Unknown Raphael Paintings Discovered in the Vatican

Restoration work in the Hall of Constantine uncovered two allegorical figures that Raphael appears to have painted before his untimely death in 1520

Experts say that Raphael painted an allegorical figure of Justice on the far right of this elaborate fresco, which depicts the battle between Constantine and his rival, Maxentius. Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

In the early 16th century, Pope Julius II commissioned the Italian painter Raphael to design the Hall of Constantine, a reception room in the Vatican’s Pontifical Palace. Raphael sketched out plans for the hall, but died suddenly in 1520, before he was able to execute his vision. The work of painting the room was left to Raphael’s students—or so experts once believed. As Claire Voon reports for Hyperallergic, conservators working to restore the Hall of Constantine recently discovered two allegorical figures that appear to have been painted by the High Renaissance master.

The banquet hall is covered by four frescoes depicting significant events in the life of Constantine, the first Roman emperor to recognize Christianity; there is the Vision of the Cross, the Battle of Constantine and Maxentius, the Baptism of Constantine, and the Donation of Rome. The frescoes are elaborate and bustling, and the figures purportedly painted by Raphael are easy to miss amid the action.

The first figure is Friendship, which, according to Voon, hovers at the edge of the Vision of the Cross. This fresco shows Constantine’s premonition that he would be victorious against his rival, Maxentius if he placed crosses on top of his soldiers’ standards. Friendship wears a blue dress and stands next to a portrait of Pope Clement I, who served as bishop of Rome from 88 to 99 A.D.

The second figure, Justice, is located on the far right of the Battle of Constantine against Maxentius, which shows Rome's first Christian emperor emerging victorious against his brother-in-law.

The Italian newspaper La Stampa first reported the news of the oil paintings’ discovery, citing a video on the Vatican’s YouTube channel. Arnold Nesselrath, art historian and head of technical and scientific research at the Vatican Museums, told La Stampa that 16th-century sources say Raphael painted two figures in the Hall of Constantine before he died.

“According to the sources, these two oil painted figures are of a much higher quality than the ones around them,” Nesselrath said, according to artnet News' translation.

But experts weren’t sure which—if any—of the figures had been painted by Raphael until the restoration work began in March 2015 and Raphael's oil technique on the two paintings became apparent, writes La Stampa

In other parts of the Vatican, Raphael’s contributions are far more conspicuous. The artist’s vibrant frescoes—including the famed School of Athens— adorn the walls of three other rooms in the Pontifical Palace.

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