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Vatican Museums
[[File::Lightmatter vaticanmuseum.jpg|200px]]
Established 1503
Location Vatican City
Visitors 4,000,000 (2006)
Director Francesco Buranelli

The Vatican Museums (Italian: Musei Vaticani) are the public art and sculpture museums in the Vatican City, which display works from the extensive collection of the Roman Catholic Church, including Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling and the Raphael Rooms. Pope Benedict XIV founded the museums in 1756, although Pope Julius II started the collection in 1503 with the Apollo Belvedere statue, and the first reference to an art collection in the Vatican Library dates back to the prefecture of Marcello Cervini, who would in 1555 become Pope Marcellus II. The number of visitors has increased over recent years; in 2005, 3.8 million people toured the museums. In 2006, that figure had risen to more 4.3 million, and the Vatican grossed US$65 million.[1]


thumb|300px|right|Staircase of the Vatican Museum

The Vatican Museums originated in 1503 when Pope Julius II set the statue of Apollo in the inner coutyard of Pope Innocent VIII's Belvedere Palace.[2][3] Three years later, on 14 January 1506, the sculpture of the marble Laocoön group was discovered in a vineyard near the basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome.[2][4] Julius sent Giuliano da Sangallo and Michelangelo Buonarroti, who were working at the Vatican, to examine the discovery. On their recommendation, the Pope immediately purchased the sculpture from the vineyard owner. The Pope put the sculpture on display exactly one month after its discovery. Julius went on to place later discoveries such as the Venus Felix, the Nile, the Tiber and the Sleeping Ariadne in the gardens with Apollo and Laocoön.[5] On 28 November 1534, Pope Paul III named Latino Giavanale Mannetto the first Commissioner for the conservation of ancient cultural goods.[6]

In 1624 an edict, or legislature was issued by Cardinal Camerlenghi which "banned proprietors of works of art from selling them beyond the borders, and also threatened makers of wooden cases, packers, porters, waggoneers, muleteers, boatmen, frontier officials and guards who by act or omission further the forbidden traffic. [Additionally,] no excavations could be undertaken without the supervision of the Papal Commissioner, and any work of art accidentally found had to be … declared [immediately].[7] This edict was written during the Counter-Reformation period from 1560 to 1648, when the Papacy and other conservatives of the period attempted to reform the Catholic Church to retain its traditions against the innovations of Protestant theology and the more liberalizing effects of the Renaissance.[8][9] This movement brought the growth of the Vatican collections to a standstill, although the study of antiquity turned to that of a historical and archaeological nature, rather than that of pure aesthetics. It was not until 1756, when Pope Benedict XIV founded the Christian Museum of the Library, that the teachings of the new approach began to manifest.[2]

In 1767, Pope Clement XIII founded the Profane Museum "to preserve to monuments of Roman antiquity". Following his death in 1758, the new pope, Clement XIV and his successors Pius VI and Pius VII, began to build the museums as they are today, setting up the Pio-Clementine Museum (1771–93), the Chiaramonti Museum (1805–07), the Lapidary Gallery (1807–10), and the Braccio Nuovo gallery (1817–22).[2][10][11]

The Treaty of Tolentino was signed on 19 February 1797 following France's invasion of Italy during the early stages of the French Revolutionary Wars.[12] The Papal territory of Comtat Venaissin was formally ceded to France after five hundred years of occupancy. The treaty also called for the confiscation of art from the Vatican; over a hundred paintings and other masterpieces of the Pio-Clementine Museum, including the Laocoön Group and Apollo, were taken to the Musée Napoléon in Paris, France.[3][13][14] During the French occupation of the Kingdom of Naples during the Second Coalition of the War, the Profane Museum lost its collection of gems, coins and medals.[3] Following the defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, the confiscated masterpieces from the Pio-Clementine Museum were returned on 4 January and 11 August 1816.[3] The collections from the Profane Museum, however were never returned.[3]

