Vatican Museums: Highlights & Facts

The Vatican Museum is often referred to as Vatican Museums (plural form) is a museum complex located within the Vatican City. The complex counts 13 museums housed in 2 Vatican Palaces.
It’s pretty crazy if you think about the fact that the Vatican Museum started just as a small collection of artwork and turned over the centuries in one of the biggest and most visited museums worldwide.

Credits: image by @Roma_Wonder
Location: in the Vatican City Area
Tickets: Needed / Visit Vatican Museum Tickets & Hours for more information
Accessibility: Partially Accessible
Kid-friendly Attraction

History of the Vatican Museum

The Vatican Museum was founded by two popes. It all started with Clement XIV (1769-1774) and Pope Pius VI (1775 – 1799). They were the firsts to open the collection of artwork of the Vatican State to the general public to promote culture among people.

As we previously said, the Vatican Museum is actually a complex made up by several buildings, pavilions, gardens and courtyards. The first building of the museum complex was the Pius-Clementine Museum, named after the two founder popes.

But where did the idea of a collection artwork start from?

In 1480 archaeologists found in Anzio, a little harbour city south of Rome, a roman statue dating back to the 2nd century BC. The statue was the famous “Apollo del Belvedere” or “Apollo of the Belvedere”, work of the Greek sculptor Leochares.

Today, the statue is still one of highlights in the Vatican Museum. In 1503, Pope Julius II decided to place the statue in the Octagonal Courtyard, known in the past as The Courtyard of Statues. It was exactly in this courtyard that Pope Julius II started housing and collecting ancient Roman and Greek statues.

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In the second half of 1700, the Popes Clement and Pius decided to transform the private collection in an organised exhibit space. Hence the first nucleus of the Vatican Museums was established.

At its center there was the Octagonal Courtyard. Over the centuries Popes have been adding masterpieces to the already impressive collection. However, statutes such as the “Apollo del Belvedere” and “Laocoon and his Sons” are part of the Vatican Museum since the first half of 1500.

The impressive collection of artwork of the Vatican Museums extends over 4,5 km of galleries! Every itinerary available ends in the Sistine Chapel.

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The Entrance

The “Atrio dei Quattro Cancelli”, the elegant portico entrance, is the main junction of every itinerary inside the Vatican Museums.

From this point you can access the beautiful Pinacoteca or climb up the staircase called “Scala Simonetti” and access the Egyptian Museum and the Etruscan Museum.

The Egyptian Museum

The Egyptian Museum was inaugurated by Pope Gregory XVI in 1839.

This museum is made up by 9 rooms, housing an impressive collection of antiquities from Ancient Egypt. Most of them were found in Rome, while others come from Hadrian’s Villa in Tivoli.
Among the most important sculptures you can admire the “Head of Pharaoh Mentuhotep II” (reigned c. 2061 BC – 2010 BC), the unifier of Egypt.

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The Etruscan Museum

Also founded by Gregory XVI in 1817, the Etruscan Museum strikes for the collection of priceless paintings, evidence of the Etruscan civilisation, and of several vases that show the influence of the Greek world.

Pinecone Courtyard

Known in Italian as “Cortile della Pigna”, the Pinecone Courtyard is named after the colossal, bronze pinecone statue located in a niche. The bronze pinecone was found near the Baths of Agrippa, where it decorated a fountain. During the Middle Ages, the pinecone graced the entrance of St. Peter’s Basilica. Also worth noticing, the pinecone is sided by two peacocks, both copies of the ones found in the ancient Mausoleum of Hadrian, known today as Castel Sant’Angelo.

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In the middle of the courtyard stands the modern bronze work by Arnaldo Pomodoro, known as “Sphere within a Sphere”.

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Chiaramonti Museum & Braccio Nuovo

The Chiaramonti Museum was founded by Barnaba Chiaramonti, best known as Pope Pius VII, in 1808. The actual Chiaramonti Museum is closed to the public and can be accessed to only upon request.
The main Gallery, designed by Bramante and Canova, features beautiful statues.

The so-called “Braccio-Nuovo” by Raphael Sten contains Roman statues and Roman copies of Greek original statues such as the “Statue of the Nile God”. Don’t forget to look at floors: they are decorated with beautiful mosaics!

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From the Chiaramonti Museum you can access the Pius-Clementine Museum.

Pius-Clementine Museum

The Pius-Clementine Museum is the very core of the Vatican Museum and one of the most important areas that comprises the Octagonal Courtyard, also known as Belvedere Courtyard.

It houses some of the most important statues such as “Laocoons and His Sons”, “The Apollo of Belvedere” and the “Roman Venus of Knidos”. Most of the collections housed inside the Pius Clementine Museum is made by statues discovered in Rome and surrounding areas.

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The inner rooms next to the Belvedere Courtyard are:

The Room of Museum that features beautiful frescoes depicting Apollo and the Museus. This room was open to the public in 1784 and was intended to exhibit several statued found in Cassius’s Villa in Tivoli.

