The Cappella Paolina (Pauline Chapel) is the major chapel, formerly papal, in the Qurinal Palace which was the main residence of the popes until 1870.
Pope Gregory XIII began the construction of a summer palace in 1583 on the Quirinal Hill, in a cooler location with fewer malaria mosquitoes than the Vatican Palace. Pope Paul V (1605-21) then moved the official residence of the popes to this new palace, where it remained until 1870.
The pope ordered a massive enlargement of the palace, which was initially undertaken by Flaminio Ponzio. When he died in 1613, Carlo Maderno took over. It was he who was responsible for the erection of the main chapel of the new palace, the so-called Cappella Paolina, which was finished in 1617.
The chapel was deliberately built to the same dimensions as the Cappella Sistina at the Vatican, and was intended to replace it as the primary papal chapel. Especially, it took over as the place where conclaves were held, and Pope Alexander VII built the so-called Manica Lunga along the Via del Quirinale as apartments for the assembled cardinals when one took place. The architect of this was Bernini.
The Quirinal Palace was regarded as the seat of the pope as a temporal ruler in his own right, and the Vatican Palace as his seat as the Bishop of Rome.
The chapel was looted by the French during their occupation after 1798, but was re-established as the pope's private chapel after the papal government was definitively restored in 1815. There was a major restoration by Pope Pius VII in 1818. The last conclave held there was the one that elected Pope Pius IX in 1846.
When Rome was conquered by the Kingdom of Italy in 1870, the Quirinal Palace was sequestered as the residence of King Victor Emmanuel II. Pope Pius refused to accept this, and put the chapel under interdict. This meant that Mass could not be celebrated there, and in fact the court chapel of the kingdom was to be Santissimo Sudario di Nostro Signore Gesù Cristo. This state of affairs lasted for over fifty years.
The Lateran Pacts of 1929 normalized relations between the Italian government and the Holy See, and the latter finally relinquished its claim to the palace. Thus, the chapel was re-opened as a place of worship and was restored in 1930.
When the Republic of Italy was proclaimed in 1946, the palace became the residence of the President and continues in that function. Mass is celebrated in the chapel as a State occasion, with the President in attendance. There has been a tradition of performing a publicly broadcast music concert here on Sundays.
The chapel is in the palace's second storey, the piano nobile. It is located at the southern corner, where the Via del Quirinale meets the Piazza del Quirinale. The left hand side wall fronts the former, and the altar end wall the latter.
There is no external identity. The large pedimented windows in what seem to be the second storey of the edifice here are actually false, but if you look above the cornice of the street frontage you will see what seems to be a third storey. This has a row of seven windows, flanked by a further pair of fake windows, and these open into the chapel just below its ceiling vault. The chapel shelters beneath a pitched and tiled roof which is hipped at the altar end.
The interior is a rectangular box, of seven bays with a further half-bay at each end. The sanctuary occupies the last two and a half bays, and is raised on four steps. There used to be a sanctuary screen, but this was removed in 1930. The wall decorations of nave and sanctuary are not distinguished.
Wall decorations Edit
The bays are separated by very shallow ribbed Corinthian pilasters which support an entablature running round the entire interior without a break. The frieze of this has vine-scroll decoration on a gilded background, the cornice has several orders of molding including egg-and-dart and the architrave has a meander. The ribs of the pilasters are gilded also.
The overall painted decoration of the walls is in light grey, white and gold, with the detailing influenced by the grotesque. In between the pilasters are monochrome figures of the Apostles and Evangelists, painted as though standing in round-headed niches. There are seven to the left, but only six on the right because one bay is occupied by a cantoria. The saints are accompanied by their attributes (symbols), and are also labelled. The work recalls the colossal statues of the apostles at San Giovanni in Laterano. From the right side of the entrance, they are: SS Mark, Matthias, Simon, Philip, Thomas, James the Great, Paul (to right of altar), Peter (to left of altar), Andrew, John the Evangelist, James the Less, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thaddeus (Jude) and Luke.
Below each figure is a panel with a painted grey swag and ribbons hanging from two ornate candlesticks. Above each figure is a gilded panel with vine-scrolls, alternate ones also including pairs of genii.
The single entrance has a white marble doorcase with egg-and-dart molding, flanked by two pilaster strips with red marble panels. These support a pair of posts in a horizontal entablature with a red frieze, the posts bearing lily-flowers. Above the entablature is a triangularly pedimented tablet with a putto's head over an olive-leaf swag, having a pair of small curlicues to the sides.
The two outer corners of the counterfaçade are each occupied by a pair of pilasters bearing vine-scroll ornament but with a pair of griffins in place of their capitals.
The lunette above the entablature and below the vault has a vine-scroll panel centred on the word pax (peace,) and above this is an epigraph tablet commemorating the restoration in 1818 by Pope Pius VII. His heraldry is over this, in high relief.
Halfway down the right hand side wall is a projecting balcony or cantoria, for the choir. This matches a similar item in the Cappella Sistina, but here the work is in polychrome marble. The balustrade has three rows of baluster pins in what looks like red cottolengo marble, separated by four panels in verde antico (the inner ones) and pink agate (the outer ones). The balcony itself is supported on strap corbels with putto's faces, and underneath it are three relief panels. The outer two have swags, but the inner one has a little dragon which comes from the coat-of-arms of Pope Paul V.
Above the choir, which is edged with Baroque polychrome marble revetting panels, is a monochrome depiction of a putto holding an open music book, assisted by two angels. The text says: In omnem terram exivit sonus eorum ("Their sound goes out into all the earth") which is a quotation from Psalm 19.
The richly stuccoed and gilded barrel-vaulted ceiling is original, and is by Martino Ferrabosco with the assistance of Annibale Durante and Agabito Visconte. It is based on a pattern of rows of interlinked circles with gilded rings of molding surrounding central rosettes. The four-cornered spaces in between the circles are occupied by central flowers, each one of which has radiating from it either four little putti, or dragons. In the centre of the vault is a relief of an angel carrying a monstrance with the Blessed Sacrament, and the Book of Seven Seals.
Each of the triangular window lunettes has a pair of angels holding emblems relating to the Papacy. The windows themselves have segmental pediments containing gilded swags, and also very deep embrasures. These embrasures have gilded reliefs of angels at the sides and top. In between the windows are square posts containing dragons, from which the vault springs.
The sanctuary has a window in its lunette, having a triangular pediment with a broken cornice. On this sit a pair of stucco angels, and within the embrasure is the Dove of the Holy Spirit. The gilded stucco decoration in the flanking panels includes angels and dragons (strictly speaking, here the latter are wyverns because they blend with the scrollwork in a serpentine manner).
There is no altar aedicule, but instead the altarpiece is bounded by a pair of the same style of pilaster as occurs in the nave. Unusually, it is a Gobelin tapestry woven in 1817 and depicting The Last Sermon of St Stephen. It was installed here in 1846.
The palace is open to the public on most Sundays, 8:30 to 12:00. The entry fee is ten euros. For discounts and days of closure, see here.
From October to June, there is a music concert at 12:00 in the chapel. The chapel is open to anybody wishing to attend from 11:30, although numbers are limited by the seating available.