SAINT MARTIAL CHAPEL
This oratory just next to the Grand Tinel is where deliberations took place during conclaves. The highly detailed decors in the frescoes which decorate the chapel were painted by Matteo Giovannetti between 1344 and 1345, commissioned by Pope Clement VI. The scenes are in the alphabetical order of their legends, and introduce innovative effects of perspective and realism. They are painted in a spiral movement from the vaulted top of the chapel to the bottom. They tell the marvellous story of Saint Martial who was sent by Saint Peter to spread the word of the Gospel in the Limousin area of France – the Pope’s native region.
This chapel is currently undergoing restoration and is temporarily closed to the public. A film shown at the entrance to the chapel enables visitors to see the entire set of the painted frescoes in the chapel.
SAINT JOHN CHAPEL
Located just below the Saint Martial chapel, Saint John chapel is the oratory for the Consistory. The chapel’s name comes from the fact that the walls and vault are decorated with frescoes which tell the story of the lives of Saint John the Baptist and Saint John the Evangelist. This cycle of frescoes was painted between 1346 and 1348 by a team of artists under the direction of Matteo Giovannetti. Unlike the unusual subject painted in the Saint Martial chapel, here the painter has illustrated a subject that was very popular subject that is also featured in the Saint John of Latran basilica in Rome. The artist used classic, codified iconography here to build a more stylized, less animated decorative ensemble than that seen in the Saint Martial chapel. His work nevertheless is every bit as innovative in that it shows the artist’s strong inclination for naturalism, for portrait art and for well-developed use of space. This is Italian pictorial experimentation at its most successful.
FRESCOES OF THE PROPHETS
These frescoes were painted by Matteo Giovannetti in 1353 on the vaults of the last bay in the Grande Audience hall. Twenty prophets, kings and patriarchs from the Old Testament fill the scene. Each holds an excerpt from the Holy Scriptures. The range of postures and expressions, noble yet human, clearly convey Matteo Giovannetti’s skill as a portrait artist. Here too, he has reached the peak of his art.
Matteo Giovannetti, pictor pape (painter to the pope)
Matteo Giovannetti was born around 1300 in Viterbo. He became the prior of the Church of San Martino in 1336. He arrived in Avignon around 1343. He was bestowed the prestigious title of “Pictor Pape”, the Pope’s painter, in 1346 and was in charge of the major decorating work in the palace. He died in 1369, most probably in Rome where he was working on the decoration of the Vatican palace. He spent most of his career outside of Italy, serving exclusively the Prince of the Church.
The style of Matteo Giovannetti
Rediscovered long afterwards by art historians, Matteo Giovannetti brought the major pictorial innovations that were taking place in Tuscany to Avignon. His work is distinguished by his outstanding talent as a portrait painter, his inclination to naturalism, and his great mastery of spatial representation, which he put to work adding effects of perspective and trompe-l’œil.
THE PAINTED ROOMS
The private papal apartments lie at the junction of the old and new palace and were the heart of the private areas where the popes lived.
The walls are covered with a sky-blue colour that serves as the background for plant-inspired paintings of grape-vine scrolls and oak tendrils which abound with birds and squirrels. This decoration dates from 1337-1338 and recreates a textile decor. The window space is used to provide amazing perspective through a series of painted delicate Gothic arches holding various bird cages, some of which hold birds but most of which are empty.
A narrow corridor leads from the Papal Chamber to the Stag room, which Pope Clement VI used as his study. A team of French and Italian artists decorated this room in 1343 in a continuous panorama of the pleasures and pastimes pursued by the lords of the time. Hunting and fishing scenes show various techniques used at the time – hunting with decoys, hunting with weasels, fishing in pools. The scene depicting a stag hunt, the leading pursuit of the aristocratic class, must have left a great impression, since this room became known as the Stag Hunt room. The forests shown in the background are domesticated and peaceful, source of fruit, flowers and herbs. In the trees, people are picking fruit and capturing birds. Below the wood frame a frieze on a red background shows scenes of hunting, fishing and real and mythical animals.