The Vatican Museums – Virtual Tour
The Vatican Museums are a collection of museums located in Vatican City, located in Rome, Italy.
The Vatican Museums showcases historical and artistic works from the vast array of works collected by many Popes of the Catholic Church over many centuries.
The Vatican Museums’ collections are over 70,000 works, of which less than one-third are displayed at any point in time.
There are 54 galleries in the museum, with one of the key attractions being the Sistine Chapel.
A Virtual Tour of the Vatican Museums
- Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel Ceiling
- Raffaello’s “School of Athens”
- Laocoön and His Sons
- “The Trials of Moses” by Sandro Botticelli
- Belvedere Torso
- Delivery of the Keys by Pietro Perugino
- “The Expulsion of Heliodorus from the Temple” by Raphael
- Augustus of Prima Porta
- Apollo Belvedere
- Vatican Apoxyomenos “Scraper” by Lysippus
- Vatican Library
- “Sixtus IV Appointing Platina as Prefect of the Vatican Library” by Melozzo da Forlì
- Borgia Map
- “Sphere Within Sphere,” “Sfera con Sfera,” by Arnaldo Pomodoro
Highlights of the Vatican Museums
The Sistine Chapel is the room where the College of Cardinals are locked in and required to decide on the next Pope. The walls and the ceiling are masterfully decorated.
The walls are painted with frescoes by various artists, and Michelangelo painted the Masterpiece of the ceiling fresco.
Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564) is one of the critical Renaissance sculptors, painters, and architects.
He painted the Sistine Chapel from 1508 to 1512. The many figures painted on the high ceiling when viewed from the ground level look multidimensional and look like the sculptured figures we see in the Laocoön statute.
The figures are depicted with the muscular strength to give them a presence that is powerful and, at the same time, beautiful.
“The School of Athens” by Raphael is one of the most famous frescoes of the Italian Renaissance. It is widely reproduced because of its artistry and because of the subjects portrayed.
In 1508, the 25-year old painter Raphael was summoned to the Vatican by Pope Julius II (1503-13) and given the most important commission of his career, the decoration of the Papal Apartments, including the Stanza Della Segnatura.
Raphael used the ample space with imposing coffered vaults to paint imagines of the greatest philosophers, mathematicians, thinkers, and artists of antiquity all in one area to symbolize the School of Athens.
“Laocoön and His Sons” is one of the most famous ancient sculptures and a highlight of the Vatican Museums, ever since it was placed there on public display.
The statue depicts Laocoön, the priest of Apollo from the city of Troy. He and his two sons are locked in the death coils of two serpents, on the steps of an altar.
“The Trials of Moses” by Sandro Botticelli is a fresco, executed in 1481–1482 at the Sistine Chapel, Rome. The fresco shows four episodes from Moses’ life, taken from Exodus.
Firstly, Moses is depicted on the right, killing the Egyptian who was mistreating a Hebrew, and he is then shown fleeing to the desert.
Moses is distinguishable in the scenes by his yellow dress and the green cloak. In the next episode, Moses fights the shepherds who were preventing Jethro’s daughters, including his future wife, Zipporah, from watering their herd at the well.
In this episode, he is also shown taking water from the well to help water the flock. In the third scene, in the upper left corner, Moses removes his shoes, and he then receives from God the mission to return to Egypt to free his people, the Hebrews.
In the final episode in the lower-left corner, Moses is shown leading the Jews to the Promised Land. In total, Moses appears seven times in this fresco.
The Belvedere Torso is a fragmentary marble statue of a nude male. It is signed on the front of the base by “Apollonios, son of Nestor, Athenian.”
It is believed to be a copy from the 1st century BC of an older bronze statue, which probably dated to the early 2nd century BC. The identity of the figure has been much debated throughout the centuries.
The powerful male figure is seated on an animal hide and is traditionally identified as a Heracles sitting on the skin of the Nemean lion.
However, the exact identification is not absolute, and Vatican historians hypothesize that the figure is Ajax, the son of Telamon, contemplating his suicide”.
The statue is first documented in the collection of a Cardinal in1433. Soon after, it gained a reputation as a catalyst for the classical revival.
