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Raphael’s Loggia in the Vatican

Raphael's first commission under Pope Julius II at the Vatican was to design and decorate the space intended for the Pope's library, known as the Stanza della Signature, which included the famous fresco of The School of Athens with Plato and Aristotle at the center of its larger-than-life philosophers. Under Pope Leo X in 1515 Raphael received commissions to design tapestries for the lower walls of the Sistine Chapel (resulting in the “Cartoons” which young Melville saw at Hampton Court in 1849) as well as the frescos with which Raphael illuminated the Loggia of the Vatican Palace. In addition to these projects designed to permanently enhance the pictorial architecture of the Vatican Palace and Museum, Raphael painted unforgettable portraits of his two Papal patrons, devotional Madonnas for churches and patrons throughout Italy, and altarpieces including Saint Cecelia in Ecstasy in Bologna and the glorious Transfiguration, completed shortly before Raphael’s death in competition Sebastiano del Piombo, whose Rising of Lazarus, painted with the help of a drawing by Michelangelo, was intended for the same cathedral (Penny 899-904).

Johannes Volpato’s 1772 engraving after Pietro Camporesi’s drawing of Raphael’s Loggia was the frontispiece to the first volume of Giovanni Ottaviani’s three-volume Loggie di Rafaele nel Vaticano. Volpato’s folio print and Ottaviani’s multi-volume publication were part of the comprehensive project by which Popes Clementine XIV and Pius VI in the late eighteenth century excavated, preserved, and consolidated artifacts of Ancient Rome within the expanded confines of the Vatican Museum as Raphael had known it to incorporate the treasures of the Clementine Pius Museum as Melville was to see them in 1857. In Melville’s print collection, the late eighteenth-century project of excavation and display is most strikingly represented by his copies of Piranesi’s Arch of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius published in The Campo Marzio of Ancient Rome in 1763 (CAT 79) and Mochetti’s Achille in Sciro published in volume 5 of Il Museo Clementino Pio in 1795 (CAT 15). Volpato’s frontispiece for the first volume of Loggie di Rafaele nel Vaticano in 1772 served to introduce 48 folio plates which reproduced the paintings above all thirteen arches of the Loggia (known as Raphael’s Bible) as well as Raphael’s decorative designs for the entire Loggia area. Volpato was the teacher of Raphael Morghen, who in the early nineteenth century was to engrave the images Melville eventually acquired of Dante, Ariosto, and Tasso (MBB 2-2, CAT 104, 105). In 1871, Volpato and young Morghen had collaborated on four engravings from Raphael’s Stanze in the Vatican (Poetry, Justice, Philosophy, and Theology), after which Volpato “gave” Morghen “his daughter in marriage” in appreciation for his fine work (Halsey, nos. 83, 142, 146, 162).

Melville was immediately drawn to Raphael’s Loggia on his first visit to the Vatican, on March 2, 1857, spending the morning at “the Loggie of Raphael & Sistine Chapel” before visiting the Vatican Museum in the afternoon. In the Loggia he was impressed with the “piazzas—the sky seen between columns—Adam & Eve—The Eve—Faded bloom of the paintings” (NN J 108). Volpato’s engraving shows the light from the sky coming down between the columns as well as the paintings up inside the arches. The one painting that is visible in the “Adam and Eve” sequence that had caught Melville’s attention is the Expulsion of Adam and Eve directly behind the first arch. Figure 1, a detail from Volpato’s engraving, shows how the image might have appeared under a magnifying glass in Melville’s home on East 26th Street.

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Figure 1. Detail from Volpato, Raphael’s Loggia in the Vatican, 1772.

Figure 2 shows the coloring in which Adam and Eve appear to the visitor standing below them today as Melville had in 1857. Either way, Raphael conveys the shame imposed by the church on the fleeing figures Ishmael refers to as “the two orchard thieves” in the opening chapter of Moby-Dick (NN MD 6).

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Figure 2. Expulsion of Adam and Eve. Raphael’s Loggia in the Vatican, c. 1518.

In Melville’s print collection, Volpato’s engraving of the receding arches above which “Raphael’s Bible” had been painted between 1516 and 1519 for a Roman Catholic pope offers a telling juxtapostion with the sequence of engravings from the 1728 Dutch Taferelen whose capital letters and embedded scenes each introduce one of Father Saurin’s Protestant biblical commentaries (CAT 24-48). Volpato’s 52 engravings of “Raphael’s Bible” and the Taferelen’s graphic enhancements of “Saurin’s Bible” each exemplify the power of art to present a comprehensive view of an entire culture’s view of the divine.

Melville’s interest in Raphael was not limited to the frescoes in the Loggia of the Vatican. When he returned on March 9 for a “deliberate walk” through all the sculptures and paintings on display in the Vatican galleries, he marveled at the “frescoed ceilings which, like starry skies, no man regards, so plentiful are the splendors.” He also looked closely at the “Coronation of the Virgin—Raphael—the faces so like his master Perugino’s in the next room” (NN J 110). On March 26 at the Accademia Belle Arti in Florence, Melville recorded a step in his own pictorial education by recognizing in paintings by Giotto the “predecessors of the Peruginos & Raphaels” he had seen in Rome. He showed independent judgment in this extension of that observation: “Saw a large painting, not referred to in my hand book, which contained many faces, attitudes, expressions & groupings I had noted at Rome in Raphael. Undoubtedly Raphael took from this, or some yet older painting. But still more, the whole spirit was the same.” A few days later he was taking note of Raphael’s Saint Cecilia in Bologna amidst that painter’s pre-Raphaelite predecessors and Bolognese successors (NN J 115, 116, 494).