High rank

First ever female director of Vatican Museums brings big changes

Barbara Jatta, director of the Vatican Museum, speaks during a press conference to present the show "Giudizio Universale, Michelangelo and the secrets of the Sistine Chapel" on October 13, 2017 ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images

Since it achieved ‘nation-state’ status almost a century ago, the Vatican has remained an infamous boys-club comprised of high ranking religious male officials occupying roles of great religious and historical significance. In January 2017, Barbara Jatta broke the mold to become the first woman ever appointed as the director of the Vatican Museums—a position that makes her the highest-ranking female administrator in the city, just a step behind the Vatican’s cardinals and bishops. Jatta’s purview as director includes almost 200,000 objects, several museums, sculpture yards, the papal apartments, and Michelangelo’s famous Sistine chapel. She was the only woman out of six candidates considered for the position and Pope Francis’s final choice.

A former archivist in the Vatican libraries, Jatta explains that her nomination for the directorship initially came as a shock, and that she did not fully understand the impact her gender would play in accepting the role: “Whenever I attended conferences or public events, so many women would come up to me, saying: ‘We are proud, and you are also, in some way, representing us.’”

“Within the male-dominated Vatican, to give such a prominent role to a woman was very good news,” explained Eike Schmidt, the German director of the famed Uffizi gallery in Florence, Italy. Responsible for the preservation of centuries of art, history and architecture on a budget of roughly 60 million dollars, Jatta is all too aware of the challenges her museums and her conservation teams face going forward.

Total visitors for 2017 to the Sistine Chapel alone are expected to exceed the previous record of six million, and with more tourists comes an increased risk for damage to the art and the grounds. This poses a unique challenge for Jatta of balancing the religious significance of the Vatican with the logistical demands of one of the world’s largest museums. Having proposed the construction of a second entrance and the extension of opening hours at the smaller museums, Jatta hopes to alleviate tourist traffic in the Sistine Chapel and drive more interest in parts of the museums that have been historically overlooked.

Read the full story at The New York Times.

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