Vatican Museums celebrate 30 years of the Patrons of the Arts


From October 15 through 20, 2013 the Papal Museums in the Vatican will host a week of initiatives, encounters, and events in celebration of the 30th Anniversary of the Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums, honoring three decades of generous support from the organization and its individuals for the conservation, restoration, and promotion of many treasures of the Vatican collections.

The Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums is more than an organization; it is an international community of individuals who, over the past 30 years, have expressed their passion for Culture, Art and Faith through the financial “adoption” of numerous projects of restoration and conservation of masterpieces held in the Vatican Museums.

In 1982, the Holy See promoted the itinerant exhibition, “The Vatican Collections: the Papacy and Art,” throughout the United States. This great endeavor brought the concern of preserving Vatican treasures to many Americans and led first to the creation of a group called “The Friends of the Vatican Museums.”

Soon after, at the behest of Cardinal Rosalio José Castillo Lara, the current Patrons of the Arts was founded, coordinated at the outset by Dr. Walter Persegati and then by the Dominican Fr. Allen Duston until 2007. Since then, the task has been entrusted to Fr. Mark Haydu, LC, who serves as International Director of the operation and continues to guide its actions and decisions today.

“It is perhaps not sufficiently well-known that the proceeds from ticket sales for an institution as large and complex as the Vatican Museums barely cover ordinary maintenance work,” affirms Professor Antonio Paolucci, Director of the Vatican Museums since 2007. “For work that may be considered “extraordinary,” the Museums’ papal collections are instead able to rely upon the timely and committed support of the Patrons of the Arts—capable art aficionados, both American and European, who allot significant financial resources, enabling extraordinary, high-profile, and costly restoration endeavors with their sponsorship”.

Over the years, the contributions, both modest and substantial, made by individuals, families, and Chapters of the Patrons, have facilitated some of the greatest restorative undertakings in the Vatican, including the restoration of the Stories of the Life of Christ and Moses in the Sistine Chapel, of treasures within the Pauline and Nicoline Chapels, of entire fresco programs in the fifteenth-century Papal Apartments of Pope Alexander IV Borgia, of historic sites such as the Scala Sancta, of the monumental Galera Fountain in the Vatican Gardens, and even of some of the most expansive wings in the Museum, such as the Gallery of Maps and the Gallery of the Candelabra. Patrons have responded to the restoration needs as ancient as that of the Santa Rosa Necropolis and as contemporary as the project of restoring the Museums’ Matisse Room. Their benefaction does not only sponsor famous, well-known works of art such as these; Patrons have been equally delighted to support lesser-known treasures of the Vatican Museums. Often times, these projects are the most rewarding, as conservators are able to examine and research these pieces in more depth than ever before, uncovering new and exciting information to share with the international art community.

It would be reductive to describe the Patrons simply as financers, for this term alone fails to acknowledge the specific qualities which separate these individuals from the vast spectrum of art-related benefaction. The very root of the word Patron, which derives from the Latin pater, implies an almost paternal relationship between benefactors and the historic and artistic collections that they have chosen to defend and protect from the ravages of time. It is therefore a relationship, born from fully sharing in the evangelizing mission of the Church through Art and Beauty that expresses a culture of giving that fosters intimate connections between works of art and patrons, going beyond merely monetary ties. Fr. Mark Haydu, International Director of the Patrons of the Arts, describes the organization as “a family with a very long and steady tradition,” that shares in a unique stature, “working alongside the Pope to preserve the world’s cultural patrimony. There is no route so directly and intimately linked to the legacy of art patronage in the Catholic Church as becoming a Patron of the Arts in the Vatican Museums.”

In highlighting the specific characteristics of the illuminated and meritorious work of the Patrons, particular mention should be given to the occupational implications of the “adoptive” conservational projects, especially in periods of grave economic crisis. The numerous restoration workshops established by funding from Patrons have ensured work for many young experts, offering them a valuable opportunity for professional and human growth.

By demonstrating, somewhat against the grain, that investing in Culture and in the defense of artistic heritage means investing in growth and in the future of generations to come, the mission of the Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums demonstrates, both today and for the future, the redeeming power of great passion united with the timeless, spiritual aspirations of humanity.