Vatican Museums First Woman Director Appointed

ROME—The Vatican Museums, one of the world’s pre-eminent art collections, announced Tuesday that Barbara Jatta, an Italian art historian and longtime Vatican official, will become its new director, making her the first woman to hold one of the most prestigious jobs in the art world.

The appointment by Pope Francis, which is effective Jan. 1, will also make Ms. Jatta the most prominent female administrator at the Vatican. The pope has spoken about expanding the roles of women in the Catholic Church, but most high Vatican offices are reserved for cardinals and bishops, who must be men. (Margaret Archer, a British sociologist, was named president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, an advisory body to the pope, in 2014.)

The Museums, which include priceless masterpieces including the Sistine Chapel frescoes by Michelangelo, regularly appear among the world’s top 10 museum complexes by attendance, with over six million visitors in 2015. The collections include 70,000 objects, dating back from antiquity through the 20th century.

Ms. Jatta, 54, will oversee an institution that is one of the Holy See’s major sources of funds, with about €300 million ($311 million) in gross revenues a year and at least €40 million in profits. The financial importance of the Vatican Museums has only grown in recent years, as the Holy See seeks to close a budget shortfall that amounted to €26 million in 2014.

A native of Rome, Ms. Jatta has worked at the Vatican since 1996, until this year within the Vatican Library, where she oversaw the library’s collection of rare prints. She previously taught at the University of Naples.

She will succeed Antonio Paolucci, who has served in the job since 2007 and has been at the forefront of the Museums’ efforts to modernize and cope with an increasing number of visitors—a problem for many cultural attractions in Italy.

During Mr. Paolucci’s tenure, the Museums witnessed a surge in attendance, with a 40% increase in the number of visitors between 2007 and 2015. To help spread out the increased flow of visitors, Mr. Paolucci extended the Museums’ opening hours, including evening visits.

In an interview published Tuesday in the Rome daily “Il Messaggero,” Mr. Paolucci said he was proudest to “have changed, with many openings to the outside world, a kind of self-referentiality that characterized the Museums, and to have brought in the culture of conservation and systematic maintenance.”

During his tenure, the Sistine Chapel installed new air conditioning aimed at filtering out pollutants brought in by visitors. A new lighting system in the Chapel increased illumination by at least five times while cutting energy consumption by at least 60%. Mr. Paolucci also oversaw the restoration of frescoes by Raphael, including “The School of Athens,” and the 16th-century Gallery of the Maps.
Vatican Museums First Woman Director Appointed