The chapel of the Assumption

Here you are in front of the chapel of the Assumption; visitors are often dazzled by the bright and sumptuous colours and by the architectural décor, which makes it into a monumental space.

  • av_timerThe history of the Chapel

    This chapel was conceded in 1548 to the niece of Pope Julius II, Lucrezia della Rovere. She entrusted the decoration to Daniele da Volterra, the brilliant student of Michelangelo, with whom he had worked in the Sistine Chapel. The artist had just finished the Descent from the Cross which is on the other side of the nave.

    Work on the chapel was carried out between 1548 and 1553 and Volterra was assisted by different artists. According to Vasari, the “father of Art History”, the cartoons for the frescoes were by Volterra but the final painting was in large part executed by his collaborators.

  • assignmentDescription of the work

    The fresco is in two registers:

    1. On the lower register, one sees the Apostles forming a semi-circle. The spectator is drawn into the picture thanks to two apostles who look out at him or her and seem to associate him or her with their gestures, as if they were taking him or her to task. They move around, wonder, discuss, and point to the Virgin Mary, who is rising towards the sky.

    Among them, one can recognize in the foreground Saint John the Evangelist, thanks to the book on which he leans his elbow. At his side, in blue and yellow, one can easily recognize Saint Peter, by the key he holds under his arm. This symbol comes from the very words of Jesus:

    “You are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my Church; and the power of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:18-19)


    2. In the upper register, the Virgin, now detached from the earth, reaches heaven through the opening of a dome without a roof. She is as though transported by a cloud carried by angels. They form a circle around her and look towards the spectator. They seem to be dancing, celebrating this great mystery.


    These two registers highlight the movement of the ascent to heaven, clearly separating the heavenly part from the earthly part. In the middle of the apostles, there is the tomb of the Virgin Mary, on which some are leaning. Mary passes from the tomb, which represents death, to the True Life. According to the dogma of the Assumption, the Virgin was raised to heaven with her body.

    In this group of apostles, one clearly sees the influence of Raphael and especially one of his frescoes in the Vatican: The Dispute over the Blessed Sacrament.

    The dominant colour in the picture is blue. It is here produced by using lapis lazuli, a pigment that was rare and expensive in the sixteenth century, which demonstrates the wealth of the patron and recalls the chromatic refinements of the Sistine Chapel. It is also the colour of the Virgin Mary: red and blue, according to the Book of the Apocalypse, the last book of the Bible.

    The architecture around the painting reinforces the monumentality of the work, as in the whole chapel. Columns link the chapels together and there is a perspective along each side with large staircases. Let us admire the doors, necessary to pass from one chapel to another, that duplicate in trompe d’oeil the symmetry of the work.

  • live_helpWhat is the Assumption ?

    The Assumption is the moment when the Virgin Mary went up to Heaven, at the end of her mortal life; she directly entered the glory of God. This is celebrated every year on August 15, which commemorates her death as well as the resurrection of Mary immediately after that, her installation in Paradise with the Father and the Son, and her coronation. Thus, representations of the Assumption are often sumptuous in marking the royal character and the very glorious nature of the event. They highlight the body of Mary who rises directly to heaven, in all her majesty.

  • assignmentDescription of the lateral frescoes

    On the right: the childhood of Mary with the Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple.

    Mary was born miraculously of Anne and Joachim when they were in their old age and no longer hoped to have a child. When she was little, her parents made her enter the temple. The texts say she danced at her entrance to the temple and did not look back. This event resonates particularly with religious vocations and is recalled on feasts in honour of the consecrated life, for example.

    On the left: the childhood of Jesus with the Massacre of the Innocents.

    When Jesus was born, there were prophecies of the coming of a king of the Jews, which greatly perturbed Herod, who was then King of Judaea. He then ordered the massacre of all children up to the age of two in the whole region of Bethlehem, the place where it was announced Jesus would be born. The memory of this massacre is recalled every year on the feast of the Holy Innocents on December 28. Joseph, the foster father of Jesus, was warned of this in a dream; the family fled to Egypt to protect the Child.


In the central painting, we recognize Mary, mother of Jesus. On the Cross, Christ entrusted all of us to the goodness of his mother. In fact, it is said in the Bible: “Jesus, seeing his mother, and near her, the disciple he loved, said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold your son!’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold your mother!’” (John 19: 26-27)


Mary rose directly to Heaven to join God. Now with Jesus her son she can intercede more than ever for all people’s prayers and present their requests to God.


Before this superb picture, let us take a minute to entrust to her a person who is dear to us, in the secret of our heart, so that she can present that person to God.