Vatican City has been governed by men since it was established as an independent state in 1929. A year ago, however, a woman joined the upper ranks: Italian art historian Barbara Jatta, the first female director of the Vatican Museums.
In the 12 months since her appointment, Jatta, 55, has put her stamp on the role, resisting some of her predecessor’s initiatives and forging her own path, The New York Times reported.
Jatta was the only woman on an initial list of six candidates, and she was chosen by Pope Francis. In the post since last January, she has overseen some 200,000 objects and an array of museums, papal apartments, sculpture courtyards and other sites, including the Sistine Chapel, the official residence of the Pope.
The chapel is where popes are elected. It is also packed almost daily with ever-larger crowds scrambling to gaze at Michelangelo’s famous frescoed ceiling. The escalating number of visitors poses the toughest challenge to Jatta’s directorship.
Jatta is friendly yet firm, and she expresses high ambitions for herself and for the institution. In an interview, she said that she had worked for 20 years in the Vatican Library, leading its prints department from 2010.
Jatta said that art had played a big role in her family: Her mother and sister are art restorers; her grandmother, who was originally from Russia, was a painter; and her paternal ancestors founded an archaeological museum named after the family in Ruvo di Puglia, in southern Italy.
Running the Vatican Museums is a colossal job. Jatta is responsible for preserving, displaying and sharing knowledge of all of the treasures accumulated by the popes over the centuries, including the vast Egyptian and Etruscan collections and Leonardo da Vinci’s 15th-century painting ‘St. Jerome.’
In their breadth, history and caliber, the Vatican Museums make the Palace of Versailles in France look like a flashy upstart.
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