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Vatican Breaks Record for Vestments Exhibit

9th January 2019

In 2018, the Vatican lent some of its most sacred pieces of liturgical vestments from the Sistine Chapel’s sacristy to a New York gallery for secular exhibition. the Metropolitan Museum of Art is titled Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination. It is said to be the most popular show that the Met has ever conducted, breaking every record (even one that it held previously).

Archbishop Georg Gänswein, who serves as prefect of the papal household under Pope Francis, collaborated with the Metropolitan Museum of Arts in New York to conduct the most ambition exhibition that the institution has ever taken on. The exhibition spanned 21 galleries and included around 40 Vatican ecclesiastical vestments for display. The exhibition aimed to “examine fashion’s ongoing engagement with the devotional practices and traditions of Catholicism,”and explore how the Catholic Church has served as an inspiration to fashion designers and trends over centuries.

The lead curator of the Met, Andrew Bolton, is said to have visited the Vatican more than 10 times to secure pieces, including a papal tiara comprising 18,000 diamonds and items worn by Pope Benedict 14th in the 1600s. These pieces, some of which have never left the Vatican’s sacristy before, will be shown along with 140 pieces from contemporary and luxury fashion brands including Dolce & Gabbana, Versace, Chanel and Valentino.

Mr Bolton was granted full access to the Sistine Chapel Sacristy and became so close with its custodian priests in his 10 trips to Rome that they entrusted him with the hidden chamber’s keys and opened secret doors, behind which elderly nuns ironed the pope’s white vestments.

Whilst the exhibition was a celebration of the reverence of religious garments, questions were raised how Mr. Bolton planned to navigate the presentation of holy artefacts alongside more abstract and conceptual creations from fashion designers without causing offence. However, Mr. Bolton has stated that the religious artefacts from the Vatican would be displayed separately, while fashion garments will sit alongside medieval art.

As for those who consider the accessorising of papal vestments with modern fashion a blasphemous exploitation, Cardinal Ravasi stated that at least Christian symbols still touch a nerve. The cardinal said fashion had biblical origins, stating that “It was God who dressed us. God was the tailor in Genesis” and that he saw a common thread between the dress code for a gala and the otherworldliness of ecclesiastical vestments. Both of them signified, he said, a distinction from the mundane and quotidian.

The pieces range in date from the mid-18th to the early 21st centuries and encompass moreLiturgical Vestments than 15 papacies. The earliest is a mantle worn by Benedict XIV, and the latest is a pair of red shoes worn by Saint John Paul II. The exhibit will also include a suite of 12 vestments commissioned by Empress Maria Anna Carolina of Austria for Pius IX. Dating to the mid-19th century, they required 15 women more than 16 years to complete. Another highlight will include a papal tiara given to the same pope, Pius IX, by Queen Isabella II of Spain that contains 19,000 precious stones, 18,000 of them diamonds.

This was not the first time that the Vatican has lent pieces to the Met, as The Vatican Collections exhibit in 1983 is said to be the third-most visited exhibition in its 148-year history, showing the veneration held for such subjects. However, “Heavenly Bodies” has proven to be even more popular than the exhibit from the spring of 1983, now dropping to the museum’s fourth most popular. At the end of , The Met stated that 855,939 people had attended “The Vatican Collection” exhibit, grossing $2.38 million for the museum back in 1983.

However, the 2018 exhibit closed out its six-month run at the museum’s as the most popular show of all time, beating out 1978’s “Treasures of Tutankhamun” for the top spot. All told, 1,659,647 people turned out for the Costume Institute’s dramatic depiction of Catholic fashion, according to a release from the museum. This final figure cements fashion’s dominance at the nation’s best-known art institution.

You can read more about the Mets “Heavenly Bodies” exhibition and the sacred clerical vestments not https://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/listings/2018/heavenly-bodies