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Unbelievable. Stunning. Gorgeous. The combination of these three words barely describes art treasures housed in the Vatican museum. From classical antiquities, Renaissance to modern religious art, Popes gathered the finest collection during four centuries. As a result, galleries overflow from incredible and fine art pieces. I was speechless and bloomed, four hours after exploring the Vatican museum. Among the quantities of masterpieces, and aside the world renewed Sistine Chapel and Raphael rooms (stunning of course), I would like to share three of my favorite highlights/lightning strikes: the Map Gallery, Immaculate Conception room, and the Tapestries.
A pinch of history
- Over the centuries, Popes gathered an impressive art collection from different periods.
- They also commissioned renewed artists to decorate their private prayers and apartments.
- Pope Julius II (1503-1513) displayed the first collection in 1506.
- Today, 12 collections and 1,400 rooms composed the Vatican Museum which attracts 5 million visitors per year.
The Gallery of Maps – 16th Century treasure
40 geographical maps are decorating this 394 feet long (120 meters) gallery. These maps represent Italian regions and islands (Sicily, Corsica, Sardinia, Tremiti…) as well as papal properties in the 16th century. Plenty of artists achieved this project commissioned by Pope Gregory XIII in 1581. These representations of Italy served as official maps from 1582 until the 19th century.
The stucco and painted ceiling portray important figures from Christian and Italian history. Theses personage are positioned above maps according to the location of the events. For example, Julius Caesar crossing the Rubicon is atop the “Romagna” fresco.
As I entered and explored the gallery, I was flabbergasted by the splendor of the colorful ceiling and the precision of the frescoes.
This topographical work is impressive by its size and meticulousness. Maps are showing mountains, lakes, etc. as well as detailing the major city of the region.
Immaculate Conception room – Renaissance
“The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, (by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race,) preserved immune from all stain of original sin” proclaimed Pope Pius IX in 1854 launching the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. This room, located next to Raphael rooms, is entirely dedicated to it. From 1856 to 1865, Francis Podesti and his team painted a series of frescoes to celebrate it.
A large bookcase is located at the center of the room. Produced by the French Parisian Maison Christofle, it displays today manuscript text reproductions and miniatures.
It’s impressive that every inch of the room is fully decorated. Large frescoes depicted the “Discussion of dogma,” the “Coronation of the Image of Mary,” and the “Proclamation.” I was a spectator of this specific Christian history as the scenes are so realistic and gigantesque.
Tapestries from the Galleria degli Arazzi – 18th Century
Include tapestries as part of my favorite art piece for this museum can be really surprising. In fact, I wasn’t a big fan of tapestries. This was before discovering this galleria.
As I entered, my eyes directly catch the illusion of relief from the ceiling. Decorated between 1788 and 1790, this workmanship is attributed to Bernadino Nocchi, Domenico del Frate, and Antonio Marini. The painted scenes celebrate the reign of Pope Pius VI (1775-1799).
My tapestry “revelation” came as I admired the left wall. Designed by Raphael’s school, the original series of twelve tapestries were woven, between 1524 and 1531, in the workshop of Pieter Van Aeist in Brussels. Named “The Life of the Christ” or the “Scuola Nuova,” the nine tapestries on display describe the Christ from his childhood to the Crucifixion.
I was impressed by the precision and finesse of the work. This mastery was fascinating as I looked closely at details. Stepping back a few feet, scenes were interactive and realist like a giant painting. Woah, just incredible!
On the other side of the gallery (right wall), there are a series of tapestries depicting the life of Pope Urban VIII (1623-1644). Woven in Rome between 1663 and 1679, it was commissioned by his nephew, the Cardinal Francesco Barberini.
Sounds like an exquisite art tour?
- Location: Viale Vaticano, 00165 Rome.
- Hours: 9am – 6pm from Monday-Saturday (final entry at 4pm).
- Cost: $12 per adult. If you booked it online (+ $2 web reservation fees), you’ll avoid the slow ticket-buyer line.
- Grab binocular to enjoy details, especially cellars for the Sistine Chapel and Raphael’s rooms.
- Respect the dress code for the Chapel.
- Duration: We spent 4h inside and 5 minutes waiting before to enter.
- More information available at http://www.museivaticani.va/content/museivaticani/en.html
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