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 certain 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 key 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 arts collected by numerous popes over the centuries. Most popular are Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel and the Stanze di Raffaello decorated by Raphael, which are 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.
“Many fear their reputation, few their conscience” -“Multi famam, conscientiam pauci verentur.” Pliny
Photo Credit: 1) By Joadl (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0 at], via Wikimedia Commons 2) By Alex Proimos from Sydney, Australia (Vatican Museum, Rome) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons 3) By Karelj (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons