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[Vatican City] Vatican Museums & Sistine Chapel

Giant galleries of famous religious art

Previous entry: A bondafide busy trattoria experience outside Vatican City, and St Peter's Square

The Vatican Museums is made up of many rooms displaying different collections of sculptures, tapestries, paintings, ceiling frescoes etc... artworks commissioned or collected by Popes throughout the centuries. They house some of the most important masterpieces of Renaissance art.

I must confess that we're not Catholics, or art / history buffs, and the only reason we wanted to enter the Vatican Museums was to look at the Sistine Chapel ceiling. I did my best to check the photos against my Vatican Museum map and then google the names of the rooms and find out the names of the artworks in them to match my pictures. My camera doesn't perform well indoors without flash, so excuse the shakiness and poor lighting.

We walked all around St Peter's Square trying to find the Sistine Chapel. We'd imagined it to be a standalone chapel (which is what a lot of maps seem to indicate. hmmph). But actually it shares the entrance with the Vatican Museums. We even stopped a kindly-looking old nun with "Capella di Sistina?" In an extremely patient, soft-spoken and motherly manner, she gave us directions... in Italian (yea I know, it's pretty obvious that the older-generation do not speak much English, but we were picking people solely based on how kind they look). In the end, we asked a security officer, who directed us all the way out of the Vatican City (!!) to join a long queue into the Vatican Museum. Luckily, the queue moved fast.

The ticketing booths are in an air-conditioned area and we had to go through security check. At the ticketing booth, we picked up an envelope, that turned out to contain a photo of Pope Francis which we thought was absolutely cheesy, and a pamphlet in Italian which I assume was asking for donations. Well, couldn't say no to free souvenir.


Sala della Biga (Chariot Room)


This is the first exhibit we see upon going through the entrance to the Vatican Museums, and it is known as the Chariot Room. The highlight is the scupture in the middle, the Sala Della Biga, that features two horses pulling a chariot. The ancient Romans loved chariot races. The exhibition is closed off to public contact, so I could only take the photo from the outside.


The Vatican Museums are quite tourist-friendly and most exhibits come with information boards with both Italian and English descriptions, often very detailed. That said, it is practically impossible to read every information board and learn about every artwork in the museums, unless you have the passion and are willing to dedicate one whole day to it.

Galleria dei Candelabri (Gallery of the Candelabra)

Originally an open loggia built in 1761, it was walled up at the end of the 18th century. The ceiling was painted in 1883-1887. The gallery contains Roman copies of Hellenistic originals (3rd-2nd century B.C.) and some great 2nd century candelabra, from Otricoli. According to the official pamphlet, the theme of the collection in the room is Greek and Roman Antiquities.

The ceiling itself is a work of art.




I was intrigued by those creepy-looking masks.


The gallery gets its name from those giant marble candelabra located at the corners of each section (the candle holder looking thing behind me)




Galleria degli Arazzi (Gallery of Tapestries)

This room features a collection of wall-length tapestries.

I'm absolutely in love with the pastel colours on the ceiling.

The ceiling is very different from the previous room's. Instead of paintings, they're very intricate carvings!



The following are pictures of vividly-coloured tapestries, mostly made from silk, wool and silver-gilt threads. Most of the time, they're so big that the entire tapestry can't fit into my camera frame ^^;

Tapestry featuring the famous painting l'Adoration des Mages (Adoration of the Shepards)

La Résurrection du Christ (The Resurrection of Christ)

le souper à emmaus (The Supper at Emmaus)

Galleria delle Carte Geografiche
(Gallery of Maps)

This gallery contains a series of painted topographical maps of Italy based on drawings by Ignazio Danti. It was commissioned in 1580 by Pope Gregory XIII. It took Danti three years (1580–1583) to complete the 40 panels of the 120 m long gallery. The decorations on the vaulted ceiling are the work of a group of Mannerist artists including Cesare Nebbia and Girolamo Muziano.

This is my favourite room. I didn't really care for the maps (sorry Danti), but the ceiling is an astounding masterpiece.


