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The Coronation of Charlemagne

Raphael Rooms: Room of the Fire in the Borgo

Vatican Museums

The Room of the Fire in the Borgo, at the time of Julius II, was used for meetings of the Segnatura, the Tribunal presided over by the pope in person. But when pope Leo X decided to transform it into a hall for music and dining, he gave Raphael the job of decorating it.

Of the paintings prior to Raphael’s makeover, only the frescoes on the ceiling, done by Perugino, remain. Much of the decorations of the hall were done by the students of Raphael who had, however, designed the entire room.

The work was intended to honor pope Leo, through the stories of his predecessors of the same name, Leo III and Leo IV. The painter took inspiration from the Liber Pontificalis, the book that recounts the lives of the popes. And again, Raphael enjoyed giving the pontiffs the face of the reigning pope.

The Coronation of Charlemagne

The first fresco shows the Coronation of Charlemagne who was crowned Emperor in Saint Peter’s Basilica on Christmas eve in the year 800, the episode that established the birth of the Holy Roman Empire.

Some researchers claim however that Charlemagne was crowned emperor against his will. In the Coronation of Charlemagne, painted by Raphael, Pope Leo III has the face of Leo X and the emperor that of Francois I of France, so the fresco could also allude to the agreement stipulated between the Holy See and the Kingdom of France in 1515.

The Oath of Leo III

The Oath of Leo III on the next wall tells of the episode that occurred the day before the Coronation of Charlemagne when the pope, responding to the accusations of the nephew of his predecessor, affirmed that the pontiff is responsible for his actions before God alone.

Fire in the Borgo

The most famous fresco, the Fire in the Borgo, which gives its name to the room, tells of the fire of 847 that raged through the neighborhood of the Borgo Vaticano, directly in front of Saint Peter’s Basilica.

The legend is that Pope Leo IV miraculously put out the fire by blessing the flames from up on the Benediction Loggia and thus saved the people.

Actually, the picture also has to do with the burning of Troy and the muscular man at the left carrying an older man on his shoulders reminds Aeneas who carried his father Anchises to safety.

Looking at the fresco, the idea does come to mind that Raphael was inspired here as well by the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and in particular by the painting of the Flood; indeed there is a similar figure, naked and muscular, who carries a woman to safety on his shoulders.

The Battle of Ostia

Finally, The Battle of Ostia tells the story of the landing of the Saracens at the mouth of the Tiber River at Ostia in the year 849.

The papal armies found themselves face to face with the bloodthirsty Saracen hordes and miraculously won the battle. In this case, an obvious allusion to the Crusades that, in that period, were being promoted directly by pope Leo X.