Early drawings of the Torso were made in the ealy1500s and then many more by artistic students and future masters. During the Sack of Rome in 1527, when it suffered some mutilation.
“Delivery of the Keys” by Pietro Perugino is part of the fresco series in the “Stories of Jesus” on the Sistine Chapel’s northern wall.
The “Delivery of the Keys” is a reference to a quotation in Matthew in which Jesus says he will give “the keys of the kingdom of heaven” to Saint Peter.
The Catholic Church teaches that the keys represent the power to forgive, thereby giving them the power to allow others into heaven. The majority of the figures are organized in a frieze in two rows.
The foreground row shows Christ handing the silver and gold keys to the kneeling St. Peter. The Apostles, all with halos surround Christ. The Apostles include Judas, also with a halo, he is the fifth figure to the left of Christ with his hand in his purse.
“The Expulsion of Heliodorus from the Temple” by Raphael depicts the episode in which a horseman assisted by two youths drives Heliodorus out the Temple in Jerusalem as he attempts to seize its treasures and money.
The narrative is based on a biblical episode from 2 Maccabees in which Heliodorus is ordered by the king of Syria, to take all the treasure from the Temple in Jerusalem.
The high priest Onias, who is pictured in the center, prays to God, who responded by sending the horseman and youths to expel Heliodorus. Pope Julius II, Raphael’s patron, is shown on the left as a witness to the scene.
He is on his high litter, which is carried by the men with poles on their shoulders. The coins, which were in the bronze jar, are spilled on the floor.
The money had been reserved for widows and orphans. On the right, the horseman and youth are battling Heliodorus and his men, one of which has a large box object on his shoulders.
The menorah which is facing the praying priest in the center identifies the Jewish temple.
Augustus of Prima Porta is a portrait statue of Augustus Caesar, the first emperor of the Roman Empire. Carved by expert Greek sculptors, the statue is assumed to be a copy of a lost bronze original that was displayed in Rome.
It is almost certain that this marble statue was initially painted. Augustus is depicted barefooted, a convention signifying divinity, which indicates the original was created after his elevation to divine status in AD 14.
The imagery on the leather cuirass (breastplate armor) refers to the Parthian restitution of the Roman eagles, or insignia, in 20 BC, one of Augustus’ most significant diplomatic accomplishments.
The statue was commissioned by Tiberius, the successor of Augustus. Tiberius, who served as an intermediary in the recovery of the eagles, and is also depicted on the breastplate.
This diplomatic achievement was Tiberius’s most significant service for Augustus, and this imagery connected Tiberius to the deified emperor and symbolized continuity between both reigns.
The Apollo Belvedere depicts the Greek god Apollo as a standing archer, having just shot his arrow. The conventional view is that he has just slain the serpent Python guarding Delphi, thereby identifying the sculpture a “Pythian Apollo.”
Alternatively, it may be some other episode of heroism from Greek mythology. The large white marble sculpture with its sophisticated contrapposto style has been much admired for presenting the figure both frontally and in profile.
Apollo’s hair, lightly curled, flows in ringlets down his neck and rises gracefully above his head, which is encircled with a band symbolic of gods and kings.
His quiver is suspended across his left shoulder. He is entirely nude except for his sandals and a robe clasped at his right shoulder and thrown back.
The Vatican Apoxyomenos is a Roman copy from the 1st century AD after a Greek bronze original from about 330 BC by Lysippus.
The Apoxyomenos, which is Greek for the “Scraper” is one of the subjects of ancient Greek votive sculpture. It is a motif of health and fitness rather than an individual portrait.
It represents an athlete, caught in the act of scraping sweat and dust from his body with the small curved instrument that the Greeks called a Strigil.
The term Apoxyomenos comes from the Greek verb meaning to clean oneself. Lysippus posed his subject in a true contrapposto, with an arm outstretched to create a sense of movement and interest from a range of viewing angles.
The Greek artist has managed to render the movement of the arm, which, with its strong forward movement, creates a space and gives depth to the image.
The Vatican Library is the library of the Holy See, located in Vatican City, and was formally established in 1475 and is one of the oldest libraries in the world.
The library contains 75,000 codices, as well as 1.1 million printed books, which include some 8,500 incunabula. It has 42 kilometers (26 mi) of shelving.