In the first quarter of the 19th Century, two edicts were written regarding the safeguarding and conservation of antiquities and works of art. These reinforced a Pontifical order from the 15th Century intended to limit the destruction of ancient Roman monuments and the dispersion of classical works, and the edicts of 1624.[15] On 1 October, 1802, the Edict of the Camerlengo of S.R.C. Cardinal Doria Pamphilj (Doria Pamphilj Edict) included a Chirograph written by Pope Pius VII which stated that the Museums must "see that the Monuments, and beautiful works of Antiquity … be conserved as real prototypes, and as examples of the Beautiful, in a religious manner and for public instruction and may be further increased with the discovery of other rare pieces"[16][17][18][19] On 7 April 1820, the Edict of Cardinal Carmerlengo Bartolomeo Pacca (Pacca Edict) was written, which regulated archaeological excavations and assured the Vatican's right of first choice to procure art from public collections,[3][20] and placed an embargo on the exportation of art from Italy.[15][21]

{{cquote|Any Superior, Administrator or Rector, or individual who directs public buildings and places, ecclesiastical or secular alike, including Churches, Oratories, Convents, where collections of Statues and Paintings are preserved, Museums of Sacred and secular Antiquities, and even one or more precious artistic Objects of Rome and of the State, without person of exception, even if privileged or very privileged, should present a very exact and distinct Note of the objects mentioned above in double copy, with a description of each piece.|20|20|Excerpt from the Pacca Edict|[22][23]}

The enforcement of the Edicts helped secure artefacts found at the excavations carried out in Southern Etruria in the early 19th Century.[20] Pope Gregory XVI opened the Gregorian Etruscan Museum on 2 February 1837.[3] When Jean-François Champollion deciphered the Egyptian hieroglyphics in 1822, interest in Egyptian artefacts was stimulated. The Pope opened the Gregorian Egyptian Museum on 2 February 1839.[3] On 14 May 1844, the Pope opened his third museum, the Gregorian Profane Museum in the Lateran Palace, which displayed classic antiquities which were continually being procured by the Vatican.[20]

In 1870 the Papal States were disestablished due to the unification of Italy. Although Rome was declared the capital city of Italy in March 1861, the Italian government could not take control of the city because Napoleon III kept a French garrison in Rome protecting Pope Pius IX. In July 1870, the garrison was recalled when the Franco-Prussian War broke out and Napoleon needed to defend France. By September, Italy had declared war on the Papal States.

Pinacoteca Vaticana[edit]

The collection was first housed in the Borgia Apartment, until Pope Pius XI ordered construction of a proper building. The designer was Luca Beltrami. The museum has works of art of painters including Michelangelo, Raphael and Fra Angelico.

Contemporary art museum[edit]

The contemporary museum houses paintings from artists like Carlo Carrà and Giorgio de Chirico.

Sculpture museums[edit]

The group of museums includes several sculpture museums surrounding the Cortile del Belvedere.

Museo Pio-Clementino[edit]

Pope Clement XIV founded the Pio-Clementino Vatican museum in 1771, and originally it contained the Renaissance and antique works. The museum and collection were enlarged by Clement's successor Pius VI. Today, the museum houses works of Greek and Roman sculpture.

There are 54 galleries, or "salas" in total, with the Sistine Chapel, notably, being the very last sala within the Museum - visitors need to proceed through the other 53 salas before earning their reward with access to the Sistine. Some notable galleries are:

  • Sala a Croce Greca: which houses the sarcophagus of Constance and Saint Helen, daughter and mother of Constantine the Great.
  • Sala Rotonda: holding several ancient mosaics and statues.
  • Gallery of the Statues (Galleria delle Statue): Houses, as says its name, important statues like Ariadne sleeping and Meandrus. It also houses the Barberini Candelabrums.
  • Bust Gallery (Galleria dei Busti): Several busts are displayed.
  • Mask Cabinet (Gabinetto delle Maschere): The name comes from the mosaic in the floor of the gallery, found in Villa Adriana, which represents several masks. Along the walls, several famous statues are shown like the Three Graces.
  • Sala delle Muse: Houses the group statues of Apollo and the nine muses. Statues from important Greek sculptors are exhibited.
  • Sala degli Animali: So named because of the several statues of animals that it houses.

[[Image:Statue-Augustus.jpg|thumb|left|The Prima Porta Augustus.]]

