Following the proclamation of the dogma (Ineffabilis Deus) of the Immaculate Conception by Pius IX (r. 1846-78), which took place in St Peter's Basilica on December 8th, 1854, the pope decide to immortalise the event with a series of grand frescoes.
The frescoes (1856-65) in the Sala dell' Immacolata Concezione were executed by Francesco Podesti (1800-95), who had been present at the proclamation.
The fresco of the Proclamation of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception occupies an entire wall in the room. Pius IX, by his own request, is depicted standing rather than seated. During the ceremony the pope had been obliged to stand up when a ray of sunlight unexpectedly shone in his face. As the day was overcast, the sunbeam was interpreted as heavenly confirmation of the dogma. In the fresco the sunbeam emanates from the cross in the top left corner.
Directly above the pope is the Virgin Mary and the Holy Trinity. Although Mary is in the centre, she is not on the same level as the Father and the Son, but a little lower. She may be the immaculate mother of God, but she is also human.
On the right-hand side of the fresco, Adam opens his arms to Mary, while Eve bows her head in shame. The faces of Eve and Mary are identical, for, according to the teaching of the Fathers of the Church, Mary is the new Eve.
The Immaculate Conception is the belief that the Virgin Mary was conceived free from the stain of original sin.
See also: The Column of the Immaculate Conception.
My name is David Lown and I am an art historian from Cambridge, England. Since 2001 I have lived in Italy, where I run private and
small-group walking tours
Search Walks in Rome: