Local group helps preserve art in Vatican Museums

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Thursday, December 20, 2018

The Illinois chapter of the Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums is funding restoration of this large tapestry depicting the marriage of Emperor Luis XIV. The work is being restored in honor of Cardinal Cupich. (Photo provided)

For 25 years, Catholics from the Archdiocese of Chicago and across Illinois have been among those contributing to the restoration of priceless works of art in the Vatican Museums.

By doing so, they are taking part in preserving the story of humanity itself, said Anne Shea, president of the Illinois Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums.

“The art in the Vatican Museums tells the story of our civilization,” Shea said, noting that 70 percent of the work in the 12 Vatican Museums is non-Christian in origin. “It tells us a story about who we are. When I look at a painting, it comes alive for me. The art is the patrimony of the church. It excites me when I think about what the Patrons do.”

The Patrons of the Arts of the Vatican Museums got its start in 1983, when a major exhibition of works from the Vatican Museum visited New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. The Illinois chapter was formed a decade later under the leadership of Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, Shea said, and it is the only chapter that was organized to have the ordinary of the diocese serve as the chapter chairman.

The Illinois chapter of the Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums is one of 17 in the United States and Canada. Chicago also became home to the North American headquarters for the Patrons in 2018. Seven more chapters exist in Europe and Asia.

Members of the Patrons’ chapters around the world fund 70 percent of the restoration work being done in the Vatican Museums. Some of that money comes from membership dues, which for members of the Illinois Patrons start at $250 per year, but more comes from donations.

Its current main project — undertaken in honor of Cardinal Cupich — is the restoration of a large tapestry depicting the marriage of Emperor Luis XIV at a cost of $266,000, Shea said. The Illinois Patrons assumed financial responsibility for the project in 2016; it is expected to be done by the end of 2019.

Cardinal Cupich chose the work after the Illinois Patrons presented him with a list of possible projects, chosen from the “wishbook” the Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums maintains on its website,

According to the Illinois Patrons’ website,, “The tapestry is in a fair state of conservation.  However, after being hung in the Patriarchio in St. John Lateran for decades, the fibers are very weak and missing in various areas. In addition, almost all the gaps typical of tapestry weaving became fragmented, creating further serious damage to the tapestry.”

“Sometimes when a painting is restored,  a conservator may realize it’s not going to take as much work as originally anticipated,” Shea said. “That’s never the case with a tapestry. The amount of detail and labor is unbelievable.”

There have been conversations about bringing it to Chicago to be displayed temporarily for those who can’t go to Rome to see it, she said.

However, members of the Patrons who visit Rome can set up a private, guided tour of the museums, Shea said. Such tours include visits to the restoration labs and other behind-the-scenes areas.

Some people join the Patrons before a trip to Rome specifically for the opportunity to get such a personalized and extensive tour, she said, but many of them maintain those memberships after seeing the work that the Patrons are supporting.

The Illinois chapter has about 175 members and more than 500 “friends” who support its work in other ways, Shea said.

The chapter also holds several events each year in Chicago, which allow members to connect with one another and give people who are not members an opportunity to support the Patrons’ work.



  • art
  • patrons of the arts in the vatican museums

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