By Dan Einav
Being both Jewish and irreligious I have come to terms with the fact that I will probably never become the Pope. And yet that reality has not dampened my dreams of living in the Vatican. Or, more accurately, the fictionalised take on the papal residence as seen in the Italian director Paolo Sorrentino’s wonderfully idiosyncratic and ultra-stylised series The Young Pope.
I am not usually one to be seduced by opulence and grandeur. I could quite happily see myself living in a painting by Vilhelm Hammershoi or Edward Hopper, inhabiting rooms that are furnished with little more than soft lighting and a gentle sense of melancholy. But re-watching this resplendent show — itself as ornate as a Baroque piece of art — in the midst of lockdown in a shared London studio flat narrower than a train compartment, left me yearning for the palatial extravagances on my screen.
In the fantasy scenario I have concocted, I find myself brought to St Peter’s Square as a neutral housesitter during the transition period between the formidable, devilishly charismatic Pius XIII (played by Jude Law, shown in the main picture above) and the lugubrious John Paul III (John Malkovich) who arrives in the drama’s second season (confusingly called The New Pope). The man temporarily in charge, the Machiavellian cardinal Voiello, invites me to make myself at home, asking only that I occasionally air out the rooms, which are redolent with the fug of Pius XIII’s chain smoking as well as of centuries of history.
And so I idly spend my days revelling in my majestic surroundings. In the mornings I embark on long strolls through the exquisitely maintained, orange-scented Italian gardens before joining the resident order of nuns in their daily football game. After a doze in a shady alcove — or at least one that is not occupied by a group of conspiring cardinals — I wander aimlessly around the grand, marbled halls, oak-panelled studies and frescoed annexes, invariably getting lost in some tenebrous corridors, and gawking all the way at the countless paintings and sculptures by Old Masters. They are, I concede, something of an upgrade on my own acrylic, abstract attempt that adorns the wall of the studio flat.
Like Pius XIII, I opt to pass the balmy evenings on the rooftop terrace, taking in the Roman skyline, while listening to a summary of all the latest Vatican gossip — or calumny, as it is called in these parts — which is provided by a well-informed priest. Soon enough though I will know too much and be cast out of the city state by a suspicious Voiello.
At this point, I can turn to properties currently on the market in Rome to help keep my Vatican dream alive. This 17th-century, four-bedroom palazzo penthouse (listed at €7.9m) may not be a sovereign nation, but it does boast real period decorations, paintings and marble — unlike The Young Pope, which made use of convincing wallpaper and coloured plywood — and, most importantly, a beautiful, citrus tree-filled terrace that overlooks the dome of Sant'Agnese in Agone.
Otherwise, this airy, four-floor, four-bedroom house in the heart of Rome (listed at €8.2m) also features a good-sized terrace, regal white tiling and gold gilding, and a spiral staircase that would doubtless be coveted by Pius XIII, a character who makes quite a few dramatic entrances in the series. All that is missing is the football-playing nuns.
Photography: © Gianni Fiorito/Sky Atlantic; Italy Sotheby’s International Realty