The Vatican Apostolic Library. A new space for the culture of encounter

The Vatican Apostolic Library has inaugurated a new exhibition space where it intends to create an environment for the "culture of encounter" of which Pope Francis speaks. On the occasion of the inauguration, an exhibition by the artist Pietro Ruffo is on display.

David Fernández Alonso-December 10, 2021-Reading time: 4 minutes
Pope Francis in the Vatican Apostolic Library.

"The encounter with the immense patrimony of the Vatican Apostolic Library has been for me a journey into the knowledge, geography and history of humanity."says artist Pietro Ruffo. These words reflect the meaning of the new project completed by the Vatican Apostolic Library, which has inaugurated a new exhibition space, realized with the support of the heirs of the American businessman and philanthropist Kirk Kerkorian.

This new exhibition space constitutes a new chapter in the centenary history of the Vatican Apostolic Library's mission of conservation and diffusion. The exhibition, prepared for the occasion, recalls the reflections proposed by Pope Francis in the encyclical Fratelli Tuttiand proposes a journey that goes from "traveling" cartography to utopian and allegorical maps.

A new chapter

"The Vatican Apostolic Library inaugurates a new exhibition hall to support the culture of encounter. Our commitment is to strengthen the cultural role of the Vatican Apostolic Library in the contemporary world.", explained Cardinal Librarian José Tolentino de Mendonça. "From a large library", continuesThe "commitment is expected to achieve what Pope Francis prophetically calls a '....culture of encounter'.. Let the books go out to meet the readers, tracing original paths. That knowledge preserved as memory can answer the questions posed by the present. May history meet the present, opening new perspectives not only on what we have been but also on what we can be". Realized in collaboration with Pietro Ruffo, a Roman artist present in important national and international collections, the exhibition is commissioned to Giacomo Cardinali, Simona De Crescenzo and Delio Proverbio, with the aim of establishing a dialogue between the treasures of the Vatican Apostolic Library and new trends in contemporary art.

Encounter with contemporary art

"The encounter with the immense patrimony of the Vatican Apostolic Library has been for me a journey into the knowledge, geography and history of humanity.", states artist Pietro Ruffo. "Analyze the great work that is the Earth through the precious maps preserved here.", he adds, "has given rise to a series of unpublished works. The dialogue between my research and the terrestrial and celestial maps of different epochs and cultures draws a humanity that is increasingly interconnected and responsible for its fragile relationship with its own ecosystem.".

The exhibition will feature, among other works, Evliya Çelebi's 17th century map of the Nile, a unique work of travel cartography about six meters long, in dialogue with Pietro Ruffo's reinterpretation of it. The artist will propose an installation in the Sala Barberini, integrating it into the 17th century wooden structure. site-specific that transforms the space into a lush tropical jungle. 

"The theme of the exhibition is that of 'non-geographical cartography': throughout its history, in fact, man has used the representational scheme of the map not only to describe the objectivity of the Earth, but also his own interiority, his ideals, his travels, his discoveries and his convictions.", explains Giacomo Cardinali, curator of the exhibition space. "The public, says, "you will find allegorical, theological, satirical and sentimental maps. Maps of desire and protest, of man's dreams and despair.".

The Pope inaugurates the space

Pope Francis visited the Vatican Apostolic Library to inaugurate the new permanent exhibition space in which the exhibition is displayed All. Humanity on the way. The exhibition, as has been said, recalling the reflections proposed by the Holy Father in the encyclical Fratelli Tuttiproposes a path that starts from the cartography of the journey to reach the maps of the world.

"Also for these reasons"said the Pope during his speech to inaugurate the new space, "....I am happy to inaugurate today the exhibition hall of the Vatican Library, and my wish is that its light will shine. It will certainly shine for science, but also for beauty. And I thank all those who have worked so hard to create this space, which has been made possible by the generosity of friends and benefactors, and the architectural and scientific care of professionals.".

Referring to the intended relationship between the works of the Library and contemporary culture, Pope Francis commented that the new space is conceived "as a dialogue built around works belonging to the Library and works by a contemporary artist, whom I greet and thank. I am grateful for this challenge to create a dialogue. Life is the art of encounter. Cultures fall ill when they become self-referential, when they lose their curiosity and their openness to the other. When they exclude rather than integrate, what advantage do we have in becoming guardians of borders rather than guardians of our brothers and sisters? The question that God repeats to us is: 'Where is your brother' (cf. Gen 4:9)?".

Those who travel to the eternal city, or have the possibility of passing through it, will be able to visit the exhibition in the new space, which will be open until February 25, 2022, every Tuesday and Wednesday from 4 to 6 p.m., upon reservation on the Vatican Apostolic Library website (

The Vatican Apostolic Library

The Vatican Apostolic Library is an ancient institution, a place of conservation and research belonging to the Pope and closely connected to the government and ministry of the Apostolic See.

As of Scrinium attested since the fourth century, the Vatican Apostolic Library began its modern history with Nicholas V, who in the mid-fifteenth century decided to open the collections of the pontifical library to scholars (pro communi doctorum doctorum virorum commodo(Brief of April 30, 1451), and with Sixtus IV, who gave a more stable organization to the library with the bull Ad decorem militantis ecclesiae June 15, 1475.

Its vast collections of manuscripts, archival material, ancient and modern printed volumes, coins and medals, engravings and drawings, cartographic and photographic material have always been open to qualified scholars from all over the world, regardless of race, religion, origin or culture. The Library specializes in philological and historical disciplines and, subsequently, also in theological, legal and scientific disciplines.

Pietro Ruffo

Ruffo's relationship with the image is an integral part of her research trajectory, which stems from a series of philosophical, social and ethical considerations, and is developed through a profound conceptual dimension of art that derives from her training as an artist.

For Ruffo, drawing and carving are research tools that sublimate ideas and concepts in installations that acquire environmental dimensions. The works are based on natural landscapes and human forms, geographical maps and constellations, geometries and traces of writing.

The result is a layered work, with multiple visual and semantic readings, that investigates the great themes of universal history, in particular freedom and human rights.

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