What's Inside Vatican Museums?
The Vatican Museums, located within the Vatican City, showcases the collection of artworks that the popes have accumulated over the year. One of the most visited museums in the world, you will find some of the greatest masterpieces created over centuries, from Roman sculptures to Renaissance paintings. There have a collection of roughly 70,000 works, of which 20,000 are on display, across 54 galleries. On this page, you will be able to find everything you can expect inside when you enter the Vatican Museums.
Who created the Vatican Museums?
Pope Nicholas V began the construction of the Vatican, founded the Vatican Library, and set into motion the construction of St Peter's Basilica by commissioning Bernardo Rossellino, the architect, in 1447. In 1471, Sixtus IV commissioned the construction of a new chapel, the Sistine Chapel.
However, the Vatican museums were only born in the early 16th century, with pope Julius II moving his collection to the Octagonal Court. The museums origin is traced back to the purchase of the Laocoön and His Sons from a vineyard owner. The sculpture, which represents the Trojan priest Laocoön and his two sons being attacked by giant serpents was put on public display at the Vatican a month after its discovery.
In 1508, Julius II commissioned Raphael to redecorate the Stanze, which has since come to be referred to as Raphael’s rooms. As the collection grew new buildings were constructed such as the Gallery of Maps in 1580, the reorganization of the halls of the Sacred and Profane museums and the Cabinet of Masks in 1740, and the Gregorian Etruscan Museum in 1837.
What is Inside Vatican Museums?
Gregorian Egyptian Museum
The Gregorian Egyptian Museum, founded by Pope Gregory XVI in 1839, is made up of nine rooms that features artifacts from ancient Egypt that were brought into Rome as well as the collection from Hadrian's Villa Adriana (Tivoli). Located in the Palace of the Belvedere, you will find epigraphic artifacts, reconstruction of the Serapeum of the Canopus of Hadrian’s Villa, the Carlo Grassi collection, reliefs and inscriptions from Assyrian palaces, and the famous Book of the Dead among other things, here. The nine rooms open towards the terrace of the “Nicchione della Pigna”, which houses numerous sculptures.
Pio Clementino Museum
Named after Pope Clement XIV in 1771 and Pope Pio VI, who are responsible for the creation of the museum, this space consists of twelve different rooms. You will find the pontifical collections of classical sculptures, findings from excavations carried out in Rome and Lazio, and donations from collectors and antiquaries. Alessandro Dori, Michelangelo Simonetti, and Giuseppe Camporese were responsible for the neo-classical architecture of the building. In 1797, with the Treaty of Tolentino, the Papal States were forced to give up masterpieces in the Museum to Napoleon. Much of these works were restored after the defeat of Napoleon and the Congress of Vienna in 1815.
Founded in 1761 by Clement XIII, the Profane Museum was the first in the Vatican to feature a collection of profane antiquities. The museum initially referred to as the "Medals Room", was created to display the non-religious objects of the Carpegna, Vettori, and Assemani collections present in the museum at the time of its founding. Until the early nineteenth century, it also featured the papal numismatic collections. It is located at the north of the Clementine Gallery.
Located on the southern part of the long corridor created to link the Vatican Palace with the Belvedere Palace, the gallery features a stone library with epigraphs dating from between the 1st century B.C. and the 6th century A.D. It is home to the richest lapidary collection in the Vatican, the Gallery is a "stone library", with more than 3400 "pages" distributed over 48 walls. The content, written on slabs, bases, urns, altars, and sarcophagi, has been arranged according to content.
The Borgia Apartments are a suite of six rooms (Room of the Sibyls, Room of the Creed, Room of the Liberal Arts, Room of the Saints, Room of Mysteries, and Room of Pontiffs) that were used as a residence by Pope Alexander VI. He had commissioned Bernardino di Betto to decorate the rooms with frescos in the 19th century. Following his death, the apartment was abandoned. Later, it housed some of the nephew Cardinals until the end of the 1800s when Leo XIII decide to open it to the public.
