The world's largest church is at the Vatican, of course, but you may be surprised to learn the location of Europe's largest art collection.
If you said Florence or Paris, you'd be wrong. The Vatican Museums house the largest number of artworks in Europe with more than 65,000 pieces. There is a simple reason for this: most Italian artists during the Renaissance worked for the Vatican. The Vatican is the world's smallest country and its museums are the world's largest.
Art that Made the Renaissance Legendary
In the Vatican Museums, you'll find statues, mummies and tombs, historical maps, mosaics and many paintings that have captivated the world. For Renaissance art lovers, this is paradise.
The museums include:
- Museo Pio-Clementino - Classical statuary, including Apollo Belvedere, which influenced Michelangelo's David, and the world famous classical statue, Laocoön, depicting a Trojan priest, warning of the Trojan horse, while being killed by a snake.
- Museo Gregoriano Etrusco - Etruscan sculpture, applied art and funerary finds, including the Regolini-Galassi tomb. This amazing seventh century BC tomb contained three nobles, golden armor, a funeral chariot and storage jars for food, wine and oil in the afterlife.
- Museo Gregoriano Egizio - Ancient European artifacts, such as mummy cases.
- Galleria dei Candelabri - The famous Diana of Ephesus sculpture is here.
- Galleria degli Arazzi - Incredible tapestries.
- Galleria delle Carte Geografiche - Late 16th century maps.
- Museum of Christian Art and Vatican Library - See the Aldobrandini Wedding and other classic art.
- Braccio Nuovo and Museo Chiaramonti - Approximately 1,000 statues. If you like statues, you'll love these galleries.
- The Pinacoteca - Paintings including Raphael's Transfiguration and Leonardo's St. Jerome.
If pressed for time, you should definitely visit the Raphael Rooms, the private rooms of Pope Julius II, with Raphael's famous The School of Athens. Don't miss the Appartamento Borgia, Alexander VI's rooms, with ceiling frescoes by Pinturicchio that includes one of St. Catherine, said to actually resemble Lucrezia Borgia.
The Vatican Gardens are a popular tour that can easily take a day, and you can see lovely views of St. Peter's from the gardens.
The Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's Basilica
The Sistine Chapel was built by Pope Julius II, and adorned by Michelangelo, Botticelli, Perugino and Ghirlandaio. Michelangelo's ceiling frescoes, arguably the most viewed paintings in the world, were done over a four year period at the beginning of the 16th century. Scenes from the Old Testament are vividly depicted and helpfully labeled. Michelangelo later also painted the The Last Judgment, another masterpiece that's world renowned.
This is the pope's private chapel and is where the cardinals gather to choose each pope.
St. Peter’s Basilica is the official shrine of the Catholic Church, the destination for millions of visitors annually, art lovers and religious devotees both. Its art collection features golden mosaics, tombs of the Popes and of course, La Pietà by Michelangelo and a bronze statue of St. Peter.
It's known as St. Peter's because it was built on the site of his tomb. The dome of St. Peter's is the largest in Rome. Climb to the top for panoramic views. Note the views from the interior balcony are also stunning. You can also descend into the Sacred Grottoes where many popes are buried.