The Tower of Winds was built between 1578 and 1580 by the Bolognese architect Ottaviano Mascherino who also built the Apostolic Palace. It is one of the most famous buildings in the Vatican and was originally erected to create an astronomical observatory to study the Gregorian Calendar Reform implemented by Gregory XIII. The edifice has two storeys with a dividing mezzanine, and the rooms on each floor are decorated to varying degrees with long sequences of frescoes executed between 1580 and 1582 by the two Flemish artists Paul and Matthijs Bril. The brothers were inspired by episodes from the Old and New Testaments, ecclesiastical symbolism and real or imaginary landscapes.
The Meridian Hall
The Meridian Hall was originally designed to create a loggia for astronomical observations. On Urban VIII’s wishes, the arcade of the loggia was filled in and decorated with Grotesque style frescoes by Simone Lagi and other painters. Alexander VII turned it into the first residence of Queen Christina of Sweden after she converted to Catholicism. It takes its name from the marble meridian embedded in the floor and designed in 1580 by Ignazio Danti, the papal cosmographer and member of the calendar reform commission. The same year Ignazio Danti designed the anemoscope fixed to the ceiling of the Meridian Hall. The frescoes on the west wall (Shipwreck of St. Paul in Malta) and south wall (Jesus calms a Storm and heals the Gerasene Demoniac) are by Nicolò Circignani, called Pomarancio, as is the fresco (The Angel seals the forehead of the Saved) on the projecting corner between the south and west walls. The frescoes on the ceiling, including the Allegories of the Seasons, are by Matteino da Siena or Pomarancio. In 1891 the Tower of Winds became the quarters of the Vatican Observatory (Specola Vaticana) founded by Leo XIII the same year.
Rooms on the Mezzanine of the Tower
The fresco on the east wall of the first room on the mezzanine depicts the view of Rome from the Janiculum Hill with the Ospedale Santo Spirito in the foreground. Further in the background Castel Sant’Angelo can be seen flying the papal flag with the coat of arms of the House of Boncompagni, the house of Pope Gregory XIII. The fresco on the south wall depicts the view from the Quirinal Hill with the Torre delle Milizie in the foreground, the Pantheon behind it and St. Peter’s in the background. It clearly shows the ongoing building works on the uncompleted dome and the west wing of the Cortile del Belvedere with the Tower of Winds. The frescoes in the rooms are thought to be by the Flemish painter Matthijs Bril.
For a period of time the second room provided accommodation for cardinal librarians, including Cardinal Cesare Baronio who lived there. The fireplace can be seen on the west wall and the room overlooks the Cortile della Biblioteca to the east and the Vatican Garden to the west. The wall frescoes depict imaginary landscapes inspired by the Roman countryside and may be the work of the Flemish artist Paul Bril.