Originally founded in 1506 by Pope Julius II, The Vatican Museums are made up of the public art and sculpture museums and galleries located within Vatican City. Displaying works from the immense collections amassed by the Catholic Church and papacy over the many centuries, they include some of the most renowned Roman sculptures and masterpieces of Renaissance art in the world. Together, the Museums and galleries employ some 640 people (in 40 different administrative, scholarly, and restoration departments) and contain around 70,000 works (about 20,000 of which are on public display). There are 54 galleries in total, with the most notable, The Sistine Chapel, being the very last one. Combined, the museums and galleries form one of the largest museums in the world, as well as the 3rd-most visited. In 2006, the Museums celebrated their 500th Anniversary by permanently opening a Vatican Hill necropolis excavation to the public.
Combined, the Vatican Museums and galleries include:
- The Pinacoteca Vaticana Art Gallery – originally housed in the Borgia Apartment until Pope Pius XI ordered the construction of a proper building, which was designed by Luca Beltrami and inaugurated in 1932.
- The Collection of Modern Religious Art – added in 1973, it houses religious paintings and sculptures from artists such as: de Chirico, van Gogh, Gauguin, Chagall, Klee, Dalí, and Picasso.
- The Pio-Clementino Museum – founded in 1771 by Pope Clement XIV, it originally contained antique and Renaissance and works. Today, the collection, which was enlarged by Clement’s successor, Pius VI, houses Greek and Roman sculptures.
- The Chiaramonti Museum – founded in the early 19th century by Pope Pius VII (whose surname before becoming pope was Chiaramonti), it consists of a large arched gallery exhibiting several statues, sarcophagi, and friezes.
- The Gregoriano Etrusco Museum – founded by Pope Gregory XVI in 1836, this museum has eight galleries and houses important Etruscan archaeological works, including vases, sarcophagi, bronzes, and the Guglielmi Collection.
- The Gregoriano Egiziano Museum – inaugurated in 1839, to commemorate the anniversary of Gregory XVI’s accession to the papacy, this museum’s creation was particularly close to the pope’s heart since he believed that understanding ancient Egyptian civilization was crucial, both in terms of its scientific importance as well as its value in understanding the Old Testament.
- The Vatican Historical Museum – founded in 1973 at the behest of Pope Paul VI, it was later moved to the main floor of the Apostolic Palace of the Lateran in 1991. It contains a unique collection of Papal portraits dating from the 16th century, Papal Military Corps items from the 16–17th centuries, and religious paraphernalia related to papal rituals, as well as a variety of “Popemobiles”, carriages, and motorcars historically used by the Popes and Cardinals.
Other highlights in the collection include:
- The Raphael Rooms, which includes Raphael’s masterpiece The School of Athens
- The Sistine Chapel
- The Niccoline Chapel
- The Gallery of Maps (top) – one of the world’s largest pictorial geographical studies, comprised of topographical maps of the whole of Italy, commissioned by Pope Gregory XIII (1572–1585) and painted on the walls by friar Ignazio Danti of Perugia.
- The Bramante Staircase (below) – a double spiral staircase designed by Giuseppe Momo in 1932. Designed in two parts as a double helix, it is actually a stepped ramp rather than a true staircase. The balustrade around the ramp is of ornately worked metal.
- The frescoes and other works inside the Borgia Apartment, built for Pope Alexander VI.
- The red marble papal throne, formerly located in the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran.
- Miscellaneous Roman sculptures, tombstones, and inscriptions.
- Visited: 2016