Museo Chiaramonti[edit]

This museum is named after Pope Pius VII Chiaramonti, who founded it in the early 1800s. The museum consists of a large arched gallery in which sides are exhibited several statues, sarcophaguses and friezes. The New Wing, Braccio Nuovo built by Raphael Stern, houses important statues like The Prima Porta Augustus and The River Nile. Galeria Lapidaria is another part of Chiaramonti museum, with more than 3,000 stone tablets and inscriptions, which is the world's greatest collection of its kind. However, it is opened only by special permission, usually for reasons of study.

Museo Gregoriano Etrusco[edit]

Founded by Pope Gregory XIII in 1836, this museum has eight galleries and houses important Etruscan pieces, coming from archaeological excavations. The pieces include: vases, sarcophagus, bronzes and the Guglielmi Collection.

Museo Egiziano[edit]

Founded by Pope Gregory XVI, this museum houses a grand collection of Ancient Egyptian material. Such material includes papyruses, the Grassi Collection, animal mummies, and the famous Book of the Dead.

Works in the Vatican museums[edit]

thumb|right|180px|Gallery of Maps

Wide image



  • Francesco Papafava (Editor); Karin Stephan (Assistant editor). Guide to the Vatican Museums and City. Translated by J. Zweng. Vatican City: Pontifical Monuments, Museums and Galleries. ISBN 978-8-88-692777-4 Check |isbn= value (help). 
  • Emiliani, A. Leggi bandi e provvedimenti per la tutela dei beni artistici e culturali negli antichi stati italiani 1571–1860 (in Italian). Bologna. 
  • Mariotti. La Legislazione delle Belle Arti, Roma (Contains a large collection of the older laws and edicts, with reports of Parliamentary discussions on draft Monument Acts, etc.) (in Italian). 


  1. ^ Thavis, John (2007-12-15). "Will new director take Vatican Museums far from the madding crowd?". The Catholic Times (Springfield, IL: The Diocese of Springfield, IL). Retrieved 2008-03-16. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Papafava, p. 2
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Papafava, p. 14
  4. ^ "500 Years of the Laocoön". Institute of Design and Culture. Retrieved 2008-03-17. 
  5. ^ "Bellini Giorgioni, Titian, and the Renaissance of Venetian Painting". National Gallery of Art. Retrieved 2008-03-17. 
  6. ^ Constantini, Cardinal Celso. La legislazione ecclesiastica sull'arte, in Fede et Arte (in Italian). pp. p. 374. 
  7. ^ Brown, p. 128
  8. ^ "Counter-Reformation". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica. 2008. Retrieved 2008-03-16. 
  9. ^ "Counter Reformation". The Columbia Encyclopedia (6th Edition ed.). 2001–2007. Retrieved 2008-03-16. 
  10. ^ Cristiano Pellegrini (2006). "The Vatican Museums : Five Centuries of History". Retrieved 2008-03-17. 
  11. ^ "The Vatican Museum". Retrieved 2008-03-17. 
  12. ^ Kirk, p. 87
  13. ^ Kirk, p. 89
  14. ^ "Napoleon's invasion of Italy". The Beazley Archive. University of Oxford. Retrieved 2008-03-19. 
  15. ^ a b Francesco Marchisano (2001-08-15). "The Pastoral Function of Ecclesiastical Museums: 1.4. Legislative Measures issued by the Church regarding Church Museums". The Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Heritage of the Church. The Holy See. Retrieved 2008-03-25. 
  16. ^ Pope Pius VII. Chirografo sulla conservazione dei monumenti e sulla produzione di belle arti (in Italian).  Unknown parameter |origdate= ignored (|orig-year= suggested) (help)
  17. ^ Emiliani, pp. 110–125
  18. ^ Mariotti, pp. 266–233
  19. ^ Brown, pp. 128–130
  20. ^ a b c Papafava, p. 3
  21. ^ "Noble Picture Smugglers; How Owners of Masterpieces Get Them Out of Italy" (PDF). The New York Times. 28 October 1900. p. p. 6. Retrieved 2008-03-26.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  22. ^ Mariotti, pp. 235–241
  23. ^ Emiliani pp. 130–145

External links[edit]

41°54′23″N 12°27′16″E / 41.90639°N 12.45444°E / 41.90639; 12.45444