Between the 16th and 17th centuries, the Pantheon in Rome underwent a period of artistic renewal that made it a popular burial site for some of the most important artists and political figures of the Italian peninsula. Historical celebrities buried inside the Pantheon include Annibale Carracci, King Victor Emmanuel II, King Umberto I, his wife Margherita of Savoy, and Raphael.

Raphael was the first to be buried inside the Pantheon, an unprecedented privilege at the time. He specifically requested this honor, and Pope Leo X subsequently agreed that the artist was worthy of resting within Rome’s greatest symbol of its glorious past.

At the height of his short career, Raphael was considered almost “divine” by his contemporaries. Reading the condolences and pain of his friends and colleagues as they grieved the loss of this artist who so loved ancient Rome, it becomes easy to understand why this ancient Roman temple was considered the perfect resting place.

If you wish to find out everything about the history of the Pantheon in Rome, you can find more information in this blog post.

His tomb can be found at the base of the third aedicule inside the Pantheon, surmounted by the Madonna del Sasso which was created by his own pupil, Lorenzo Lotti (also known as Lorenzetto) and Raffaello da Montelupo. However, the Roman sarcophagus that houses him today is a more recent construction, provided only after his original tomb was opened for verification in 1833 after having been lost for centuries.

The inscription that appears on the tomb today bears the words of Cardinal Pietro Bembo, underlining the greatness of Raphael’s genius and fame:

Ille hic est Raphael timuit quo sospite vinci, rerum magna parens et moriente mori”

(Here lies Raphael: who in life, caused mother nature to fear that she would be outdone, and in death, to fear that she would die too).

Raphael’s tomb resulted in the Pantheon becoming a fashionable burial site for other artists. In subsequent years, many other important names obtained the privilege of resting in the Pantheon, such as Baldassare Peruzzi, Taddeo Zuccari, and Perin del Vaga, a pupil of Raphael known for his decoration of the papal apartments in Castel Sant’Angelo.

One of the most important artists of the late 16th century rests right next to Raphael, the great Annibale Carracci. This painter distinguished himself throughout Rome with his magnificent frescoes in Palazzo Farnese, which so impressed his contemporaries that they even compared him to his illustrious predecessor. For this, he was honored with a burial site to the right of Raphael’s own tomb.

After the Renaissance period, the tradition of burying artists inside the Pantheon gradually declined. During the 17th and 18th centuries, other churches were chosen as resting places by painters and architects, primarily to link themselves to the works they completed within those very churches. This new trend effectively ended the Pantheon’s role as a burial site.

However, the unification of Italy placed the Pantheon in the spotlight once again. In 1871, Rome became the capital of the “new” Italy and the Kings wished to underline their bond with the city, as descendants of Rome’s glorious history. As a result, the first sovereign of unified Italy, Victor Emmanuel II, resumed the tradition of burials inside the Pantheon.

For centuries, the Savoy family had been buried in the Mausoleum of Superga, in Turin, but Victor Emmanuel II broke this tradition by commissioning a tomb inside the ancient pagan temple. The Pantheon, now known as the Basilica of St. Mary and the Martyrs, thus became the final resting place for Italian sovereigns over the following century.

The tomb of Victor Emmanuel II seen today inside the Pantheon was built in 1885 by Manfredo Manfredi upon winning a competition. The inscription reads “Victor Emmanuel, Father of the Nation”, surmounted by a bronze eagle, underlining the pivotal role of the sovereign in the unification of the country and a specific reference to Rome’s great imperial power.

On the left side of the Pantheon, straight across from Victor Emmanuel II’s tomb, lies his son, the second king of Italy, Umberto I with his wife Margherita of Savoy. This king’s tomb was designed by the architect Giuseppe Sacconi but was actually built by his pupil, Guido Cirilli. The tomb features an alabaster plaque, allegorically decorated by Goodness and Generosity.

According to the Savoys, placing the sovereigns within the Pantheon allowed people to visit their heroes and reinforced their close relationship with Roman society. It is still possible to see the Guard of Honor watching over the tombs.

This tradition was interrupted by the advent of fascism and the exile of the last king of Italy at the end of World War II. The Pantheon has had no new burials since the second half of the 20th century, though it continues to serve as the beating heart of Roman history and Christianity.