Big City Tales

The Vastness of the Vatican Museums | May 14, 2018

Vatican City State may be the smallest state in the world but it contains one of the world’s largest (and most-visited) museums. With over 50 galleries and 22 separate collections comprised of over 70,000 eclectic works, the vastness of the Vatican Museums extends from its marble floors to its vaulted ceilings and all through its long, winding corridors that lead to lavish chapels and the private papal chambers.

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Renaissance Masterpieces

From Michelangelo to Raphael, the walls and ceilings of the Vatican Museums are adorned with works completed by some of the greatest Renaissance artists.

Sistine Chapel

While best known for Michelangelo’s dazzling painted ceiling and his iconic altar wall piece, The Last Judgment, the Sistine Chapel is full of other frescos completed by other accomplished Italian artists such as Botticelli, Perugino and Signorelli.

The art work on the chapel’s side walls is divided by tiers and includes (from bottom to top): painted draperies and papal crests, biblical scenes from the lives of Moses (Old Testament) and Jesus (New Testament), portraits of popes, the ancestors of Christ, and the prophets. The ancestors were painted by Michelangelo in lunettes, half-moon shaped spaces above the chapel windows, as part of his commission for the chapel ceiling. Michelangelo also painted the prophets that are situated between the lunettes and alternate between male and female figures.

The main theme of the ceiling is the Book of Genesis and includes nine of its stories such as the Creation of Adam, Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and the Great Flood. The ceiling covers over 5,000 square feet and contains 300 larger than life painted figures.

Raphael Rooms (Stanze di Raffaello)

Commissioned by Pope Julius II, the Raphael Rooms are located in the Palace of the Vatican and are part of the papal apartments that are open to the public.

Raphael and members of his workshop painted a series of frescoes in four rooms covering a variety of themes.

The largest room is the Hall of Constantine (Sala di Costantino) that celebrates the triumph of Christianity over paganism.

Fittingly, the theme of the Room of the Signatura (Stanza della Segnatura) is wisdom and it was used as a library and tribunal meeting room. One of Rapahel’s most famous frescoes, The School of Athens, is found in the philosophy section of the library.

The other two rooms are the Room of the Fire in the Borgo (Stanza dell’incendio del Borgo), which highlight events in the lives of Popes Leo III and Leo IV, and the Room of Heliodorus (Stanza di Eliodoro, which depicts the theme of Christ’s heavenly protection over the Church.

Classical Sculptures

In addition to highlighting the works of cherished Italian artists, the papacy has also showed a great appreciation for art from other historical civilizations, particularly Egyptian, Greek and Etruscan sculptures.

The Pio Clementino Museum includes Greek and Roman sculptures such as The Belvedere Torso, The LaocoonThe Three Graces, and Sleeping Ariadne.

Contemporary Art

Thanks to the efforts of Pope Paul VI, who was interested in bridging a gap between the papacy and contemporary culture, the Vatican Museums include some 8,000 pieces of art dating from the end of the 19th century to the early 20th century. The works in the Collection of Modern Religious Art come from renowned Italian and international artists such as de Chirico, Balla, Van Gogh, Gaugin, Chagall, Matisse, Dali and Picasso.

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