This post continues our series of the Raphael rooms, focusing on the Stanza dell'incendio del Borgo or Fire in the Borgo. To briefly recap, the room was originally prepared as a music room for Pope Julius’ successor, Leo X. The room itself holds the unfanciful distinction of being the Raphael room with the least painted frescoes by the Renaissance master’s hand: it is widely believed Raphael only painted The Oath of Leo III (and the actual amount is debated), while the other three frescoes were painted by his assistants, who we should not forget were celebrated masters in their own light! So what were the frescoes all about?

The Oath of Leo III, the only one touched by Raphael’s brush, illustrates an episode that took place the day before the crowning of Charlemagne, when Pope Leo III responded to the alleged slander of the nephews of his predecessor, Hadrian I. The painting shows Leo III during his trial on December 23 AD 800, where he faced his accusers. True to convention the assembled bishops declared that they could not judge the Pope; this reaffirmed the principle that the vicar of Christ is responsible to God alone for his actions. In a show of goodwill and deft diplomacy Leo III took an oath of purgation of his own free will anyway after the trial – no doubt solidifying his reputation among the bishops and his supporters.

The second fresco in the Stanze di Raffaello is known as the The Coronation of Charlemagne. As the name suggests, the painting depicts the occasion where Charlemagne, King of the Franks (he expanded the Frankish kingdom into an empire that incorporated much of Western and Central Europe and Italy) is officially declared Emperor of the Romans, or Imperator Romanorum, by Leo III on December 25, 800. The fresco is believed to have been designed by Raphael and completed by Gianfrancesco Penni. Scholars believe the scene in the painting actually refers to the Concordat of Bologna, negotiated between the kingdom of France and the Vatican in 1515. They base this theory on the belief that the picture of Leo III is in fact a portrait of Leo X, and Charlemagne a portrait of King Francis I of French. The Concordat of Bologna (1516) was of course a pivotal document in the history of the Roman Catholic Church: it was an agreement driven by King Francis I after his victory at Marignano in September 1515, at which point he wanted full liberties for the French to decide who their bishops, orderlies and other church officials were.

While we don’t have any scale representations of the Raphael frescoes, we do have plenty of Raphael paintings on offer. Looking for a Madonna, or perhaps a timeless and beautiful portrait of Saint Catherine? What about an oil on canvas work of Saint Francis of Assisi? Look no further – the Renaissance master has a permanent presence here, much like he does on the walls of the Vatican.