Today, the Vatican Library is a research library for history, law, philosophy, science, and theology. The Vatican Library is open to anyone who can document their qualifications and research needs.
In 1451, Pope Nicholas V sought to establish a public library at the Vatican, to re-establish Rome as a destination for scholars.
“Sixtus IV Appointing Platina as Prefect of the Vatican Library” by Melozzo da Forli, is a fresco that once decorating the Vatican Library. It was transferred to canvas and is now housed in the Pinacoteca Vaticana in Rome.
The fresco was created in 1477 to depict Sixtus IV, faced by the kneeling humanist Bartolomeo Platina, together with two the Pope’s nephews who were cardinals.
Giuliano della Rovere, standing in front of the Pope, later to become Pope Julius II. Platina is pointing to the inscription, which boasts Sixtus’ deeds.
The background represents classic architecture with arcades and a gilded coffer ceiling.
The Borgia Map is a world map made sometime in the early 15th century and engraved on a metal plate. The map was made in about 1450 with a script that identifies it as being made in south German.
The map seeks to not only illustrate the geography of the different countries but also to comment on their ethnography, natural conditions, religion, and critical events of their history.
Unfortunately, nothing about the authorship of the Borgia map is known. The map has a well-crafted and design and was made to last a long time as it is engraved on a copper plate.
Its quality and historical context make Borgia Map one of the most famous ancient maps in the history and evolution of cartography. The map is of non-Ptolemaic origins and is oriented with the South at the top.
The emphasis on history and the traditional names suggests that it was initially designed as a historical map, for use in a library.
“Sphere Within Sphere,” also known as “Sfera con Sfera,” is a series of sculptures created by sculptor Arnaldo Pomodoro. The sculpture depicts an enormous metal sphere with a cracked surface, revealing an intricate interior with another cracked sphere inside.
The internal layers resemble the gears or cogwheels of a machine that symbolizes the complexity of the world. The fractured cracks symbolize the fragility of our society.
Pomodoro began his series of spheres in the 1960s with Sphere no. 1 and has continued for nearly forty years designing the globe-like pieces, each depicting different maps of destruction.
Each of the outer balls is fractured, revealing an intricate interior that unveils yet another cracking orb. The design of the internal layers mimics the gears of a clock or the inner workings of a grand piano, revealing the hidden complexity.
Pomodoro created the first version for the Vatican Museum in the 1960s and later began creating similar versions for many other institutions that can now be found in choice locations all over the world.
The artist’s initial vision was that the inner ball represented the Earth, and the outer ball represented our institutions.
List of Vatican Museums
- Gregorian Egyptian Museum
- Gregorian Etruscan Museum
- Pio Clementino Museum
- Chiaramonti Museum
- Lapidary Gallery
- New Wing
- Gregoriano Profano Museum
- Lapidario Profano ex Lateranense
- Pius-Christian Museum
- Christian Lapidarium
- Jewish Lapidarium
- Ethnological Museum
- Carriage Pavilion
- Christian Museum
- Profane Museum
- Room of the Aldobrandini Wedding
- Chapel of St. Peter Martyr
- Collection of Contemporary Art
- Sistine Chapel
- Raphael’s Rooms
- Borgia Apartment
- Niccoline Chapel
- Chapel of Urban VIII
- Room of the Immaculate Conception
- Room of the Chiaroscuri
- Name: Vatican Museums
- Founder: Pope Julius II
- Established: 1506
- Location: Vatican City, Rome, Italy
- Visitors: 6 million per Year
- Address: Viale Vaticano, Roma, Italy
The History of the Vatican Museums
Pope Julius II founded the museums in the early 16th century, over 500 years ago. The start of the museum was the purchase by Pope Julius II of the recently excavated sculpture of Laocoön and his Sons, which was discovered in 1506.
Upon hearing about the discovery of a mysterious marble statue, Pope Julius II sent Michelangelo, who was working at the Vatican, to examine it.
On Michelangelo’s recommendation, the pope immediately purchased the sculpture from the landowner owner on whose property the statue was discovered.
