Click for the home page of ThereArePlacesClick for our Travel Planning Articles to learn what you need to know before you goFresco by Podesti in the Hall of the Immaculate Conception, Vatican Museums     Italy   

  

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Highlights of the Vatican Museums

Podesti's celebrated frescos in the Hall of the Immaculate Conception in the Vatican Museums

The crowds in the Vatican Museum are sometimes likened to salmon returning to their spawning grounds.  In this case, however, everyone is rushing to see the glorious Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo and Raphael's rooms.  While you are making this journey, you will pass through the Borgia Apartments and other Palaces that provide many delightful works of art. 

On the left, is an example of one of dramatic 19th century frescos by Francesco Podesti in the Hall of the Immaculate Conception, part of the Borgia apartments.  The room has four majestic frescos celebrating the promulgation of the dogma of the  Immaculate Conception and the role Pope Pius IX in the process. The ceiling and web frescos are also impressive.

The remainder of the Borgia Apartments were designed by Pinturicchio and you should not be in a rush to pass through these rooms, although they are regarded as  "lesser" treasures.

 

Sistine Chapel

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 presentations .


                Michelangelo's central ceiling panels including the famous creation scene (at the bottom).

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 Botticelli, Perugino, 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 which depicts 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.

               Michelangelo's The Last Judgement in the Sistine Chapel

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  Bible.

 

Raphael's Rooms

Raphael's fresco of the Disputation of the Blessed Sacrament in Raphael's Rooms at the Vatican MuseumsIn 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 images 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 wallsRaphael's famous fresco The School of Athens in his rooms at the Vatican Museum 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 interesting stories.  

The Pinacoteca

Known as the “new” Vatican Art Gallery, the Pinacoteca dates from 1932. 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).

The Gregorian Egyptian Museum

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 Gregorian Etruscan Museum

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.

Hall of Maps

The ornate ceiling in the Hall of Maps, Vatican LibraryAs 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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Vatican Museum Highlights

Introduction
Sistine Chapel
Raphael's Rooms
Pinacoteca
Egyptian Museum
Etruscan Museum
Hall of Maps

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
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In order to imbue the frescos with the detail he desired, Michelangelo was forced to paint the ceiling frescos in the Sistine Chapel while laying on scaffolding just inches from the ceiling and  high above the Chapel's floor.  Rendering these images in such detail, beauty and realism under these conditions is one of the many reasons that Michelangelo is considered "the Master".

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Skip the Line: Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel and St Peter's Basilica Half-Day Walking Tour

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