The most popular attraction in the Vatican Museum is the Sistine Chapel,
which has gained its notoriety due to its housing Michelangelo Buonarroti's
stunning frescos depicting religious
themes from the Bible. Created during the 15th and 16th centuries, the
Chapel is considered one of the world's most awe-inspiring artistic
Although the Sistine Chapel is know for its works by Michelangelo, the four walls of the Sistine Chapel present themed works by
a number of Italy’s most famous artists.
Each of the side and entrance walls is comprised of a low set of drapes,
followed by rectangular painting of the life of Christ on the north Wall,
the Life of Moses on the south wall and both Christ and Moses on the
entrance wall, which by the way was redone after the original wall complete
with paintings collapsed early in the 16th century. The panels
depicting stories from the life of Christ and Moses that can be seen on the
side and entrance wall of the Sistine Chapel were individually created by
Rosselli and Ghirlandaio. On top of these were images of selected
popes, which were topped by lunettes, topped with webs of arched paintings
created by Michelangelo.
The most famous of the works in the Sistine Chapel, however, are the room's ceiling
and the wall above the Altar, both of which were created by Michelangelo in the first
half of the 16th century.
The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel was the first of Michelangelo's Sistine
creations and is divided into a main section running the length of the room
nine themes from Genesis that are surrounded by other smaller themes from
the Old Testament. The panel showing Michelangelo’s interpretation of the
creation of man is, perhaps, the most lauded section of the ceiling. If you
want to “observe” the detail of the ceiling frescos, you will need to bring a pair
of binoculars, as it is high above the floor and details can be hard to
distinguish with the unassisted eye.
The wall behind the Altar of the Sistine Chapel holds Michelangelo’s famous and
exceptionally stirring “Last Judgment. Although critically
acclaimed, the Last Judgment has been modestly altered through time.
Apparently, the nudes in the original fresco generated
both debate and criticism, and these "offensive" figures were
partially “clothed” in succeeding centuries
to tone down the imagery.
Originally, the stories of Christ and Moses,
(which you can see on the side and entrance walls of the Chapel) started above the altar
and continued along the sides and entrance to the Chapel . However,
Michelangelo’s commission to create the Last Judgment required removal of
these images to create the surface for his new work, which meant that the
stories still remaining, start out of sequence with the path described in
the first quarter of the 16th century, Raphael was commissioned to decorate
the apartments that would be used by Pope Julius II. Although the work
extended beyond the Pontiff’s reign, it was continued by his
successor, although not completed before Raphael’s death in 1520. The
in these four rooms were designed by Raphael, although several of the frescos were the work of
followers in his “school”. The frescos are majestic and considered some
of Raphael’s finest accomplishments.
Although each the four rooms (the Room of Constantine, Room of Heliodorus,
Room of the Segnatura, and the Room of the Fire in the Borgo) is sumptuously
decorated, each was designed for a different use and Raphael’s works
reflected these unique environments. The frescos on the four walls
dominate each room, although many critics feel that the frescos in the Room of the Segnatura
are among the best works by Raphael (specific acclaim goes to the Disputation over the Most Holy Sacrament
(representing theology and shown above at the left) and the School of Athens (representing philosophy
- shown to the right)).
During your visit, take some extra time, if possible, to examine these remarkable frescos; in addition to being
stunning pieces of art by a noted artist, they also portray themes that tell
Known as the “new” Vatican Art Gallery, the Pinacoteca dates
It has a core collection of approximately 500 painting that are displayed
over 18 rooms. The art ranges from the 12th to the 19th centuries and is
focused on Italian painters, although artists from other countries are
displayed. The Pinacoteca contains some fabulous works by Giotto, Leonardo
da Vinci, Raphael, Caravaggio, Titian and others, as well as several
beautiful tapestries (mainly Dutch) and statuary (e.g. Bernini).
Founded in 1839, this compact, 9-room museum offers a collection focused on
artifacts of ancient Egypt, including two rooms with two rooms featuring
artifacts from Mesopotamia and Syria-Palestine.The Etruscan museum dates from the 19th century and includes an interesting
collection of archeological finds (particularly bronzes and ceramics) from the
Etruscan regions of Italy.
you make the mad dash for the Sistine Chapel, you will be funneled through
the Map Room, which has a wonderful ornate ceiling and numerous maps along
the side walls. Although most visitors apparently do not consider
these treasures to be notable, we recommend you take some time to gaze on this
tribute to cartography and cartographers of the past. There are some
unique and historically interesting maps to be found on these walls.
There are several other mini-museums that comprise the Vatican Museums and
we urge you to consult the
Vatican’s website for more details on these collections.
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