The sculpture of Laocoön and his Sons was placed on public display and were so popular it laid the foundation for further collections to be put on display. The Laocoön and then the Belvedere Apollo formed the core of classical statues that were set up in what today is known as the Octagonal Court.
Julius II understood the value of art towards his legacy and, in 1508, commissioned Michelangelo with updating the ceiling decorations in the Sistine Chapel.
He also commissioned Raphael (Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino) to decorate select rooms and gave Raphael free rein to create frescoes and artworks as he wished a significant project which continued under Pope Leo X (de’ Medici) (1513-1521).
These rooms are now called Raphael’s Rooms and feature the School of Athens.
Successive Popes added to the collections, the building projects, and the number of Museums. Some of the essential Museums and collections include:
- Pinacoteca Vaticana (art gallery)
- Collection of Modern Religious Art
- Sculpture museums
- Museo Pio-Clementino
- Museo Chiaramonti
- Museo Gregoriano Etrusco ( Etruscan)
- Museo Gregoriano Egiziano (Ancient Egypt)
- Vatican Historical Museum
Today the museums contain masterpieces of sculpture, paintings, and many other works of art collected by numerous popes over the centuries.
Most popular are Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel and the Stanze di Raffaello decorated by Raphael, which is on the museum visitor route through the Vatican Museums tour. Over 6 million people visit the Vatican Museums every year makes them one of the most visited museums in the world.
Finding Meaning at The Vatican Museums
The Vatican museums contain thousands of priceless treasures that cover over four thousand years of history.
From the earliest, which is the statue head of the Egyptian King Mentuhotep, which is from 2050 B.C., (The term “Pharaoh” was used for the sovereign of Egypt only after the 16th-century BCE.) to the most recent modern art pieces.
The Vatican Museums consist of multiple museums. From the Egyptian Museum and the Etruscan Museum to the other various museums named in honor of patron Popes.
If you add the former Papal Apartments, the Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s Basilica, the challenge is how to find meaning among all this symbolism of power and prestige.
After all the corridors of amazing objects, beautiful statues, and colorful paintings at the Vatican, one of the last masterpieces remaining is the Sistine Chapel.
Although crowded with tourists, the Sistine Chapel provides seating space (you might have to wait for a vacancy) to sit back, block out the continuous movement of people (5 million visitors per year), and attempt reflection and meditation.
The Sistine Chapel is the room where the College of Cardinals are locked in and required to decide on the next Pope.
All the walls, floors and the ceiling are decorated. The base of the walls has painted curtains. The higher-level walls are painted with frescoes by various artists, and Michelangelo paints the Masterpiece of the ceiling fresco.
Of all the masterpieces at the Vatican, we will reflect on the painter Michelangelo and his work on the Sistine Chapel Ceiling. What meaning can we find?
Pope Julius II ordered the 33-year-old Michelangelo to paint the ceiling of the chapel. Michelangelo ran away back to Florence on the first opportunity but was ordered to return by the Pope.
Michelangelo preferred to sculpt and not paint. Unfortunately, the Pope assured him that he would have to complete the Sistine Ceiling before he could resume his sculptural projects.
The Sistine Ceiling painting stretched over four long years and was one of the longest and most challenging projects Michelangelo undertook. Below is Michelangelo’s despairing poem about painting the Sistine Chapel.
I’ve already grown a goiter from this torture,
hunched up here like a cat in Lombardy
(or anywhere else where the stagnant water’s poison).
My stomach’s squashed under my chin, my beard’s
pointing at heaven, my brain’s crushed in a casket,
my breast twists like a harpy’s. My brush,
above me, all the time dribbles paint
so my face makes a fine floor for droppings!
My haunches are grinding into my guts,
my poor ass strains to work as a counterweight,
every gesture I make is blind and aimless.
My skin hangs loose below me, my spine’s
all knotted from folding over itself.
I’m bent taut as a Syrian bow.
Because I’m stuck like this, my thoughts
are crazy, perfidious tripe:
anyone shoots badly through a crooked blowpipe.
My painting is dead.
Defend it for me, Giovanni, protect my honor.
I am not in the right place—I am not a painter.
As is clear from his sad poem, even the great Michelangelo, with his giant ego, questioned his abilities.
