Born from the patronage of the popes who gathered for centuries and commissioned outstanding works, the Vatican Museums are considered among the most beautiful museum complexes in the world (13 museums different from one another), with one of the finest art collections in the world.
The largest museum treasures are made from highly prized Greek and Roman works of antiquity (the Laocoon, the Apoxyomenos, the Apollo Belvedere), as well as the rich collection of Egyptian art (mummies) and Etruscan (Mars of Todi).
The Pinacoteca houses a small but fine collection of paintings ranging from the twelfth to the nineteenth century, with works by Raffaello, Caravaggio and Leonardo da Vinci. The Museums include some beautifully frescoed halls as the Borgia Apartment, frescoed by Pinturicchio around 1490, the Stanze di Raffaello (Raffaello Rooms), namely the four rooms used by Pope Julius II as his residence decorated by Raffaello, and the famous Sistine Chapel (named by its founder, Pope Sixtus IV) that the extraordinary genius of Michelangelo’s has made one of the most celebrated treasures in the world, visited daily by 20,000 visitors. The frescoes of the Creation (on vault) and the Last Judgment (on the altar wall), are considered among the largest and most intense pictorial masterpieces of art history.
An extraordinary journey in the history of art through 19 rooms: from Giotto to Bernini, pices accumulated by the Church over the centuries.
The Vatican Gallery collection includes 460 paintings, organized in eighteen rooms on the basis of chronological criteria and of school, from the so-called Primitives to the nineteenth century. The collection includes some wonderful masterpieces of the most important artists of Italian painting as Beato Angelico, Giotto, Perugino, Raffaello, Leonardo, Caravaggio and Crespi.
Room I: XII-XV Centuries (Nicolò and Giovanni)
Two paintings stand out especially: the Martyrdom of St. Stephen and finding of his relics, by Bernardo Daddi, and the Final Judgment, by Nicolò and Giovanni. The Martyrdom of St. Stephen and finding of his relics consists of eight tablets that constituted the basis of a polyptych not yet identified. The small paintings depicting the Martyrdom of St. Stephen and the story of the discovery of his relics according to the medieval tale of the Golden Legend by Jacopo da Varagine.
Room II: Giotto
Three paintings in this room are worth of attention: the Stories of St Nicholas of Bari by Gentile da Fabriano, the Stefaneschi triptych by Giotto di Bondone and the blessing Redeemer by Simone Martini. The table by Simone Martini depicts, with elegance and sophistication, Christ from the waist up with his right hand raised in blessing and his left resting on a book.
Room III: Beato Angelico and Benozzo Gozzoli
In this room we highlight two important works by Beato Angelico, Stories of St. Nicholas of Bari and Madonna with the Child and Saints Dominic and Catherine, and one by Benozzo Gozzoli, Madonna of the Girdle. In Stories of St. Nicholas of Bari are illustrated episodes from the life of the saint. The other Another painting of Angelico depicts the Virgin playing with the Child, who has in his hands a rose, symbol of wisdom. The painting by Gozzoli, the favorite pupil of Beato Angelico, portrays the Virgin surrounded by angels who offers, as proof of her ascent into heaven, the girdle to St. Thomas who did not believe in what others were telling him about the death, the burial and assumption of Mary, not having personally witnessed.
Room IV: Melozzo da Forlì
Two paintings by Melozzo da Forli particularly relevant in this room: Sixtus IV appoints Bartolomeo Platina prefect of the Vatican Library and Angel playing the lute. The first consists of a detached fresco by the rooms of the Vatican Library and later transferred to canvas. The protagonists, whose facial features are very defined, are placed inside an imposing architecture that gives a great dimension to the scene.
Room V: Ercole de’ Roberti
We highlight in this room the painting The miracles of St Vincent Ferrer by Ercole de’ Roberti in which are depicted several episodes: the Healing of the crippled woman, the resurrection of a Jewish rich, the Rescue of a child in a house hit by fire the Resurrection of a child killed by the pregnant mother went crazy and the Healing of a wounded.
Room VI: Carlo Crivelli
Two important works in this room: the Coronation of the Virgin and Saints of Alunno and the Pietà by Carlo Crivelli.
Room VII: Perugino and Pinturicchio
Among the works of this room we can not miss the Madonna and Child with Saints Lorenzo, Louis of Toulouse, Herculaneum and Costanzo and to St. Benedict; St. Flavia; St. Placid and the other painting of St. Benedict; S. Flavia; S. Placido; both by Perugino. Do not forget also the Coronation of the Virgin, by Pinturicchio and G. B. Caporali. The first altarpiece has a very balanced and harmonious composition, in which all elements agree in a surprising way, just like those of the second altarpiece in which the figures are rendered with color refinement and precise details, just like used to paint the Perugino. The third altarpiece, Pinturicchio, depicting at top the Coronation of the Virgin with two angel musicians, while in the lower part appear in the foreground kneeling in the Saints Francis of Assisi, Bernardino, Anthony of Padua, Louis of Toulouse and Bonaventure among the twelve apostles divided into two groups.
