The Secret Borgia Apartments

Entrance to Borgia Apartments, Vatican

The Borgia Apartments are not just a footnote in papal history, but an opulent group of six rooms located in the Borgia Tower inside the Vatican.

Myth of the Bull Apis, Hall of the Saints

Sealed off after the death of Alexander VI, Rodrigo Borgia, (1431-1503) by Pope Pius III due to its association with the despised Borgia family; the art itself cannot be denied; the vivid colors of red and blue tempt the fingertips to touch, the scenery overwhelms the senses, all colliding in the mind of the admirer.

St. Catherine Disputation, Hall of the Saints

Depictions of the Sybils, early Saints, the Resurrection and the Magi fill the vaulted walls, the detail exquisite. The arched ceilings are intricately frescoed and the floors once covered with rare Moorish tiles, a few pieces still evident.  Chambers that oversaw plans of war, marriages of dynasties, and even murder may be empty of furnishings, but the remaining art portrays the opulence and power of the time.  These six rooms lay hidden in the Vatican for three hundred years preserving frescos created at the command of Alexander VI for the private apartments of the Borgia pope.

Vault Decoration, Hall of the Saints

In 1492 Pinturicchio was employed by Pope Alexander VI to decorate a recently completed suite of rooms in the Vatican.  The rooms are now part of the Vatican library and five of the suites retain a series of frescos.

The Arithmetic

The upper part of the walls and vaults were not only painted, but further enriched with delicate stucco work in relief, and are a masterpiece of design.  The paintings used themes from medieval encyclopedias adding an eschatological layer of meaning and celebrating the supposedly divine origins of the Borgias.

Descent of the Holy Spirit, Hall of the Mysteries of the Faith

Pinturicchio worked in these rooms with an army of apprentices without interruption until 1498.  No contract is in evidence, the only record of his work is the payment; another line entered in the Vatican account books.

Annunciation, Hall of the Mysteries of the Faith

The private living rooms of the Pope at that time were the Hall of Mysteries, the Hall of the Saints and the Hall of the Liberal Arts, besides the two withdrawing rooms.

Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian, Hall of Saints

Arts of the Trivium, Grammar, Hall of the Liberal Arts

Arts of the Trivium, Grammar, Hall of the Liberal Arts


Arts of the Trivium, Hall of the Liberal Arts

Arts of Quadrivium, Geometry, Hall of the Liberal Arts

Encounter between St. Anthony Abbot & St. Paul the Hermit, Hall of the Saints

Imagination furnishes the empty chambers with all the choice objects they once contained.

Resurrection, Hall of the Mysteries of the Faith

Nativity, Hall of the Mysteries of the Faith

Descent of the Holy Spirit, Hall of the Mysteries of the Faith

Adoration of the Magi, Hall of the Mysteries of the Faith

Adoration of the Magi, Hall of the Mysteries of the Faith

Annunciation, Hall of the Mysteries of the Faith

Floor to Ceiling View

The priceless majolica, the gold and silver vessels, the brocaded hangings, the ivory carvings – an ideal background for the scenes of love and revelry once lived here.  The strum of music, the laughter and wit, boisterous merriment, muted conferences, the whispered plotting, the ghastly treacheries, the dying groans.  In the Hall of the Sibyls, the second husband of Lucrezia, Alfonso of Aragon, was murdered.  In the adjoining suite, the Pope himself died in agony.  What other deeds of darkness, despair and triumphant villainy have these chaste and innocent conceptions of Pintoricchio looked down upon?  Fascinations of fleurs du mal.

Hosea and Sybil, Hall of the Saints

In 1889 Pope Leo XII reopened the rooms for restoration.  Most of the rooms were in use for the Vatican Collection of Modern Religious Art, inaugurated by Pope Paul VI in 1973.

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11 Comments

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11 responses to “The Secret Borgia Apartments

  1. DIARIO DE LOS BORJA (BORGIA) Borja Borgia’s Diary
    http://sites.google.com/site/diarioborjaborgia/Home

    A history of the Borja – Borgia family. Three centuries in a journal with pictures, genealogy and texts.

  2. Your site is incredible! A lot of time was spent to create this fabulous Borgia timeline. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Pingback: Cabinet of Curiosities | This write life

  4. john pecora

    Excellent! More, please…

  5. Thank you for your comment John, this is my most popular post. Look for more Borgia history in January! Do you watch the Borgias?

  6. Pingback: Borgias Never Forgive | This write life

  7. Melissa

    I have been doing a research paper in college on a particular painting of Pinturicchio’s, “The Crucifixion with Sts. Jerome & Christopher,” oil, 1471. However, I have found very little on this painting. I read about the many frescoes but nothing about this painting. Do you happen to know of any resources that may help? Do you know who the patron of this painting was? I love this man’s landscapes… the trees, rocky terrain, and the realness of the land. There’s a particular look to his trees.

  8. I am sending you an email Melissa. I will do some quick research for you in the meantime. I appreciate your insights on Pinturicchio’s painting-does natural scenery influence your choice of favorite paintings? Thanks for the comment!

  9. Melissa

    Hi Mary 🙂 No, nature doesn’t necessarily influence me. Depending on the painting, sometimes I just like the subject or the colors, or the whole thing. I’m not much of an abstract fan nor a much of a fan of modern art. But, again it just depends on what anyone sees in art they happen to appreciate 🙂 Thank you for your help.

  10. james

    I find it a kind of high irony that the present Pope wants to leave the papal apartments in order to be close to the People of God, yet we recently discovered Pinturicchio’s depiction of Indians in the restoration conducted in the Borgia apartments. It is said to be the first drawing (1492) of the natives by a Western artist. This delicious bit of historical discovery proves that one is never so far from the people, as when one makes a flourish about leaving the Vatican.

  11. Kate Pearson

    The Borgia apartment was actually sealed by Julius II (Guiliano della Rovere) because he hated them so much. However, he took over the rooms immediately above which had been Cesare’s and are now known as the Raphael Stanze.

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