, Paul III’s nephew, to Bishop Marco Vigerio which discusses the paintings to be carried out in the “New Chapel.” [D. Redig de Campos, Michelangelo: The Frescoes of the Pauline Chapel in the Vatican (Milan: Art Editions Amilcare Pizzi, 1951), 6.]

Michelangelo’s two frescoes in the Cappella Paolina, The Conversion of Saul and The Crucifixion of St. Peter were painted from 1542 to 1549, the height of his fame, but were widely viewed as disappointments and even failures by their contemporary audience. They did not conform to the compositional conventions of the time and the subject-matter is depicted in an unorthodox manner. Despite the importance of the chapel and the significance of their subjects, the frescoes were generally neglected and overlooked in favor of Michelangelo’s nearby masterpieces in the Sistine Chapel. [Leo Steinberg, Michelangelo’s Last Paintings: The Conversion of St. Paul and the Crucifixion of St. Peter in the Cappella Paolina, Vatican Palace (New York: Oxford University Press, 1975), 17.]

Other paintings in the chapel are by Lorenzo Sabbatini and Federico Zuccari. The statues in the background are by P. Bresciano.

Before the opening of the conclave the Sacred College assembles in this chapel to attend a sermon in which the members are reminded of their obligation quickly to give to the Church her ablest son as ruler and guide. The cardinals then withdraw to the Sistine Chapel. In the Cappella Paolina are sung daily the conclave Solemn Masses "De Spiritu Sancto", at which all members of the conclave must be present.

Other "Cappelle Paoline"

Two other chapels with the same name are in the church of Santa Maria Maggiore and in the Quirinal Palace, both in Rome.

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