Room VIII: Raphael
This room gathers many tapestries and paintings by Raphael including the Coronation of the Virgin, The Annunciation, The Adoration of the Magi, The Presentation in the Temple; Faith, Charity, Hope; Madonna of Foligno; Transfiguration.
Room IX: Leonardo
Two paintings not to be missed in this room: the Lamentation over the Dead Christ by Giovanni Bellini and St. Jerome by Leonardo da Vinci. The famous painting by Bellini has a composition so majestic that stands out for its thoughtful and sorrowful impression of representation and for the deep emotional relationship between the protagonists.
Room X and XI: School of Raphael, Venetian Painting and Barocci
The Poor Clares of the convent of Monteluce near Perugia commissioned the young Raffaello to create an altarpiece with the Assumption of the Virgin in 1503. Subsequently, other two contracts were signed for a altarpiece portraing the Coronation of the Virgin. On the death of Raffaello, however, the work was unfinished and so was signed another contract with his pupils Giulio Romano and Gianfrancesco Penni, who delivered the altarpiece in 1525. The Madonna of St. Nicholas of the Frari, originally trashed, depicts the Virgin and Child with angels on the clouds and down the Saints Catherine, Nicholas, Peter, Antonio, Francesco and Sebastiano in recollection. The Vision of St. Helena portrays the mother of Roman Emperor Constantine asleep, sitting with his head resting on one hand; the sacred history tells that this woman has had the vision that led to the discovery of the True Cross. In Room XI, we can not fail to mention the canvas of the Annunciation by Federico Barocci and the Resurrection of Lazarus by Girolamo Muziano. The first canvas is dominated by the religious motif and one can see at the bottom a view of Palazzo Ducale in Urbino.
Room XII: Caravaggio
This room hosts a beautiful painting by Caravaggio: the Deposition from the Cross. In this painting Caravaggio actually does not portray the Burial or the Deposition in the usual way, because Christ is not shown when it is lowered into the grave, but when, in the presence of the holy women, is laid by Nicodemus and John on Stone of Unction, which is the tombstone which will close the tomb.
Room XIII to XV: Pietro da Cortona and Crespi
In these rooms do not miss the Vision of St. Francis by Pietro da Cortona which is a duplicate of a slightly smaller size of the altarpiece that Pietro da Cortona painted in 1640 – 1641 for the Montauto Chapel in the church of Annunziata in Arezzo. There are four interesting paintings located in the XIV room: Portrait of Clement IX by Carlo Maratta, Vision of St. Francis by Xavier Baciccia, the Madonna and Child by Sassoferrato and Garland of flowers with “Ecce Homo” by Daniel Seghers and Erasmus II Quellin. The small painting by Baciccia portrays St. Francis Xavier in the foreground with a crucifix close to his chest, surrounded by angels and cherubs who witness his agony. In Room XV is stunningly beautiful the Portrait of Benedict XIV by Giuseppe Maria Crespi. Crespi in this portrait voluntarily increased the size of the figure of the hero, changed the clothing and added attributes to highlight the papal office just hired.
Salt XVI: Wenzel
The painting in this room is the symbol of the climax of the career of Wenzel Peter, animal painter, who was able to portray with great naturalism animals of different species, immortalized in their stasis or fight. The Garden of Eden represents the moment of highest virtuosity depicting around the figures of Adam and Eve more than two hundred animals from worldwide.
Cappella Sistina (The Sistine Chapel)
It is very difficult to say something new or different about this wonderful space of the Vatican Museums. An exceptional work which was attended by many artists, not only Michelangelo, which takes its name from Pope Sixtus IV della Rovere who restored the old Cappella Magna between 1477 and 1480. The fifteenth century ornament of the walls include: the Stories of Moses and Christ, the false drapes and portraits of the Popes. A group of painters who initially included Pietro Perugino, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Sandro Botticelli and Cosimo Rosselli, followed by their respective workshops and some close adjuvant among which we highlight Bartolomeo della Gatta, Biagio di Antonio and Luca Signorelli, built the chapel. On the vault on a beautiful starry sky was painted by Pier Matteo d’Amelia. The realization of the frescoes began in 1481 and ended in 1482; belong to this period also several works in marble as the choir, the barrier and the papal coat of arms above the entrance door. On August, 15 1483, Sixtus IV legitimized the new chapel dedicating it to the Assumption.
The intervention of Michelangelo
Giulio II della Rovere, nephew of Sixtus IV, decided to partly alter the decoration, entrusting the work in 1508 to Michelangelo Buonarroti, who painted the ceiling and lunettes. The work was concluded in 1512 and Giulio II inaugurated on All Saints day, the Sistine Chapel with a great mass. The nine central panels represent the Stories of Genesis, from the Creation to the Fall of man, to the Flood and the subsequent rebirth of humankind with the family of Noah. In the spaces between the webs are sitting on massive thrones, five Sibyls and seven Prophets, the four corner pendentives appear the Miraculous salvation of Israel while in the 6 webs of the lunettes are the Ancestors of Christ.
