Her name is Barbara Jatta, and she will be the first woman to lead the Vatican Museums, one of the most important in the world. She has worked for years in the Vatican Library, where she was in charge of restoration of engravings.
She was the commissioner of a great exhibition in Rome with works that had never before left the Vatican.
This is not as surprising as it seems. The Vatican may be one of Europe’s last surviving medieval city states, run by cardinals and policed by Swiss guards with halberds (at least that’s how tourists are likely to see them – they have guns and tanks too), but its incredible complex of museums has a history of unexpected modernity. What other religious institution collects atheist art? The modern gallery of the Vatican Museums proudly displays a grotesque painting of a suffering pope by the defiantly godless painter Francis Bacon. That’s probably the most provocative presence in a sensitive and imaginative collection of modern religious art that also includes Van Gogh’s Pietà (after Delacroix) and paintings by Dalí and Picasso.
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.)