Gregoriano Profano Museum
Founded in the Lateran Apostolic Palace by Gregory XVI Cappellari in 1844., the Gregoriano Profano Museum exhibited findings of the pontifical archaeological excavations in Rome and in nearby areas such as Cerveteri, Veio, Ostia. You will find various moments and themes in classical art, from Ancient Greece to the late Imperial Roman age documented here. Greek sculptures, copies, and reconstructions of Greek originals made during the Roman age, sculptures from the Imperial Roman age are some of the works displayed prominently here.
The Pius-Christian Museum was founded in 1854 by Pius IX to house evidence of the Christian communities of the first centuries, as well as some works from the Museo Sacro or Christian Museum. Collections from churches in Rome, sculptures, and epigraphs from Roman catacombs were also transferred to the Pius-Christian Museum for safekeeping. The works were largely sarcophagi with Christian imagery dating from the third to the fifth centuries. They were divided on a thematic basis for display purposes.
In 1757, by the decree of Benedict XIV, the Vatican’s Christian Museum was created. The entire collection here was aims to provide an insight into the heritage of faith and culture of the Christians of the first centuries. The Museum gradually expanded to include the adjacent rooms, such as the Hall of the Papyri, and the Room of the Tributes.
Room of the Chiaroscuri
Previously, this space housed those who were responsible for the surveillance of the pontiff's bedroom and those who were responsible for carrying the pope's sedan chair on their shoulders. The wooden coffered ceiling that you see today was created in the sixteenth century based on a design by Raphael. You will find a series of Apostles and Saints painted on the walls. Painted by Raphael, it was completely repainted by the brothers Federico and Taddeo Zuccari as it had been damaged over time. You will alsp find the weapons of the patron Pope Leo X Medici here.
Jewish Lapidarium includes around two hundred inscriptions that were discovered during the excavation of the Jewish catacomb of Monteverde. The catacomb, which dates back to at least the 17th century, was only systematically explored during the beginning of the twentieth century. In 1914 the discoveries were displayed in the Lateran Palace and in 1963, it was transferred to the Vatican. The collection is important for the plethora of information they offer on the Roman Jewish community between the third and fourth centuries A.D.
The Christian Lapidarium consists of over two thousand inscriptions from churches, urban convents, and excavations in the Roman catacombs. The lapidary was constructed in 1854 under Pope Pius IX. You will find inscriptions engraved on marble, painted on brick, or impressed using stamps. The collection, which was on display at the Lateran Apostolic Palace, was transferred to the Vatican in 1963. The collection here has been divided into three categories, namely, historical inscriptions, dogmatic inscriptions, and inscriptions combined with symbols and figures.
Chapel of Urban VIII
Created on the request by Pope Urban VIII Barberini in 1631 in the southwest corner of the Borgia Tower, this is the private chapel of the "old apartment" that was used by the pontiffs as a papal residence in the 16th century. The frescoes here depict the stories of the Passion of Christ through scenes of the Flagellation, the Crowning with Thorns, Christ's Meeting with Veronica, and Christ in the Garden created by the painter Alessandro Vaiani. There is also a frescoed altarpiece that showcases a Pietà with the Madonna, St. John, St. Mary Magdalene, and Nicodemus that was produced in 1635 by Pietro da Cortona.
Inaugurated in 1932, the Pinacoteca is one of the newer galleries at the Vatican Museums. Constructed by architect Luca Beltrami for Pius X in the nineteenth century Square Garden, the Pinacoteca is home to 460 paintings distributed among the eighteen rooms. The collection here began with 118 paintings that were amassed by Pope Pius VI. It was only after the fall of Napolean that the paintings were put together for a public exhibition. The collection is divided on the basis of chronology and school. You will find masterpieces of the greatest artists of the history of Italian painting, such as Giotto, Perugino, Raphael, Leonardo, Tiziano, Veronese, Caravaggio, and Crespi.
Gregorian Etruscan Museum
Founded by Pope Gregory XVI in 1837, the Gregorian Etruscan Museum was one of the first museums dedicated to Etruscan antiques. Here you will find artifacts that were unearthed during excavations in cities of ancient Etruria. It also features the collections of Falcioni, Benedetto Guglielmi, Mario Astarita, and Giacinto Guglielmi. You will also find Roman antiquities and Greek figurative vases here. From inside the museum, you can see the famous Bramante’s double-helix staircase.
