Tiberius Statue, Vatican Museums

Tiberius Statue, Vatican Museums

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In January 1506, the Laocoon statue was rediscovered by accident. A wealthy Roman named Felice De Fredis was developing his vineyard on the Esquiline Hill, in between the Colosseum and the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore. He had bought the vineyard near the Church of St. Peter in Chains in November 1504. He was going to build a house on the property and was pushing a stick/rod through the soil of his land to try and find the bedrock so he could lay foundations for the house. He found a patch of land with no resistance at all a hole. He had his workers dig up the soil of the area and found out his land was sitting over an ancient Roman vault.

Lowering himself in to the vault twelve feet deep, he found five of the seven rooms empty but in the sixth there was an ancient snake statue. Just as if you found an artefact on your land today, De Fredis informed the government. He called to the City Prefect of Rome who in turn informed the head of the Papal States, which Rome was part of, the Pope. De Fredis had unwittingly discovered a section of the Palace of the Roman Emperor Titus, which backed on to the bathhouse Titus had commissioned fourteen hundred years previously.

The New Wing

The New Wing was built to house the works that Napoleon had taken from the Vatican, but which France has since returned. It links the Chiaramonti Museum to the Apostolic Library and was designed to recreate the space for which the works were originally created. One of the New Wing’s most famous pieces, Augustus from Prima Porta (1st century AD), is a statue of Augustus that was found in the Villa of Livia (Livia was Augustus’ wife for the Julio-Claudian family tree, click here).

On Augustus’ cuirass (breastplate), there is a scene showing a Parthian king returning the Roman standards lost by Crassus during the Battle of Carrhae. Although the loss of a standard seems trivial to modern readers, to the superstitious ancient Romans, the loss of a standard was a monumental disaster. Therefore, Augustus’ recovery of such was a huge political victory for him, so much so that the event is commemorated on this larger than life statue. At the top of the breastplate is the personification of the Heavens and the chariots of Apollo and Aurora while at the bottom is the goddess Diana and the goddess Earth, symbolizing divine sanction of Augustus’ rule.

Notice the weird baby attached to Augustus’ leg? Well that weird baby was likely designed to promote Augustus’ supposed divine descent from the goddess Venus. Historians have identified the baby as Cupid, Venus’ son, in part, because he is riding a dolphin, an animal closely linked to Venus, who in one myth is born of the sea (see Sandro Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, to the left of this text, which will hopefully be featured in an upcoming post about the Uffizi).

The Julii clan (i.e. the family of Julius Caesar and his grand-nephew/adopted son, Augustus) claimed descent from the Trojan Aeneas, who himself was alleged to have descended from the goddess Venus. And therefore, Venus’ son Cupid was likely included in this piece to emphasize Augustus’ links to divinity.

The Nile

The Nile is a 1st century AD Roman copy of a Greek original. The work personifies the River Nile as an old man while Egypt is represented by a sphinx, supporting the Nile. Sixteen children run along the top of the Nile according to Roman historian Pliny the Elder, the children represent the sixteen cubits of water by which the Nile rises for its annual flood. Interestingly, this piece was at the center of an international debacle between Italy and France during the early nineteenth century. As it turns out, Emperor Napoleon was quite fond of Italian art, and during his invasion of Italy, he commandeered several pieces (including the Nile) and sent them to the Louvre. After Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo, the Pope demanded that the French return the artwork to the Vatican. The French, reluctant to give back this treasure, offered the Pope a nude statute of Napoleon as compensation. The Pope, obviously not keen to own a colossal nude statute of an overthrown foreign invader, declined the offer and demanded the Nile back. As evidenced, the French acquiesced.

Also here is a statue of Silenus and the baby Dionysus (yes, that Dionysus even gods of wine and the bacchanal were babies at one point). In a tribute to the baby’s eventual celestial purview, the branch supporting the two is decorated with grape vines. Silenus is variously described as Dionysus’ foster father, companion, and/or tutor, depending on the source. This statue, as usual, is a Roman copy of a Greek original (the ancient Romans had some serious appropriation issues – stealing myths, artwork, etc), and it dates from around the 2nd century AD.

