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Musei Vaticani: The Vatican Museums

Posted by Author on April 30, 2015 at 9:35 AM


Images: C. Form and David Kotsibie


A winding cab ride brought me towards the Vatican Museums. Viale Vaticano -- "Vatican Avenue" -- weaves around the craggy, formidable walls and pointed, defensible bastions that fortify the Vatican City State. As we rounded a final turn, a sculptural archway projected from the continuous walls, inviting visitors to penetrate the rough brick fortification.


The robust walls of the Vatican protect not only the Pope but also some of the world's greatest expressions of the human spirit. The Musei Vaticani (The Vatican Museums) is a complex of new, old, and ancient, and upon entering the historic doorway, visitors find themselves in a modern, light-filled atrium space. From this point, with a map in hand, a museum visitor can pick his or her own path through the vast collection.


Images: Carlos Sanchez, Sam Valentine, and D. A. O.

According to some sources, the idea for a Vatican museum was born with the discovery of a single work of art. The Laocoon group, an assemblage of three human statues entangled with constricting serpents, was discovered in a Roman vineyard in 1506 BCE and brought to the Vatican by order of the Pope. Amazingly, the well defined, interwoven forms -- both human and snake -- were carved from a single block of granite, and though the collection has grown substantially, the sculpture is still one of the Museums' most beautiful pieces.

Images: Klaus Wagensonner, Joao Maximo, and Sebastià Giralt


Like many pieces in the Vatican's collections, it is not always clear whether one should be more in awe of the raw artistic beauty of a piece of art or of its unparalleled historic significance. The museums halls and galleries are lined with antiquities from ancient Egyptian, Greek, and Roman Empires, sometimes even to the point of feeling overcrowded.


Images: Gregory Melle, H. Savill, and Sam Valentine


Other wings of the complex focus on the (relatively recent) works of Medieval and Renaissance England. On the western edge of the Belvedere Courtyard, the long Gallery of Maps documents the Italian peninsula through a series of 40 frescos painted around 1580. This gallery was perhaps the first moment along my tour where it dawned on me that, beyond the collection, the Vatican Museums' walls, floors, and ceilings are themselves masterpieces. This point is, of course, driven home upon entrance to Michelangelo's renowned Sistine Chapel.



Images: Sam Valentine, Laura Padgett, and Magda Wojtyra


From the legendary names of Michelangelo, Raphael, and Leonardo da Vinci, to the lesser known (merely "famous") artists such as Giorgio Morandi and Arnaldo Pomodoro, the Vatican Museums are a haven of human expression, skill, and beauty. It was surprising to me how many of the works felt familiar, even if only vaguely so, and many of the sculptures, paintings, and tapestries stirred memories of more familiar subsequent works of art, school text books, movies, and even childhood cartoons.


Perhaps the most valuable aspect of Musei Vaticani, is that the rich buildings and its courtyard grounds complement and celebrate the collection they hold but, above all, let the artwork speak for itself.


Image: Edith Bogue


Categories: Art & Inspiration

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