Thursday, March 05, 2009

A Papal Mass in the Sistine Chapel in the 16th Century

Ambrogio Brambilla 1549 - 1629
This accurate sketch of Papal grandeur while a mass is celebrated in the Sixtine Chapel
53 x 39 cm
Published in 1582 by Claudio Duchetti

TEXT: S[anctissi]mo D[omino] N[ostro] celebrante missa o[mn]es Card[ina]les et Ep[iscop]i sunt parati pluvialibus et mitris. Quando celebratur p[onti]f[ic]e S[anctissimo] D[omino] N[ostro] Papa Card[ina]les cappas habent rubeas vel violaceas iuxta temporis consuetudinem et Ep[iscop]i et Praelati h[ab]ent cappas violaceas. Familia S[anctissimi] D[omini] N[ostri] semper rubeo vestitur.

Signature: ROMAE. Claudii Ducheti formis Nepot. Ant. Lafrerii 1582. Ambrosius brambilla fec.

An early engraving of the Sistine Chapel shows the full pomp of a papal religious ceremony, with the pope, the entire papal curia, and the singers in their box (lower right) gathered around a lectern.

Every important participant is identified by a number corresponding to a legend at the bottom of the page. The pope on his throne at the left is no. 4, and the papal singers in their "cantoria" are no. 51

The order of the rites for the celebration of mass were prescribed by a congregation in charge of ceremonies, and codified in an elaborate printed manual that was regularly updated. This book acted as a script for the pope and clergy to use throughout the ritual year.

A Master of Ceremonies (n. 46) sits on the dais closest to the pope, since he is responsible for the smooth unfolding of the rites and maintenance of the orders of precedence that characterize the papal court in this period.

Brambilla takes care to differentiate members of the exclusively male crowd outside the gate, none of whom are identified by number, so that we can recognize tonsured monks, foppish Frenchmen, Easterners in their Phrygian caps, local dandies, pages and soldiers.

Seated almost directly across the chapel from the pope is the secular governor of the city (n. 12), and in the middle of the long bench on the same side are the leaders of various countries who might be present in Rome and attending the mass that day (n. 10).

Every person and item of ritual furniture (the altar with its book, candlesticks and crucifix laid out, the papal throne to the left with its honorific baldacchino) is numbered and then labeled in the key below, so that viewers of the print can learn every arcane detail of this aspect of the papal mass.

The entire scene takes place against the backdrop of Michelangelo's fresco of the Last Judgment (n. 57)