The Vatican Museums, located in the Vatican City
, are public museums devoted to displaying works of art and sculpture from collections owned by the Roman Catholic Church. These museums are an exceptionally popular destination, receiving well over three million visitors every year.
The museums were founded in the sixteenth century, by Pope Julius II. The history of these museums began when the Pope purchased a sculpture of Lacoon, a Greek seer who figured prominently in the mythology of the Trojan horse. On the advice of Renaissance artist Michelangelo, the Pope displayed the sculpture at the Vatican, and from that time many artifacts were added to the collection. The Roman Catholic Church now owns an extensive collection of art and sculpture, which is overseen by more than three hundred employees.
The Vatican Museums include several museums dedicated to religious art, secular sculpture and Renaissance art, as well as a museum of contemporary religious and secular art. As well as more traditional works of art, the museums also include a gallery of tapestries, a gallery of maps, and exhibits of jewelry, ceramics, mosaics, and vases.
The Gregorian Egyptian Museum was founded in 1839, by Pope Gregory XVI, and comprises nine rooms filled with ancient artifacts from Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Syria. These exhibits include funerary relics, statues of Pharaohs and Egyptian deities, bronze and clay figurines, cuneiform tables and other examples of hieroglyphics, and relief sculptures which were once part of Assyrian palaces. Many of these artifacts are several thousand years old, and tell remarkable stories about life in ancient Egypt.
The Gregorian Etruscan Museum was also founded by Pope Gregory, in 1837. Exhibits in the rooms of this museum were excavated from the cities of ancient Etrusca, which is now Latium, a region located in central Italy. Exhibits in these rooms include vases, jewelry, and figurines made of ceramic, glass, and ivory, that illustrate the artistry of this ancient civilization. Some of the most prized artifacts in the Etruscan collection were excavated from tombs discovered in 1836-1837. These include a funerary bed, gold armor, silverware, and a chariot.
The Pinacotea is a picture gallery consisting of approximately 460 paintings created between the twelfth and nineteenth centuries. The collection includes masterpieces painted by some of the greatest of the Italian painters, including Raphael, Leonardo, and Caravaggio. Some of Caravaggio's greatest works are housed in the Pinacotea, including The Deposition from the Cross, which displays the artist's dramatically distinctive use of light and shadow.
One of the most interesting museums in the Vatican collection is the Ethnological Missionary Museum. Founded in 1926 by Pope Pius XI, this museum houses an eclectic collection of approximately 80,000 artifacts from all over the world. This distinctive museum houses religious artifacts from Asia, Oceania, Africa, and the Americas. Included are exquisite lacquered screens from Japan, Aboriginal funerary poles from Australia, wooden sculptures from Easter Island, African tribal masks, and a collection of stunning sculpted portraits of North American Indians.
Also part of the Vatican Museums collection are the rooms of the Vatican Palaces. Included are the Belvedere Palace, the Gallery of Tapestries and the Gallery of Maps, the Sistine Chapel, and the Raphael Stanze. The Raphael Stanze is a collection of four rooms which was once the residence of Julius II della Rovere, who was Pope from 1503 to 1513. These rooms were decorated largely by Raphael, and house some of the most famous frescoes painted by this great artist. Almost every inch of the walls, floors, and ceilings of the four rooms are covered in exquisite artistry, from frescoes, to paintings, to mosaics. The art in these rooms document Biblical scenes and themes, as well as important religious events in medieval history.
Whether you have a particular interest in religious art, or are interested in viewing fascinating artifacts of the ancient world, or would simply like the chance to view some of the most stunning artworks ever created, The Vatican Museums are a must-see when you are visiting Rome. The Vatican Museums are open almost every day throughout the year, being closed only on Sundays (excluding the last Sunday of every month) and religious holidays. Tickets cost between four and twelve Euros, and the purchase price includes access to all the museums, and the Vatican Palaces. Tickets are valid only on the day of purchase. Guided tours are also available; these require advance booking of at least one to two weeks.