Study for Angels Sealing the Foreheads of the Children of Israel in Saint Peter's Basilica

Pietro da Cortona (Pietro Berrettini) Italian

Not on view

Composed of three joined sheets, this magisterial design represents a vision of the Apocalypse, with the division of risen souls on the Day of Judgment. It is a study for the mosaic decoration of a dome in the right nave of Saint Peter's basilica. (The oval lantern piercing the dome is lightly indicated at the center.) Work on this important commission began in 1668, the year before Cortona's death, and was overseen by his talented pupil Ciro Ferri (1634-1689).

In 1652 Cortona was at work on cartoons for the mosaic decoration of the first three bays in the right nave of Saint Peter's Basilica. For the elliptical cupolas of these bays lie supplied scenes from the Apocalypse - the mosaic of the third cupola representing the Incensing of the Fiery Altar, that of the second the Adoration of the Lamb. These two mosaics had been completed by the time he began, in 1668, the cartoons for the cupola of the first bay, representing Angels Scaling the Foreheads of the Children of Israel (Revelation 7), but the mosaic of this last subject was finished only after Cortona's death, under the supervision of Ciro Ferri (1634-1689; see here "References" for further bibliography on this project).

This large drawing, made up of three sheets of paper joined vertically, gives us the essential narrative passages of Corrona's dramatic rendering of the apocalyptic vision, and the opening of the oval lantern is indicated in black chalk at the upper center of the design. Here, at the end of his career, the artist abandons pen and chalk; brush with wash suffices to indicate the surging movement of the figures. An engraving of the mosaic cupola in the first bay by F. Aquila, published in 1695, names Ciro Ferri as the designer of the composition, but the testimony of this drawing, certainly by Cortona, makes it clear that Ferri's role was probably limited to supervising the completion of his master's project. However, Nicholas Turner has recently identified in Siena (Biblioteca Comunale, vol. S. 2. 5, folio 46, recto) a black chalk drawing in Ciro Ferri's typical, scribbly hand that is a study for a group of figures in the mosaic. Ferri's figures come closer to the finished mosaic than to the Cortona project at the Metropolitan Museum.

Study for Angels Sealing the Foreheads of the Children of Israel in Saint Peter's Basilica, Pietro da Cortona (Pietro Berrettini) (Italian, Cortona 1596–1669 Rome), Black chalk, brush with brown and gray wash, highlighted with white gouache, on three sheets of brownish paper glued with overlapping joints

Due to rights restrictions, this image cannot be enlarged, viewed at full screen, or downloaded.

Open Access

As part of the Met's Open Access policy, you can freely copy, modify and distribute this image, even for commercial purposes.


Public domain data for this object can also be accessed using the Met's Open Access API.