The Pinacoteca is one of the last branches added to the Vatican Museums. In 1817, after Napoleon’s fall, many paintings returned from Paris to the Church. Since then, the painting collection expanded with new donations, commissions and acquisitions.
Today, the gallery holds works by some of the greatest Italian artist throughout the centuries.
Giotto, the formal inventor of perspective, is the author of the XIV century altarpiece that once decorated the Basilica.
Frescoes by Melozzo da Forlì, depicting ethereal angels playing musical instruments, were diligently removed from their original wall, and can be admired today in the dim light.
An entire room is dedicated to Raphael’s works. Three paintings show the advancement of his style, with his last work, the Transfiguration, appearing as the spiritual testament of the artist.
The Pinacoteca hosts the only painting by Leonardo da Vinci in Rome, St. Gerome. And Caravaggio’s Deposition, in strong contrast with the formality of the previous work, is a suitable close that will make you understand the evolution of Italian and European painting.
There is no need to advertise a work that speaks for itself: Michelangelo’s frescoes in the Sistine Chapel are the great marvel of Vatican art and one of the most treasured asterpieces of Western painting.
The Sistine Chapel is most famously known for being the location where cardinals reunite, discuss and elect the new pope. During the visit, you enter the chapel through an nassuming narrow doorway, and you are greeted with a feast of colors. The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel has recently been restored, and has brought back to life colors that have been hidden for hundreds of years.
Before Michelangelo, the walls had been decorated by famous artists of Renaissance, such as Botticelli, Perugino, Ghirlandaio, but those are doomed to live in the shade of the famous artist. Julius II commissioned Michelangelo to decorate the ceiling in 1508. Glorifying the human body as only a sculptor could, Michelangelo devoted his considerable talents to painting ceiling frescoes, which seen in their historical context, are just breathtaking.
Twenty years later, iMichelangelo would paint the Last Judgement. The wall behind the altar, vibrant and arresting, still shows off bright colors that compensate for the dim light.
The the Sistine Chapel is a clarifying experience: you can feel a connection to a higher power, whatever you consider that to be.
When Julius II was elected pope, he had no intention of having his residence established in the apartments where the Borgia family had confabulated their dreadful affairs.
By deciding to move one floor above, he ordered several painters to take care of the fresco decorations. Raphael started with the world-famous school of Athens, where the most significant philosophers of ancient times move within an imposing Renaissance architecture.
With this first work, Raphael gained immediate success, became in charge of the rest of the decorations, while the other painters were fired.
Together with his team, he was commissioned to do the artwork in the audience room, in the library, and the music room of the Pope.
The frescoes took almost 20 years to complete was finally finished sometime after his death in 1520 by his young assistants, and undoubtedly outshined the apartments of his predecessor.
During the XVII century, the Turks tried to expand their domain in Europe. Grand vizier Kara Mustafa was nominated head of an army of over two hundred thousand soldiers, flanked by he Tartar horsemen.
Their primary target was Vienna, a city that once conquered, would provide easy access to he West.
Polish king John III Sobieski left Krakow and his country unprotected to join the allies hastily, and on September 12, 1683, after twelve hours of combat, the Polish heavy lancers broke he lines on the invaders, and finally the Turks surrendered.
The painting that gives name to the Hall was a gift to the Pope for the 200th anniversary of the battle, a reminder of the loyal alleys who prevented the fall of Catholicism during the “Last Crusade”.
In a time where no satellites and computers provided you with quick and detailed maps, cartography was a commission even more ambitious that a sculpture or a painting. Just like tapestries, decoration and practical use were satisfied in one piece.
Pope Gregory XIII, so fascinated with science, sent geographers all over Italy to draw maps of the peninsula, modernly envisioning the country as one whole, rather than a puzzle of independent states.
After four hundred years, the maps are so accurate you could still use them to travel today. Sicily, Calabria, Tuscany, Veniceall the regions are painted as frescoes with rich decorations and meticulous details. If you have traveled in Italy, it is amusing to compare the places you have visited with their depiction of so many centuries ago.
Unmissable is the heavily stucco and gold decorated ceiling, one of the finest in the whole Vatican.
In ancient winter times, heavy tapestries used to insulate the fireplace-warmed chambers. Besides their practical use, tapestries had a decorative purpose, and commissioners contended the best weavers.
The Gallery in the Vatican offers you two different collections.
The workshop of Pietr Van Aelst in Brussels produced the finest examples in all Europe, and a whole series is on display on one side of the room. Colorful silk and wool, with silver-gilt threads knotted into millions of knots, give life to episodes from the life of Christ.
On the opposite wall, the leading actor is Pope Urban VIII, the baroque decorator of St. Peter and rebuker of Galileo’s theories. His life woven in the Barberini workshop, directed by his nephew, a rich and cultivated art amateur and collector of antiques.
The Vatican Museums started with a nucleus of statues brought in 1503 by the newly elected Pope Julius II. An immediate success, with art being available to many, people came here to learn about classical art, artists to look for inspiration.
Michelangelo himself was a fervent student of the Belvedere Torso, a bundle of fierce muscles and unreleased power that would inspire him to paint Christ in the Last Judgment. The Apollo Belvedere was considered one of the most elegant statues of the collection, with its perfect proportions and the drape that resembles more silk than marble.
The Lacoon group, unearthed in a vineyard 1506, was famous even before its discovery, as described by the historian Pliny as “a work that is to be preferred to all those produced from painting and sculpture “. Julius successors were anxious to leave their tribute to the collection.
Porphyry, one of the hardest materials to carve, is the element of Helena and Constantia’s sarcophagi, as well as Nero’s basin. Statues and busts of patricians and emperors are still today meticulously arranged in interminable displays.
The bronze Hercules is one of the few pieces that escaped the common destiny of being recycled into set of cannon balls and bullets. Some absolute highlights are hidden in the Galleries; spend time to find yours.