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Painted by Raphael’s workshop, the frescos in the Vatican Museums’ Hall of Constantine tend to receive less attention than those in the three other famed Raphael’s Rooms executed by the Renaissance master himself. Although Raphael had designed the entire room, he died prematurely in 1520, leaving behind his sketches for students to follow. New findings, however, reveal that he actually did leave his mark on the hall, in the form of two allegorical female figures portraying the virtues of Friendship and Justice.
As the Vatican Television Center first announced, the discovery occurred during the hall’s restoration, which began in March 2015. The figures are easy to overlook, both positioned at the fringes of frescos, away from any main action. Friendship, who wears a blue gown, is tucked into a corner of the hall, perched to the left of a seated portrait of Clement I, which occupies the edge of the Vision of the Cross. The sprawling fresco centers on the emperor Constantine receiving word that he would emerge victorious from his forthcoming battle against Maxentius at the Milvian Bridge. Justice appears next to the sprawling fresco that depicts that historic fight, leaning against the painted red curl of a trompe l’oeil tapestry, staring at her scales.
Raphael would have painted the figures shortly before his death, leaving the rest of the room to be completed by his students, chiefly Giulio Romano and Giovan Francesco Penni. As art historian Arnold Nesselrath explained to the daily La Stampa, 16th-century sources had noted that Raphael had painted two figures in the rooms; experts, though, were unable to confirm the works until the recent restorations, which showed that “they are of a much higher quality than what’s around,” according to Nesselrath.
The Hall of Constantine was one of the four grand halls Pope Julius II commissioned Raphael and his workshop to decorate, and it represented the final phase of the project, only finished in 1585. Alongside the Vision of the Cross and Battle of Constantine against Maxentius are more dizzying depictions of scenes from Constantine’s life (hence, the room’s name). Although the last to be painted, it is the first of the reception rooms that visitors enter, followed by the Room of Heliodorus, the Room of the Signatura, and the Room of the Fire in the Borgo.