Yet he became the most celebrated living artist during his lifetime and is today regarded as one of the greatest artists of all time.
The poem above, in a small way, reflects the significant challenges Michelangelo had in completing the ceiling painting. Below are just some of the difficulties faced by Michelangelo:
- He had to first remove all the old plaster from the ceiling with it earlier decorations and not damage any of the wall frescos.
- The Chapel had to stay open as the Pope’s personal chapel for services and functions while he was painting.
- Standard scaffolding was not going to work, as the Pope required full access to the Sistine Chapel.
- The height of the Ceiling was over 18 meters or 60 ft high.
- Michelangelo had to design a new form of scaffolding to leave the floor clear for the Pope.
- Michelangelo had to hide his progress from all the curious eyes so he could proceed with freedom of expression.
- Michelangelo had limited experience in fresco painting and needed to practice with new techniques.
- The daily routine required significant physical effort in climbing stairs and scaffolds.
- Making corrections in plaster was not easy and took a long time.
- Michelangelo had one of the most demanding patrons in history with Pope Julius II, harassing him to finish and wanting to advise on the work.
- Michelangelo saw himself as a Sculptor, not a Painter; painting was not his preferred medium.
- Michelangelo had to prepare his color pigments.
- Summers in Rome got very hot, and there was not enough ventilation with the scaffolding and curtains to give him privacy.
- Fresco painting is one of the most challenging forms of artwork, requiring detailed stencils to transfer drawings to the horizontal ceiling and requiring work at speed before the wet plaster set.
After four years of struggles, Michelangelo delivered one of the world’s greatest masterpieces and proved he was a genius for all time
Michelangelo’s central painting is the story of Genesis from the Bible. His vision was beyond anything anyone else had ever envisioned.
No one had ever portrayed God as he did in “The Creation of Adam” and the other panels on creation.
Unfortunately, there was controversy about the number of large nude in the Pope’s private chapel.
The controversy increased after Michelangelo painted the fresco called “The Last Judgment” on one of the walls below his ceiling masterpiece.
At that time, the press was emerging, and the press labeled his art as pornographic. This controversy propelled more people to go and see the artwork and exacerbated the controversy.
During the year of Michelangelo’s death, a new Pope allowed thirty separate draperies to be painted to provide modesty cover for some of the nude figures in “The Last Judgment.”
Fortunately, reaching the ceiling was too challenging, and no modesty draping was applied to the ceiling fresco. It was around this time that many male nude statues in the Vatican also received their fig leaf addition.
Michelangelo used giant nude figures because it was the best universal artistic language available to him. Michelangelo portrayed inner strength and nobility by using physical muscular, athletic power, and energy.
He was inspired by all the copies of Greek human sculpture that Pope Julius II had collected in the Vatican such as the Laocoön sculpture. Michelangelo wanted to inspire us to glory with his art, and the human body was his best artistic expression.
Reflecting on Michelangelo’s heroic and visionary masterpiece, created under significantly challenging circumstances, we cannot avoid the big questions of life.
The fresco acts as a mirror for us to reflect on the significant issues in our lives.
- What is my role in the evolving human drama presented in the Sistine Chapel?
- Which of the many figures best represents me?
- How do my challenges compare to Michelangelo’s?
A Virtual Tour of European Museums
- France Museums
- Italy Museums
- Greece Museums
- Germany Museums
- Austria Museums
- Ireland Museums
- Netherlands Museums
- Spain Museums
- Belgium Museums
- Serbia Museums
- Poland Museums
- Switzerland Museums
- Czech Museums
- Norway Museums
- Sweden Museums
- Hungary Museums
- Portugal Museums
Map for the
Inside the Vatican Museums
Vatican Museums Highlights Tour
Visiting the Vatican – How to Plan Ahead
“If people knew how hard I had to work to gain my mastery, it would not seem so wonderful at all.”
Photo Credit: 1)© User:Colin / Wikimedia Commons, via Wikimedia Commons 2) Thomas Römer/OpenStreetMap data [ODbL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons 2)By Владимир Шеляпин (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons 2) See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 3) FSU Guy at English Wikipedia [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons 4)Michelangelo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 5) Michelangelo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons