The Hall of Constantine is one of the famous Raphael Rooms in the Vatican Museums in Rome. Its walls are frescoed with four episodes in the life of Constantine, the first Emperor to officially recognize the Christian faith. Raphael was responsible for most of the project, but the actual painting was often done by his pupils.
Hall of Constantine Vatican Museums Rome
History and description
The Hall of Constantine (Sala di Costantino), which was used for receptions and other official events, was painted between 1517 and 1524. Raphael died in 1520, before the work was completed. His pupils completed the project, on the basis of his drawings. The general theme of the frescoes is the victory of Christianity over the pagan world.
The walls are frescoed with four episodes of the life of Constantine, the first Emperor to officially recognize the Christian faith. There are also depictions of several Popes, with allegorical representations of different virtues.
The first episode is the “Vision of the Cross”, followed by the “Battle against Maxentius”. The third is the “Baptism of Constantine” and in the final one, the “Donation of Rome”, the Emperor gifts Rome to the Pope. The overriding theme is the “Triumph of Christianity”, which is also the title of the ceiling fresco by the Sicilian painter Tommaso Laureti.
The “Vision of the Cross”
In 312 AD, the battle between Constantine and Maxentius took place. Before going into battle, the Emperor had a premonition. He would win if he had the imperial eagles on the troops’ standards replaced with Christian crosses.
The “Battle of Constantine against Maxentius”
The battle took place at the Ponte Milvio. The fresco shows Constantine’s troops winning the fight and Maxentius about to be drowned in the river. In the background you can see the Monte Mario hill, with the Villa Madama. This villa did of course not exist yet when the battle took place, but had just been built for the Pope by Raphael himself. Although the project was Raphael’s, the actual painting was done by Giulio Romano.
The “Baptism of Constantine”
This Emperor is painted inside the Lateran Baptistery, kneeling in front of Pope Sylvester. For the occasion, Sylvester got the face of Pope Clemens VII, who was pontiff when the painting was restarted after an interruption under Hadrian VI (Pope from 1521 to 1523). The actual painter was Giovan Francesco Penni.
“The Donation of Rome”
The Emperor is again kneeling before Pope Sylvester (again with the features of Clemens VII) and offers him a golden statue symbolizing the city of Rome. Although this never really happened, the belief that it had justified the temporal power of popes for centuries to come. The background shows the interior of the old St. Peter’s Basilica, since work on the new one had only just started at that point.
Triumph of the Christian religion
In 1513, the new Pope, Leo X had a wooden roof constructed. Some 75 years later, Pope Gregory VIII, had this ceiling replaced by new one. He also commissioned Tommaso Laureti to paint its central panel with “The Triumph of the Christian Religion”. Laureti worked from 1582 till 1585 on the project. It shows the destruction of pagan idols throughout the empire. Constantine had ordered these to be replaced by Christian images.
Around this central panel Laureti painted the continents of Europe, Asia and Africa and eight regions of Italy, two in each pendentive.
The corners of the ceiling depict accomplishments of Gregory XIII. The frieze contains the symbols of Sixtus V.