At first glance I thought the ceiling was an illuminated panel of 2d paintings... Then I realised that they are mostly reliefs and frescoes.

Picture spam ahead because I love the ceiling so much...




Photos of details below: If you don't look closely, you might assume that there is repetition, but take a good look. Every painting and its adornment of reliefs is different from the next.




Pro-tip: Best way to take photographs without the photobombs is to angle the camera bottom-up.


Appartamento di San Pio V (Apartment of Pope Pius V)

This apartment was built for Pope Pius V and consists of a gallery, two small rooms and a chapel.

Frescoes in the apartment:



This wall-sized tapestry makes me feel really small.

Sala dell'Immacolata
(The Room of Immaculate Conception)

The Immaculate Conception was that of Mary, Jesus' mother, in her mother's womb free, according to Roman Catholic teaching, from original sin. This room is dedicated to artworks revolving around this theme.







Sala Sobieski


Jan Sobieski Vanquisher of the Turks at the Gates of Vienna by Jan Matejko (what a mouthful)

Sigh it's impossible get a single second without a photobomb. Also, I just realised that we missed the Raphael Rooms -_-

Beautiful painted dome in a room just before we enter the Sistine Chapel

Sistine Chapel

No pictures here because photography is strictly forbidden. In any case, no photos can possibly capture the beauty and liveliness of the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Michelangelo is a genius, I find it hard to believe that he considers himself a sculptor before he is a painter. The amount of detail is breath-taking and it looks three-dimensional. 343 figures in all manner of clothing, facial expressions and poses have been painted on the ceiling in four years.

Staring up at the ceiling just makes me feel humbled and forget my discomfort (anyway, it's an opportunity to put yourself in Michaelango's shoes. If your neck is tired, imagine that this guy spends majority of his time painting the fresco while tilting his head up!) There are several stories depicted on the ceiling fresco, and it is recommended that one reads up about the stories behind the artwork to appreciate it.

Apparently, the story behind how Michaelangelo came to take charge of the project is also pretty fascinating. His rival had planted an idea in the mind of the then-Pope to commission Michaelangelo to paint a ceiling fresco, in hopes of seeing Michelangelo do a bad job and be humiliated (lol office politics in ancient Rome). With great reluctance, Michaelangelo took on the job, but ended up designing a grander scheme above what the Pope had in mind. (Hmm great reluctance huh?)

The Last Judgment, a full wall-length fresco by Michaelangelo is also very fascinating, a complex painting depicting multitudes of humans headed for heaven and hell while Jesus mets out judgment in the centre. All the other frescoes, essentially considered as accessories, are also very masterfully done. All artworks in the chapel form a visual metaphor of mankind's need for Salvation, and other contributing artists like Sandro Botticelli, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Pietro Perugino, Raphael must also be lauded for bringing the whole theme alive.

Inside the chapel, there is a row of benches against the wall all around. The ceiling fresco encompasses the entire chapel so regardless of where you sit, you should still be able to admire it from your angle. We had to wait about 20 minutes to find a spot to sit down. The entire room was full, although there is space to move. I can't imagine what it is like in peak period; it is probably packed like sardines. In front of us on a step, a row of pre-school kids sit while their teacher whispers to them. Talking loudly is forbidden, but I think the guard on duty, I call him the shusher, was being a greater nuisance than everyone else by saying "SHHHHHHH" every five minutes. There is more than one guard and they roam around and sometimes materialise out of nowhere, so trying to sneak photos is really not a good idea.

After about half an hour inside the chapel, we emerged to find our way out. We stopped by the Cappella di san Pietro martire (Chapel of St Peter the martyr) for a couple of blissful photobombless minutes before the crowd from the Sistine Chapel streamed in behind us.



Gregory the Illuminator, who led Armenia to become the first nation to adopt Christianity as the state religion.

I thought we'd covered a lot of ground that day, but I realised there's a significant bit left unexplored. It's really a pipe dream to think that we can finish touring this place in 2 hours!

Posted by kurodatenshi 04:57 Archived in Vatican City Tagged churches art buildings italy rome vatican_city vatican_museums

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