Discover The Vatican Museums | History, Highlights & More
Founded in the early 16th century, the Vatican Museums within the Vatican City display works that have been amassed by the Catholic church over the centuries. The museums contain roughly 70,000 works, of which 20,000 are on display. In 2020, even though the number of visitors dropped by 81 percent due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it still ranked fourth in the list of most-visited art museums in the world.
What are the Vatican Museums?
- The Vatican Museums are a group of art and Christian museums situated within the walls of Vatican City.
- The Vatican Museums collections consist of over 70,000 paintings and sculptures, displayed prominently in over 54 galleries.
- You will find classical sculptures, tapestries, and paintings by Renaissance greats such as Raphael, Caravaggio, Michelangelo, Bernini, and da Vinci.
- They also have a collection of Modern Religious Art with works of artists like Carlo Carrà, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Salvador Dalí, and Pablo Picasso.
The Mission of the Vatican Museums
Laocoön and His Sons, the first acquisition of the Vatican Museums, was put on public display one month after its discovery in 1506. Over the next several centuries, as the collection expanded so did the museums; making it one of the most important museums in the world, today.
The driving motto of the Vatican Museums are:
Art is evangelisation
While art is a credible witness to the beauty of creation, to the Church it is, more importantly, a "tool of evangelisation". Art, be it in the form of music, architecture, sculpture, or, painting has been used to demonstrate and deliver the message of Christianity. An example of this is how catechism was conducted through stone sculptures in medieval cathedrals as people did not know how to read. Beauty, according to the Church, represents a way of encountering God.
Museums open to all
With the intention of using art as a vehicle to spread the word of God, the Vatican Museums has been designed to be "a place of beauty and welcome". It is a space that is not only open to new forms of art but also to people from all walks of life.
Why are the Vatican Museums Famous?
At the Vatican, located near the River Tiber, you will find the Vatican Museums. Founded by Pope Julius II in the early 16th century, the Vatican Museums boast one of the world's greatest art collections. Apart from art, archeology and ethno-anthropology works such as Egyptian mummies, Etruscan bronzes, the Vatican Museums also contain some of the most artistically significant rooms like the ones frescoed by Raphael, and the Sistine Chapel painted by Michelangelo. The Vatican Museums is a must-visit for art enthusiasts, history buffs, and the religious alike.
Plan Your Visit to the Vatican Museums
In 2019, Vatican reported 6.9 million visitors. Plan your trip to enjoy a hassle-free experience.
Who founded the Vatican Museums?
The Vatican City’s Museums was started in 1506 by Pope Julius II. The first addition to the museum was the statue of Laocoon and His Sons. It was only in 1771, that the museum was opened to the public.
History of Vatican Museums In a Nutshell
- Pope Julius II purchased the sculpture 'Laocoon and His Sons' from a vineyard owner in the 16th century.
- Gregory XVI founded the Etruscan Museum in 1837 and the Egyptian Museum in 1839.
- Under Pius IX, the Pio Christian Museum was added.
- In 1910, under Saint Pius X, the Hebrew Lapidary was established.
- The Gregorian Profane Museum, Pio Christian Museum, and the Hebrew Lapidary were transferred from the Lateran Palace to their present building within the Vatican in 1970.
What's Inside the Vatican Museums
The spiral staircase at the Vatican Museums is inspired by Bramante’s iconic double-helix staircase at the Pio-Clementine Museum. Also known as Scala Elicoidale, the staircase was designed by Italian architect Giuseppe Momo in 1932. Like the original, the staircase consists of two separate flights that allow people to ascend and descend without running into each other. The main purpose of the design was to allow uninterrupted passage in each direction.
