The Vatican Library Just Opened Its First Permanent Contemporary Art Gallery a Stone’s Throw From the Sistine Chapel

The installation by Italian artist Pietro Ruffo will be on view through February 2022.

The Vatican Apostolic Library's Sistine Hall, newly reestablished as reading room of printed books. Courtesy of the Vatican.

A contemporary art exhibition has opened in a new dedicated gallery in the Vatican Apostolic Library, which is normally only accessible to scholars, and Pope Francis was on hand for its inauguration on November 5. Funded by the heirs of the American philanthropist Kirk Kerkorian, and organized by the Atlanta-based Sanctuary of Culture Foundation, the library’s first public exhibition space is meant to “support the culture of encounter,” according to librarian Cardinal José Tolentino de Mendonça.

The inaugural show, titled “Tutti. Umanità in cammino” or “Everyone: Humanity on Its Way,” features work by Italian artist Pietro Ruffo inspired by the most recent papal encyclicalan open letter released to the Catholic clergy and laity that expresses the pope’s views on a particular aspect of church doctrine. The document, titled Fratelli Tutti and published last October, includes the pope’s thoughts on brotherhood and “social friendship”, based on the writings of Saint Francis of Assisi.

Ruffo was commissioned to create a new work for the gallery, engaging with themes of migration and travel, according to a Vatican statement, “underlining the difficulties and the beauty of the encounter between people of different origins.” The installation The Clearest Way takes over the Vatican Library’s Sala Barberini, with Ruffo’s rolled botanical prints lining the 17th-century wooden bookcases, transforming the room “into a lush tropical forest,” according to the Catholic News Agency.


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De Mendonça said that the Vatican is seeking to strengthen its arts and culture programming through such opportunities of “history meeting the present.” And so, along with Ruffo’s work, the exhibition space includes manuscripts and geographical drawings from the Vatican Library, like a 20-foot-long 17th-century map of the Nile river by Ottoman explorer Evliya Çelebi and Chinese world maps dating to the 16th century.

“The encounter with the immense patrimony of the Vatican Apostolic Library was for me a journey into knowledge, geography, and the history of humanity,” Ruffo told CNA, adding that “the dialogue between my research and the terrestrial and celestial maps of different eras and cultures outlines a humanity that is increasingly interconnected and responsible for the fragile relationship with its ecosystem.”

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