Vatican Museums

The art treasures collected by the Popes over many centuries and housed in the Vatican Museums represent the pinnacle of Western Art, with works by the greatest painters of the Renaissance, such as Fra Angelico, Giotto, Perugino, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Caravaggio, Raphael and Titian.

Also on display are ancient Roman sculptures, including the Apollo Belvedere, the Colonna Venus, the Sleeping Ariadne, a version of the Discobolus, and the Laocoon Group.

The rooms in the Apostolic Palace where the collections are housed are extraordinary and architecturally significant in their own right.

The virtual tours featured on this page are among the most stunning you are ever going to see.

The Sistine Chapel

Click on the image to take a virtual tour

The Sistine Chapel takes its name from Pope Sixtus IV, who refurbished it between 1473 and 1481 and commissioned a cycle of paintings covering the central tier of the walls, depicting The Life of Moses and The Life of Christ. These were executed by Domenico Ghirlandaio, Sandro Boticelli, Pietro Perugino, Cosimo Rosselli, and their workshops.

Pope Julius II employed Michelangelo to decorate the ceiling, which took four years, between 1508 and 1512. The artist demanded a free hand in the pictorial content, creating a series of nine pictures showing God’s Creation of the World, God’s Relationship with Mankind, and Mankind’s Fall from God’s Grace. On the large pendentives he painted twelve Biblical and Classical men and women who prophesied that God would send Jesus Christ for the salvation of mankind, and around the upper parts of the windows, the Ancestors of Christ.

In 1515, Raphael was commissioned by Pope Leo X to design a series of ten tapestries to hang around the lower tier of the walls, depicting events from the Lives of St. Peter and St. Paul. Due to their large size, the hangings were manufactured in Brussels, under the supervision of Pieter van Aelst. Raphael’s tapestries were looted during the Sack of Rome in 1527 and destroyed. In the late 20th century, a set was reassembled, and displayed again in the Sistine Chapel in 1983. The full-size preparatory cartoons for seven of the ten tapestries are known as the Raphael Cartoons, and are on display in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

A major restoration project on the Sistine Chapel took place between 1984 and 1994, and critics have been shocked by the resulting brightly-coloured look of the frescoes, claiming that they have been over-cleaned.

Today, the Sistine Chapel is the venue of the Papal Conclave, the process by which a new Pope is selected.

The Raphael Rooms

Click on the image to take a virtual tour

The four Raphael Rooms are famous for their fescoes, painted by Raphael and his workshop. The rooms, situated on the third floor and overlooking the south side of the Belvedere Courtyard, were originally intended as a suite of apartments for Pope Julius II.

Running from east to west, as a visitor would have entered the apartment, the rooms are the Hall of Constantine, the Room of Heliodorus, the Room of the Signatura, and the Room of the Fire in the Borgo.

After Julius died in 1513, with two rooms frescoed, Pope Leo X continued the programme. Following Raphael’s death in 1520, his assistants Gianfrancesco Penni, Giulio Romano and Raffaellino del Colle finished the project.

The School of Athens, which depicts a group of the most famous Ancient Greek philosophers, is generally considered to be Raphael’s masterpiece.

The Niccoline Chapel

Click on the image to take a virtual tour

The name of the Niccoline Chapel, which is located in the Tower of Innocent III, in the most ancient part of the Apostolic Palace, is derived from Pope Nicholas V, who commissioned it as his private place of worship.

It is noted for the frescoes painted by Fra Angelico (1447–1451) and his assistants, showing images of two of the earliest Christian martyrs, St Stephen and St Laurence. The frescoes allude to Nicholas V’s desire to rebuild Rome as the new capital city of Christianity.

Fra Angelico’s depiction of the Deposition of Christ on the wall behind the altar has sadly been destroyed.

The Chiaramonti Museum

Click on the image to take a virtual tour

This museum was founded in the early 19th century by Pope Pius VII, whose surname before his election as Pope was Chiaramonti. The museum consists of a large arched gallery in which are exhibited several statues, sarcophagi and friezes.

The Pio Clementino Museum

Click on the image to take a virtual tour

The Pio-Clementino Museum takes its name from two Popes, Clement XIV and Pius VI. When Clement XIV founded the museum in 1771, it contained a mixture of Renaissance and Antique works. Today, it houses Greek and Roman sculpture.

The New Wing

Click on the image to take a virtual tour

The New Wing houses marble statues including the Augustus of Prima Porta, the Doryphoros, and The River Nile. It is in the Classical style and has a wide arched roof with skylights. The colour scheme is blue-grey and white with a polychrome marble floor. The walls of each side of the gallery have a row of large niches in which stand marble statues.

The Galeria Lapidaria forms part of the Chiaramonti Museum, and contains over 3,000 stone tablets and inscriptions. It is accessible only with special permission, usually for the purpose of academic research.

Featured images: © Musei Vaticani