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The Vatican Museums (Italian: Musei Vaticani; Latin: Musea Vaticana) are the public art and sculpture museums in the Vatican City. They display works from the immense collection amassed by the Catholic Church and the papacy throughout the centuries including several of the most renowned Roman sculptures and most important masterpieces of Renaissance art in the world. The museums contain roughly 70,000 works, of which 20,000 are on display, and currently employ 640 people who work in 40 different administrative, scholarly, and restoration departments.
There are 54 galleries, or sale, in total, with the Sistine Chapel, notably, being the last sala within the Museum.
Sculptures above the entrance of the Vatican Museums
The Vatican Museums trace their origin to one marble sculpture, purchased in the 16th century: Laocoön and His Sons was discovered on 14 January 1506, in a vineyard near the basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. Pope Julius II 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, which depicts the Trojan priest Laocoön and his two sons being attacked by giant serpents, on public display at the Vatican exactly one month after its discovery.
The art gallery was housed in the Borgia Apartment until Pope Pius XI ordered construction of a proper building. The new building, designed by Luca Beltrami, was inaugurated on 27 October 1932. The museum's paintings include:
The museum takes its name from two popes; Clement XIV, who established the museum, and Pius VI, the pope who brought the museum to completion. Clement XIV came up with the idea of creating a new museum in Innocent VIII's Belvedere Palace and started the refurbishment work.
Pope Clement XIV founded the Pio-Clementino 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. Some notable galleries are:
Sala Rotonda: shaped like a miniature Pantheon, the room has impressive ancient mosaics on the floors, and ancient statues lining the perimeter, including a gilded bronze statue of Hercules.
Gallery of the Statues (Galleria delle Statue): as its name implies, holds various important statues, including Sleeping Ariadne and the bust of Menander. It also contains the Barberini Candelabra.
Gallery of the Busts (Galleria dei Busti) Many ancient busts are displayed.
Cabinet of the Masks (Gabinetto delle Maschere). The name comes from the mosaic on the floor of the gallery, found in Villa Adriana, which shows ancient theater masks. Statues are displayed along the walls, including the Three Graces.
Sala delle Muse: houses the statue group of Apollo and the nine muses, uncovered in a Roman villa near Tivoli in 1774, as well as statues by important ancient Greek or Roman sculptors. The centerpiece is the Belvedere Torso, revered by Michelangelo and other Renaissance men.
Sala degli Animali: so named because of the many ancient statues of animals.
This museum was founded in the early 19th century by Pope Pius VII, whose surname before his election as pope was Chiaramonti. The museum consists of a large arched gallery in which are exhibited several statues, sarcophagi and friezes. The New Wing, Braccio Nuovo, built by Raffaele Stern, houses statues including the Augustus of Prima Porta, the Doryphoros, and The River Nile. It is in the Classical style and has a wide arched roof with skylights. The colour scheme is blue-grey and white with a polychrome marble floor. The walls of each side of the gallery have a row of large niches in which stand marble statues. Between the niches are plinths supporting smaller portrait sculptures. The Galeria Lapidaria forms part of the Chiaramonti Museum, and contains over 3,000 stone tablets and inscriptions. It is accessible only with special permission, usually for the purpose of academic study.
Gregoriano Etrusco Museum
Founded by Pope Gregory XVI 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.
Gregoriano Egiziano Museum
This museum houses a large collection of artifacts from Ancient Egypt. Such material includes papyruses, the Grassi Collection, animal mummies, and reproductions of the Book of the Dead.
The Gregoriano Egiziano Museum was inaugurated on 2 February 1839 to commemorate the anniversary of Gregory XVI's accession to the papacy. The creation of the Gregoriano Egiziano Museum was particularly close to the pope's heart as he believed the understanding of ancient Egyptian civilisation was vital in terms of its scientific importance as well as its value in understanding the Old Testament. This feeling was expressed in a paper by the museum's first curator, the physiologist and Barnabite, Father Luigi Maria Ungarelli.
Statue of the Nile recumbent 1st-2nd Century AD, from Rome Gregoriano Egiziano Museum
The Vatican Historical Museum has a unique collection of portraits of the Popes from the 16th century to date, the memorable items of the Papal Military Corps of the 16-17th centuries and old religious paraphernalia related to rituals of the papacy. Also on display on the lower floor are the papamobili (Popemobiles), carriages and motorcars of Popes and Cardinals, including the first cars used by Popes.
Highlights from the Painting Collection
Leonardo da Vinci St. Jerome in Wilderness, 103 x 75 cm
Giotto di Bondone Stefaneschi Triptych, 224 x 245 cm
Giovanni Bellini Pieta, 106 x 84 cm
Raphael The Crowning of the Virgin, Oddi Altarpiece, 272 x 165 cm
The Bramante Staircase is a double spiral staircase designed by Giuseppe Momo in 1932. The staircase has two parts, a double helix, and is of shallow incline, being a stepped ramp rather than a true staircase. It encircles the outer wall of a stairwell about fifteen metres (49 feet) wide and with a clear space at the centre. The balustrade around the ramp is of ornately worked metal.
The Museums had 6,427,277 visitors in 2017, making them the fourth-most-visited art museum in the world.
On the last Sunday of each month, the Vatican Museum is open to the public for free. It is popular and common for people to wait in line for many hours. The other days of the week tickets are available online or in person. This image is a panoramic view of one small stretch of the entire queue on Sunday 29 April 2007, which continues for some distance in both directions beyond view.
Former entrance (now an exit) to the Vatican Museums, Vatican City