Rome Sights to See - The Vatican Museums
An entire article could easily be constructed solely by listing the
names of all the galleries and museums comprising the Vatican Museums.
Naming the artists and their works contained within them would take up
several more articles. Describing them in any detail takes entire
catalogs, which, of course, are held in the Vatican Library.
Growing from its humble beginnings with Pope Julius II's
1506 acquisition of the sculpture of Laocoön and
his sons in the grips of a sea serpent, it now numbers dozens of
individual galleries and thousands of works of art.
The Etruscan Museum,
founded in 1837 is one of the later additions, holding many excavated
samples of ancient works unearthed in southern Etruria and
elsewhere. It is nearby the mosaics and ancient sarcophagi from the
glory days of the Roman Empire held in the Egyptian Museum,
which it resembles.
Then, there is the Gallery
of Tapestries, a collection of wall coverings from the
15th through the 17th centuries. First exhibited in 1814, these
extraordinary weaves would be welcomed in any of the major museums of
Nearby is the Gallery of
the Maps, named after its painted walls.
The walls are made up of forty different panels devoted to varying
regions around the globe. They form a collection that was
once as practical as it is beautiful. Before Global Positioning Systems
and other modern technology, these maps were among the prime means for
locating and tracking the Church's far-flung spheres of influence.
Among the highlights of the Vatican Museums are the Raphael Rooms. A
series of four connecting rooms, built between 1447 and 1455, these
house many of the works of that Renaissance
master. The rooms, ironically however, are not named for holding his
paintings, but because of his work decorating them over a ten year
The more plainly named Vatican
Picture Gallery holds works that belie the room's
designation. Here are works of many masters, including Giotto,
Dyck and Poussin.
Some visitors may be disappointed if they visit the Gregorian Museum of Profane Art
looking for early samples of pornography. The word was simply used in
this manner to distinguish subject matter that was not sacred in
theme. Opened only in 1970, here are Roman sculptures of the Republican and Imperial periods, sarcophagi and much
The Carriage Pavilion
was opened even later, in 1973, in a building constructed under the Square Garden. It
houses the carriages used to transport various Popes and other
officials of the church. The main objects are supplemented with
photographs of processions, harnesses, documents and other related
Of course, the centerpiece of the Vatican Museums is unquestionably the
Chapel, in particular its 10,000 square foot
ceiling painted by Michaelangelo.
The chapel holds many works by Italian masters, not least of which is
the master's Last
Judgment completed twenty years after the ceiling.
Still, it is the ceiling that commands attention. Nine panels display
figures from the Bible, Sibyls,
random male nudes and Jehovah
to life with a touch. Perhaps Goethe said it best when he stated:
"Without having seen the Sistine
Chapel one can form no appreciable idea of what one man is capable of
The same might be said of many of the masters whose work is housed in
the Vatican Museums.
the Eternal City