The Secret Borgia Apartments

I am guest posting this week at 3 Pipe Problem, Diary of a Borgia Pope – The Tale of Johannes Burchardus , but have left you with one of my most popular posts.  Click on the art to get a real vision of what Pope Alexander VI had decorating his walls.

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.

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.

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.

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 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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

Don’t miss the final episode of the Borgia’s first season and see more of their art.

If you like this post, you may also enjoy,

The Borgias

Alexander VI by Pinturicchio, fresco from the Borgia apartmentRodrigo Borgia

Borgia History Written in Blood



Filed under May

6 responses to “The Secret Borgia Apartments

  1. Love the way you separated the ceiling panels. Gorgeous!

  2. sylver456

    Please read ‘The Life of Cesare Borgia’ by Raphael Sabatini. It’s free, everywhere on the internet. Good perspective.

  3. Thanks for that suggestion! I was able to find it on Kindle and download it to my iPad. Always looking for new information.

  4. There is certainly a great deal to know about this issue.
    I love all of the points you made.

  5. Hi Mary Jo, I’m working with a pair of Italian authors to spread the word about their novella based on the life of Rodrigo Borgia. I just shared this post on their FB page and would love to send you a copy of their book if you are interested!

  6. I would love a copy of this book!
    You can send an electronic copy to

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