The Round Room, also known in Italian as “Sala della Rotonda”, which design was inspired by the Pantheon. In the middle of this rooms stands a huge round monolithic porphyry basin that comes from Nero’s Domus Aurea.

The Gallery of Statues and the Room of Animals;

The Room of Busts, mostly containing portraits of Roman emperors.

The Cabinet of Masks, with the remarkable Roman Venus of Knidos above mentioned;

The Greek-cross Room, housing two colossal sarcophagi in red porphyry. The Sarcophagus of Saint Helen, Constantine’s mother from the 4th century and the sarcophagus of Constantina, Emperor Constantine’s daughter.

The Galleries

The itinerary inside the Vatican Museum continues with a series of beautiful galleries that features some of the most interesting masterpieces.

The Gallery of Candelabra was built in 1761 under Pius VI. The gallery is named after the marble candelabras located next to the columns that divide the gallery itself in six sections.

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The Gallery of Tapestries features precious, flemish tapestries and carpets commissioned by Pope Clement VII to Raphael’s scholars to decorate the Sistine chapel.

The tapestries on the left wall of the gallery depict scenes from the Bible: “Adoration of the Shepherds”, “Adoration of the Magi”,“Assumption of Jesus”, Three tapestries with the “Massacre of the Innocents”, “Resurrection”, “Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene”, “Supper at Emmaus”.

The manufacture, that followed the drawings of Raphael’s followers, was carried out in Bruxelles under the direction of Pieter van Aelst. The tapestries were first shown in the Sistine Chapel in 1531, and arranged to be exhibited in the Gallery of Tapestries in 1838.

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The Gallery of Maps was commissioned by Gregor XIII to Antonio Danti. Works were completed in 1583 after 3 years.

The impressive maps displayed in the gallery show the topography of the Italian Regions and the territories of the Papal State. The maps were carried out with the help of a Antonio’s brother, Ignazio Danti. Other than being a Dominican priest, Ignazio was also one of the most skilled cosmographer of the time.

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Apartment of Pius V and Rooms

Pope Pius V’s Apartments consist of a gallery with two small rooms frescoed by Giorgio Vasari and Federico Zuccari

Sobieski Room

The room is named after the Polish King Guglielmo Sobieski.

The central work of this room is indeed a huge canvas, work of the Polish painter Jan Matejko. The subject of the painting is the victory of the Polish King in the Battle of Vienna against the Turks. in 1883 Mateiko donated the painting to Pope Leone XIII.

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Immaculate Conception Room

This room is located in the Borgia Tower, decorated by Francesco Podesti with beautiful frescoes depicting the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, proclaimed in 1854 by Pius IX. It was the pope himself who commissioned the work to Podesti.

In the middle of the room stands a quite unique bookcase with volumes of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception written in different languages.

Chapel of Nicholas V

The Chapel of Nicholas V is one of the closed Rooms of the Vatican Museum, accessible only upon request. The Chapel stands in one of the most ancient areas of the Apostolic Palace.

This is a private chapel of the Pope and was decorated by Fra Angelico, a Tuscan artist who was inspired by the stories of San Lorenzo and Santo Stefano. The beautiful vault shows shining stars of the firmament and the four Evangelists.

Credits: image by By Fra AngelicoWeb Gallery of Art:   Image  Info about artwork, Public Domain, Link

Raphael’s Rooms

Probably second only to the Sistine Chapel, the so-called Raphael Rooms are one of the highlights of the Vatican Museum.

The rooms were private apartments of Pope Julius II, who following Bramante’s advised commissioned Raphael the beautiful frescoes. Raphael’s works started in 1508 until his death in 1520. The works were carried on by his scholars up to 1524.

The most famous room is the “Room of the Segnatura” (1508-1511) that houses the Julius II’s private library. In this room you can admire the famous frescoes depicting the three greatest categories of the human spirit – Truth, Good and Beauty – and the four subjects of knowledge.

The “Disputation of the Most Holy Sacrament” illustrates the Supernatural Truth and the Theology; “the School of Athens” depicts the Rational Truth and Philosophy;
“the Cardinal and Theological Virtues” expresses both Good and the Law.
Eventually, in the “Parnassus with Apollo and the Muses” Raphael represented Beauty and Poetry.

In the “Room of Heliodorus” (1511-1514) Raphael exalted the spiritual and temporal powers of the Church.

The “Expulsion of Heliodorus” from the Temple of Jerusalem shows the punishment of Heliodorus after stealing the treasure in the Jewish Temple of Jerusalem.
Heliodorus is captured by God’s’ messengers while a group of people including Julius II watch the scene.

The Sistine Chapel

The Sistine Chapel was consecrated on August 15th, 1483 to honor the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It took Michelangelo nearly 6 years of his life to complete the frescoes on the vault and of the back wall above the altar. These masterpieces of art, universally loved and celebrated, offer to visitors a lifetime experience!
We’ve dedicated to this masterpiece a separated post on our website! Just go to the article to read more about the Sistine Chapel.