ROME — The Vatican’s Apostolic Library, which is home to ancient manuscripts, rare books and reading rooms for scholars is opening its doors to the general public with a small new exhibition space aimed at pairing its artistic treasures with contemporary art.
The inaugural exhibit “Tutti” (All) takes its inspiration from Pope Francis’ 2020 encyclical “Brothers All” which combines his appeals for environmental sustainability, greater human fraternity and a more just socio-economic order in the post-COVID world.
Rome artist Pietro Ruffo, for whom maps and migration are regular themes, was invited to design a site-specific exhibit in one of the Library’s halls, which he transformed into a tropical forest. In another room, Ruffo designed a contemporary version of one of the Library’s ancient maps of the Nile with the two running side-by-side in a glass case.
Inaugurating the new space last week, Francis said the world was in need of new maps after COVID-19.
“In this epochal change that the pandemic has accelerated, humanity needs new maps to discover the sense of fraternity, of friendship and the common good,” he said. “We need a new beauty, that isn’t the usual reflection of power of some but a courageous mosaic of everyone’s diversity.”
The initiative, funded by the estate of U.S. philanthropist Kirk Kerkorian, follows Francis’s appeal early on in his pontificate for the Library to open itself up more to the outside world. Francis has followed that line by also opening the papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo to the public as a museum.
The exhibit, which runs through Feb. 22, is open Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons and provides visitors with a unique way to get into Vatican City that would otherwise be off-limits. Visitors must request admission in advance online, and the 15 euro admission fee includes the catalogue.
The Apostolic Library is separate from the Vatican Secret Archives, recently renamed the Vatican Apostolic Archives, which is home to all the documentation from the Holy See and its far-flung embassies. Both are open to scholars upon request.