The lunette of the Niche dei Palliums
An extraordinary example of Medieval metalworking, which comes directly from the heart of Saint Peter’s Basilica
The artefact, exhibited in the first room of the Cybo Apartment is a remarkable example of medieval sumptuary art, created at the end of the pontificate of Innocent III (1198-1215). On the front face, the projecting repoussé layer of gilded bronze portrays the mitre and the faldstool, i.e., the episcopal throne, surrounded by the busts of prophets and apostles. At the centre is the Agnus Dei, over which is the door of God, surrounded by the symbols of the evangelists. The 24 newly-elected archbishops and the pope are engraved on the back.
The object once crowned the Niche of the Palliums in the confessio of the old Saint Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, below the main altar. The niche was used to store the palliums (the white stoles embroidered with black crosses that popes still today confer upon archbishops during a solemn vestment ceremony.
The item has generally been attributed to an artist coming from the Meuse Valley: existing documents note that in 1215 Pope Innocent III updated the decoration of the niche, hiring artists from northern Europe.
For a long time the lunette was kept in the Depot of the Sanctuary of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Venturella (Mentorella) in Capranica Prenestina: its move to Palazzo Venezia dates back to 1955.