The Raphael Rooms
The Raphael Rooms are a group of rooms in the public portion of the Vatican Palace (part of the Vatican Museums) that are famous for their frescoes which were painted by Raphael, marking the High Renaissance in Rome. The rooms that make up Raphael Rooms are Sala di Costantino ("Hall of Constantine"), the Stanza di Eliodoro ("Room of Heliodorus"), the Stanza della Segnatura ("Room of the Signatura") and the Stanza dell'Incendio del Borgo ("The Room of the Fire in the Borgo").
Gregorian Etruscan Museum
Founded by Pope Gregory XVI in 1836, it consists of 8 galleries dedicated to Etruscan antiques and artifacts excavated in prominent cities of ancient Etruria. Historical artifacts in this Museum include vases, bronzes, sarcophagus, and the famed collection of Guglielmi di Vulci Marquises. The Egyptian Museum, or the Egiziano Museum, is home to a large collection of artifacts from ancient Egypt such as papyruses, mummified animals, the Grassi Collection, and reproductions of the Book of the Dead.
Gallery of Maps
The Gallery of maps is a 120 meter long gallery in the Vatican Museums that is covered with painted maps of Italy based on drawings by friar and geographer Ignazio Danti. It took Danti 3 years to complete the 40 panels that make up the Gallery of Maps. You will find a map of the entire Italian peninsula, each depicting a region. You will also see the work of Mannerist artists such as Cesare Nebbia also on the vaulted ceiling.
Gallery of Statues and Hall of Busts
One of the 54 galleries in the Pio-Clementine Museum, the Gallery of Statues and Hall of Busts is home to numerous Greek and Roman sculptures. The gallery was originally covered with frescoes depicting landscapes and cities while the imagery of Cupids painted by Pinturicchio occupied the recesses in the wall. The gallery showcases work like the Sleeping Ariadne, the bust of Menander, and the Barberini Candelabra.
The Lapidary Gallery houses the richest lapidary collection in the Vatican. You will find this gallery along the southern part of the long corridor that links the Vatican Palace with the Belvedere Palace. The display was curated by Gaetano Marini, the first Custodian of the Apostolic Library from 1800. The Gallery constitutes a stone library, containing more than 3400 pages, written on slabs, bases, urns, altars, and sarcophagi, spread over 48 walls.
The Sala Rotunda
The Sala Rotunda was built in the 18th century. The Round Hall with a hemispherical vault imitates the Pantheon. The Sala Rotunda is lined with Colossal statues and busts that have been built on top of half-columns. The floor is decorated with intricate mosaic patterns from the 3rd century A.D. The highlight, of course, is the huge red basin made out of porphyry. It has a circumference of 13 meters.
Archaeological Areas of Vatican Museums
Excavations of St. John Lateran
Below St.John Lateran, a cathedral built in the 4th century in honor of St. John the Baptist and John the Evangelist, you will find remains of ancient buildings that existed before the basilica was constructed. The houses that existed in this region during the first imperial age were demolished in 193 AD when Septimius Severus decided to build the new barracks for the emperor’s bodyguards. In 312 AD, after the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, Constantine abolished the barracks and had the basilica built.
Vatican Villas & Gardens
Restoration & Scientific Services
1. Restoration, Conservation, Research
The Vatican Museums has in place several bodies dedicated to restoring and conserving the various works of art that the Museums house. The Conservator’s Office, for example, develops strategies to lower the risk threshold and improve the quality of the historical-artistic and archaeological property under the care of the Vatican Museums. The Cabinet of Scientific Research applied to Cultural Heritage, on the other hand, carries out diagnostic procedures to determine the processes of deterioration of works and identifies integral materials and production techniques.
There are also laboratories dedicated to the conservation and restoration of all artifacts preserved in the Vatican Museums based on the materials used. This includes the Tapestries and Textiles Restoration Laboratory, Painting and Wood Materials Restoration Laboratory, Ethnological Materials Restoration Laboratory, Stone Materials Restoration Laboratory, Metals and Ceramics Restoration Laboratory, Mosaic Restoration Laboratory, and Paper Restoration Laboratory.
