Mapping the Heavens: The Ceiling of the Sala Bologna in the Vatican Palace
Emily A. Urban
Commissioned in 1575 by Pope Gregory XIII, the Sala Bologna, a small dining room located in the Vatican Palace, represents a monumental expression of Renaissance artistic and scientific achievement. Frescoed on the ceiling is an extraordinary vision of the heavens that is complemented by three maps of Bologna painted on the walls. In contrast to similarly themed decoration, this ceiling does not depict the horoscope of its patron, but instead presents a cartographically accurate rendition of the entire universe. Through an interpretation of the painted iconography, as well as an examination of the tradition of celestial frescoes, I demonstrate that this ceiling is remarkable not only for its cartographic accuracy, but for its representation of Renaissance astronomy. Moreover, by looking at con- temporary artistic theory and scientific advancement, I argue that this fresco gives visual expression to the goals and aspirations of the Boncompagni pope who sought to use empirical inquiry as an ideological tool of the Counter Reformation.