Saturday, January 11, 2014

How Popes used to dress vesti dei Papi I parati della Sacrestia Pontificia (Papal dress and the apparel worn in the Papal Sacristy) is a book written by Professor Marzia Cataldi Gallo, a scholar of international renown, who specialises in the field of old textiles and the history of costume. 

This is the first work that presents the rich heritage of the Papal Sacristy, located behind the Sistine Chapel.

The Sacristy’s spacious chestnut wardrobes hide treasures that have been woven and embroidered over the centuries: from the garments worn by Paul V Borghese (1605-1621) to the pieces worn by the Pope today. 

The papal vestments make for an incredibly rich heritage that remains unknown to date, especially the papal outfits which are sporadically published in books discussing golden and silver furnishings or occasionally shown in exhibitions. 

The first book on the topic gives readers the chance to experience two centuries of papal and Church history.

The study of preserved vestments is combined with the analysis of a number of archived documents that reveal the importance of the old outfits and the various stories that led to their preservation or destruction. 

The analysis of thoroughly kept inventories and account books made it possible to reconstruct the identities and activities of many artists and artisans: embroiderers, the “banderari” – middle class artisans who tailored the vestments and the merchants who supplied the finest materials. 

All these individuals worked in the service of each respective Pope over the centuries, producing embroidered garments that were then copied all over Europe.

The archive documents are illuminating as they provide accounts of life in the Papal household. 

On the one hand they reveal information about the considerable expenses incurred and on the other, they show the “recycling” which took place, through the common tradition of Popes re-using their predecessor’s coat of arms, to save on materials. 

Besides the papal vestments, other components of the Popes’ “daily” dress were also analysed. 

In particular the superb white cassocks of the Blessed Pope Innocent XI (1676-1689). More that one century since the last complete inventory was made in 1906, this extraordinary and previously unknown heritage is finally revealed. 

This is also thanks to the precious help of the photographic equipment available.

In a statement to Vatican Insider, the author of the book said: “My desire to carry out this research grew after 30 years of working in the Ligurian sacristies, as a conservator for Liguria’s Regional Board of Artistic and Historical Heritage. My work involved cataloguing and restoring a great number of liturgical vestments (as well as other pieces of art of course). But my passion for old textiles and the history of costume goes back a while before this.”

Mrs. Cataldi Gallo who worked as a civil servant (1984-2008) and head of Liguria’s Regional Board of Artistic and Historical Heritage (2003-2006) commented on the photographic equipment that was of great help to her in this splendid reconstruction, saying: “The photos I used in my study were invaluable in helping me weave my way through the various parameters and in trying to work out which pontificate each piece of clothing belonged to. Daria Vinco’s beautiful photos are vital in presenting this unknown heritage to the public.”

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