2. Scientific Services
- Superintendence for Architectural Heritage has been entrusted with the responsibility of the conservation of the buildings within the walls of the Vatican since 2008. The office played a significant role in the restoration of the colonnade of St. Peter’s Square, the cloister of St. John Lateran, and the Church of St. Thomas of Villanova at Castel Gandolfo. It is currently involved in the restoration work of the Courtyard of the Pinecone.
- Historical Archive works towards preserving all documentation relating to the collections within the Museums as well as activities of the Institution from the second half of the eighteenth century to the end of the twentieth century. The Archive is accessible to internal Museum staff and, to external applicants who have been approved by the Directorate.
- Collections Registry and Central Catalogue is a centralized office dedicated to compiling, maintaining, and updating catalog information relating to works within the Vatican Museums. The service of the Collections Registry is not open to the public.
- Instituted in 1938, the Vatican Library contains journals and texts that document the works of the Vatican Museums collections. It is home to around 50,000 titles. The library is reserved for the staff of the Vatican Museums.
- Photo Library works towards the conservation, protection, enhancement, promotion, and study of an important photographic heritage. The collection includes the archives relating to the Museums' collections as well as photographs of historic photographs depicting views, landscapes, the city and landmarks in Rome, as well as other Italian or foreign cities.
Find information regarding the mobile works of art on display at the Vatican Museums with the help of the online catalogue. You can find data about the works found in the Gregorian Egyptian Museum, part of the Gregorian Etruscan Museum, Pio Clementino Museum, Lapidary Gallery, New Wing, part of the Gregoriano Profano Museum, Pius-Christian Museum, Pinacoteca, parts of the Ethnological Museum and the Carriage Pavilion, Christian Museum, Collection of Contemporary Art, Tapestries Collection, Apostolic Palace of Castel Gandolfo and the Antiquarium of Villa Barberini in Castel Gandolfo.
The Online Catalogue is available only in Italian, at present, as it is still in the implementation phase.
You can access the buildings through a virtual tour of the Vatican Museums, as well.
Vatican Museums Tickets & Guided Tours
All Your Questions About Vatican Museums Answered
A. The Vatican Museums are the public museums of the Vatican City. Founded in the 16th century, the Vatican Museums display works that had been amassed by the Catholic Church and the Papacy, making it the museum that is home to some of the most important Renaissance masterpieces and Roman sculptures.
A. Yes, you need to purchase tickets to enjoy access to the Vatican Museums. You can buy Vatian Museum tickets here.
A. The Vatican Museums is located within the Vatican City, which is situated on the west bank of the Tiber River.
A. The Vatican Museums is home to one of the most largest art collections in the world, from across centuries and the world, from Egypt to Greece to Rome, from early Christian and medieval art to the Renaissance to contemporary art.
A. Pope Julius II founded the museums in the early 16th century. Subsequent Popes added to the collection.
A. Set aside a minimum of 3 hours to tour the Vatican Museums.
A. There is a lot to see at the Vatican Museum. Raphael's masterpiece Transfiguration, the Pinecone Courtyard, the famous Laocoön sculpture, The Rotunda Room, The Tapestries Hall, The Maps Room and The Sistine Chapel are some of the must-visit attractions within the Vatican Museums.
Yes, guided tours are available for the Vatican Museums. Taking a guided tour of the Vatican Museums can be really helpful if you want to learn more about what you see at the museums.
A. It is your choice how you wish to experience the Vatican Museums. The Vatican Museum tickets includes access to the Sistine Chapel. You can choose to spend all your time here, or wander through the rest of the museums once you are done.
A. Yes, the Vatican Museums offer you a little sneak peak into the history and culture of Rome, as well as the world of Christianity and art. Art buffs, history buffs and travel enthusiasts will all enjoy a visit to the Vatican Museums.
A. Yes, the Vatican Museums are accessible on wheelchair. They are equipped with ramps, elevators and wheelchair lifts.