Originally intended as a suite of apartments for Pope Julius II, the four rooms known as the Raphael’s Rooms or Stanze of Raphael, is situated on the second floor of the Pontifical Palace, located in an area of the papal apartments, open to the public and visited by more than 4 million people a year. The rooms, now part of the Vatican Museums in Vatican City, are famous for their frescoes, painted by Raphael and his workshop between 1508 and 1524. They house some of the most spectacular Renaissance masterpieces, showcasing a stunning and unforgettable collection.
During that time Rafael was a relatively young artist from Urbino. However, Pope Julius II commissioned him and his studio for the decoration of the rooms, with the hope of outshining his rival Pope Alexander VI. After the death of Pope Julius II, the commission was continued by Pope Leo X and following the death of Raphael in 1520, the commission was completed by his assistants Gianfrancesco Penni, Giulio Romano and Raffaellino.
The four Raphael’s Rooms, also known as the Stanze di Raffaello, consists of the Sala di Constatino (Room of Constantine), Stanza di Eliodoro (Room of Heliodorus), Stanza della Segnatura (Room of the Signature) and Stanza dell’incendio del Borgo (Room of the Borgo Fire) are painted with a unique theme and the sequence of the four rooms starts from the Room of Constantine.
The walls and frescoes of the Room of Constantine depict four episodes in the life of Emperor Constantine: the first emperor, who recognized Christianity as his faith. The episodes include the Vision of the Cross, the Battle of Milvian Bridge, in which Constantine defeated Maxentius on 28 October 312, the Baptism of Constantine and the Donation of Rome, where the emperor Constantine kneels before Pope Sylvester and offering him the city of Rome. The ceiling of the room illustrates the theme of the Triumph of Christianity over the pagan idols and practices.
The second-room, the Room of Heliodorus, was painted with political themes and depicts historical moments from the Old Testament through to medieval history, when the Church was protected miraculously by God. The Mass of Bolsena shows an episode that took place in 1263 near Orvieto, when the Christian faith was threatened and being saved by God.
The Liberation of St. Peter shows the prince of apostles and first Pope being saved from the prison by an angel. Encounter of Leo the Great with Attila shows the appearance of the apparitions of Saint Peter and Saint Paul armed with swords during the meeting between Pope Leo and Attila. Expulsion of Heliodorus, from which the room takes its name, illustrates a biblical episode, depicting God banishing Heliodorus, who was attempting to steal valuables from the temple of Jerusalem.
The themes in the Room of the Segnatura, which houses Raphael’s most famous frescoes, are focused on conveying the concepts of truth, excellence and beauty. Disputation of the Most Holy Sacrament corresponds to Theology and its victory over any arguments against it. School of Athens, one of his most famous works of Rafael, depicts the most famous philosophers of ancient times, which include among others, Plato, Aristotle, Socrates and Diogenes, discussing together on the steps of a grand building.
The concepts of rational truth and knowledge are expressed through their movements. The third theme in the room, Cardinal and Theological Virtues, illustrates the virtues of faith, hope and charity. Parnassus is the last theme in the room, which depicts Apollo playing his lyre among the Muses on the Mount Parnassus, in the presence of the ancient and modern poets like, Homer, Dante and Sappho.
The fourth room, Stanza dell’incendio del Borgo or the Room of the Borgo Fire, was named after the fresco, the Fire in the Borgo, depicting Pope Leo IV making the sign of the cross to extinguish a raging fire in the Borgo district of Rome, very near to Vatican. The other items in the room include Coronation of Charlemagne on Christmas Day in 800, The Oath of Leo III and the Battle of Ostia, depicting the victory of Pope Leo IV and his armies in AD 846 against the Saracens.
The Raphael rooms, regarded as significant for the Roman Catholic Church are one of the most visited parts of the Vatican museums