A chapel in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican City, the chapel owes its name to Pope Sixtus IV, who built the chapel between 1473 and 1481. The Sistine Chapel is known for the beautiful frescos that decorate its interiors. Botticelli, Perugino, Pinturicchio, Ghirlandaio and Rosselli created a series of frescos during the reign of Sixtus IV that depicts the Life of Moses and Life of Christ. Between 1508 and 1512, Michelangelo painted the chapel's ceiling
The four rooms, Sala di Costantino, the Stanza di Eliodoro, the Stanza della Segnatura, and the Stanza dell'Incendio del Borgo, known as the Stanze of Raphael, form a part of the apartment in the Apostolic Palace that was chosen by Julius II della Rovere as his own residence and used also by his successors. These rooms are famous for the frescos painted by Raphael.
Located in the loggia that joins the Palace of the Belvedere to the Vatican Palaces, the museum has been named after pope Pius VII Chiaramonti (1800-1823). The museum, which opened in 1806, was aimed at creating a space to display the "three sister arts" together: sculpture, architecture, and painting. The Chiaramonti Museum has over one thousand antique sculptures on display.
Lapidario Profano ex Lateranense
The Lapidario Profano ex Lateranense was born after the collection in the Lateran Palace was transfer to the Vatican. The inscriptions are divided on the basis of their place of origin into “Extra-urban or municipal” and “Inscriptions from Rome”. This second group is further divided based on textual content, by archaeological context, and then by extra-urban area. Tomb inscriptions of miscellaneous origins, previously displayed in the Lapidario Profano, are currently on display at the Major Mosaic Area. A part of “Municipal Inscriptions” is also displayed to the public.
Chapel of St. Peter Martyr
Built in the southwest corner of the Tower between 1566 and 1570, is central of three chapels that were constructed at the behest of St. Pius V. The stucco and the frescoes were created by Giorgio Vasari and his student Jacopo Zucchi. You will find the relics of the Sancta Sanctorum, the ancient chapel of the Palace of the Popes in the Lateran here.
The Grand Gala Berlin, constructed in Rome in 1826 by Leo XII, the nine ceremonial berlins belonging to Pontiffs or Princes of the Holy Roman Church, historic traveling berlins are some of the prominent collections that are displayed at the Carriage Pavillion. These carriages are historical evidence of papal mobility. You will also find various automobiles such as the first Mercedes, the Fiat Campagnola linked to the assassination attempt against John Paul II in 1981, the last Beetle produced by Volkswagen in Mexico in 2003, and more.
Room of the Immaculate Conception
Francis Podesti worked on the large room adjacent to Raphael's Rooms from 1856 to 1865, at the behest of Pius IX who wanted to celebrate the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception in 1854. The depiction starts from the ceiling, with scenes that allude to the virtues of the Virgin and continue all the way to the east wall, with the Coronation of the Image of Mary, an event following the Proclamation.
Name after Pope Nicholas V, who ordered its construction, the Niccoline Chapel is considered to be one of the great works of fifteenth-century Italy. Frescoes cover the interiors. Episodes from the life of St. Steven and St.Laurence as well as the four Evangelists are depicted here.
Collection of Contemporary Art
This section house works from the end of the nineteenth century up to the early twentieth century. 8000 works of paintings, sculpture, and graphic arts by Van Gogh, Bacon, Chagall, Carrà, de Chirico, Manzù, Capogrossi, Fontana, Burri, and Matisse.
Room of the Aldobrandini Wedding
It was previously known as the Room of Samson for featuring frescoes by Guido Reni narrating the Stories of Samson. From 1838, the room came to be used for the display of Roman age paintings, such as the Aldobrandini Wedding, the Odyssey cycle of Via Graziosa, and the Ostia frescoes. More recent additions include the inscription of the insula Sertoriana and the mosaics of the Furietti collection.