The Last Judgement
Towards the end of 1533 Clemente VII de’ Medici wanted that Michelangelo further change the decoration of the Sistine chapel painting on the altar wall the Last Judgement and this caused the loss of the 14th century frescoes. In this fresco Michelangelo wished to depict the triumphant return of Christ for the New Testament texts. The maestro began this wonderful work in 1536, during the pontificate of Paul III, and completed it in the fall of 1541. The great composition is centered around the dominant figure of Christ, caught in the instant of Judgment.
Michelangelo’s Last Judgement
All around the saints await the Judgment: recognize St. Peter with two keys St. Lawrence, with the gridiron, St. Bartholomew with his own skin (perhaps a self-portrait of Michelangelo), St. Catherine of Alexandria with the cogwheel, St. Sebastian kneeling with arrows in his hand. Further down the angels with trumpets awaken the dead, and the first resurrected ascend to heaven while on the right angels and demons are racing to bring the damned in hell. Further down, Charon leads the damned before the infernal judge Minos. The Council of Trent decided many of pants that cover the nudity of the characters. The task was given to Daniele da Volterra, since then known as the “braghettone” (trouser painter).
Stanze di Raffaello
The four rooms, called Raphael Rooms, included part of the apartment on the second floor of the Pontifical Palace chosen by Julius II della Rovere, pope from 1503 to 1513, as his residence, and used by his successors. Julius II refused to use the Borgia Apartment, inextricably linked to his predecessor Alexander VI, and then requested Raffaello the pictorial embellishments that were executed between 1508 and 1524. The 4 rooms bear the following names: Hall of Constantine (Sala di Costantino), Room of Heliodorus (Stanza di Eliodoro), Room of the Signatura (Stanza della Signatura), Room of Fire in the Borgo (Stanza dell’ Incendio di Borgo).
Stanza della Signatura
Here gathered the most important Court of the Church, the Signatura Gratiae et Iustitiae from which then derives the name. The most famous frescoes by Raphael are right the room where Julius II lived. Are represented the three most important categories of the human spirit: the True, the Good and the Beautiful. True supernatural is shown in Dispute of the Saint Sacrament (or theology), the rational one in the School of Athens; the Good is expressed in the depiction of the Cardinal and Theological Virtues and the Law and the Beautiful in the Parnassus with Apollo and the Muses. In the vault are depicted the allegories of Theology, Philosophy, Justice and Poetry.
Stanza di Eliodoro
After the papal army defeat at the hands of the French, the Papacy had lost Bologna and felt the threat of foreign powers on their territories. The frescoes of this room reflect that time, illustrating God’s protection on the Church threatened by internal and external enemies. Is the cult of the Eucharist that protects the church, particularly dear to Giulio II. Raphael has painted four biblical episodes: The Expulsion of Heliodorus from the Temple (1511-1512), the Mass of Bolsena (1512), the Liberation of St. Peter (1513-1514) and The Meeting of Leo the Great and Attila (1514). In the grotesques and in the arches are preserved some parts attributed to Luca Signorelli, Bramantino and Lorenzo Lotto.
Sala di Costantino
The frescoes in this room were made by pupils of Raphael on the drawings of the master who had died in the meantime. It is named Constantine (306-337 A.D.), the first Roman emperor to officially recognize the Christian religion by granting freedom of worship. On the walls they are recounted four episodes of the life of Constantine: in relation to the defeat of paganism and the triumph of the Christian religion: the Vision of the Cross, the Battle of Constantine against Maxentius, the Baptism of Constantine and the Donation of Rome.
Stanza dell’ Incendio di Borgo
The name, very unique, is by the fire that blazed in the year 847 in the area in front of the basilica of St. Peter; Leo IV (pontiff from 847 of 855), giving the solemn blessing from the Loggia of the Blessings, miraculously extinguished the fire, thus saving the church and the people. The room was used by Giulio II for the meetings of the highest court of the Holy See, the Signatura Gratiae et Iustitiae, which then would be moved to nearby Stanza della Signatura. To this function be also bind the paintings of the time realized by Perugino in 1508. Leo X (pontiff from 1513 to 1521) transformed it in a dining room and commissioned Raphael to paint the walls. Four frescoes on the walls: Fire in the Borgo (1514), Battle of Ostia (1514-1515), Coronation of Charles the Great (1516-1517), The Oath of Leo III (1517).
Opening hours: Mon – Sun (09.00 AM – 06.00 PM)
Admission: €16 adults, €8 children – online reservation
How to reach: bus stop V.le Vaticano/musei Vaticani (49)
Address: Viale Vaticano, 00165 Roma RM