I hope you enjoyed some of my favorite pieces from the Vatican. Thanks as always for reading!

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Vatican Museum Must Sees - The Pio-Clementine Museums

The Pio-Clementine museum houses some of the best examples of ancient Greek and Roman sculptures found anywhere in the world. The museum is named for the two popes who oversaw its foundation in the late 1700's: Clement XIV and Pius VI.

This museum is pretty large and houses many different rooms, each fascinating and chock full of things to see in its own right.

It's easy to skip this museum if you are on a fast-track to the Sistine Chapel, so if you want to see these Vatican Museum must sees, you will need to make a decision to include this museum.

The Octagonal Courtyard in the Pio-Clementine Museums has more than one Vatican Museum Must See

As you start making your way through the Pio-Clementine museums, you will come upon an open-air courtyard, called the Octagonal Courtyard (for its shape).

It would be easy to simply walk through it to the other side and keep going. By this time, you will have already come across lots of sculptures. I know how one can get overwhelmed by all these ancient Greek and Roman statues . and start getting sculpture fatigue.

But while to me it is worth really soaking up all the art in here, there are at least two Vatican Museum Must Sees right in this courtyard.

Vatican Museum Must Sees - Laocoön

The Laocoön sculpture in the Vatican Museums is one of the most important pieces of art in the collection, and a must see

The Laocoön is a sculpture group, found in 1506 on the Esquiline Hill in Rome. The sculpture, from around 30 BCE, depicts the Trojan priest Laocoön and his two sons losing a battle to the death with two sea serpents.

Pliny the Elder had described a statue just like this, as being a masterpiece made by three sculptors from Rhodes, and residing in the palace of the Roman Emperor Titus (part of the Flavian Dynasty, who built the Colosseum.) It's pretty well accepted that this is the statue Pliny was referring to, although this statue may have been a copy from a 2nd century BCE original.

The Laocoön sculpture depicts a moment from Virgil's Aeneid, which recounts the Trojan War. You may remember a scene in which the Greeks leave a giant wooden horse outside the gates of Troy. The Trojans naïvely bring in the horse, and subsequently the Greeks who'd been hiding in the horse jump out and destroy Troy. Laocoön, a Trojan priest, had warned the Trojans not to bring in the horse. The gods Athena and Poseidon, who sided of course with the Greeks, sent two sea serpents to kill the priest.

Aeneas heeded the priest's warning and fled Troy, bound for Italian shores. And for Romans, this is a big deal, since Aeneas was one of the forefathers of Romulus and Remus, the legendary founders of Rome.

Why is the Laocoön sculpture on my list of top 10 Vatican Museum Must Sees? First of all, as I said, the story itself is important to the founding legend of Rome. And, second of all, this sculpture is pretty special, considering that it depicts real human agony, with dignity, and without any redemptive qualities that later Christian art shows of saints and martyrs. It is considered by many to be one of the highest-quality sculptures in the world.

Vatican Museum Must Sees - Apollo del Belvedere

Apollo Belvedere, one of Vatican Museums Most Famous Sculptures

The Apollo Belvedere is a marble Greek sculpture from around the 1st century BCE (although it was probably a Roman copy of an earlier bronze statue made by the Greek sculptor Leochares.) It was once considered one of the greatest ancient sculptures ever made.

The statue was found in the 15th century, and belonged to Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere. Once he was elected as Pope Julius II, he had the statue moved to the Vatican, into the Belvedere Courtyard (hence its nickname.) It was the first piece in the art collection of the Vatican, before there were Vatican Museums.

The sculpture portrays the god Apollo, (who existed in both Greek and Roman mythology), as an archer who just shot an arrow. His face is serene, and even the relaxed body portrays a god who is at ease, and unchallenged by the effort of shooting his arrow. The sculpture shows the "ideal" male body, without a single flaw.

In the 18th century, the height of neo-classicism, the German art historian Johann Joachim Winckelmann said, "of all the works of antiquity that have escaped destruction, the statue of Apollo represents the highest ideal of art."

During the Romantic movement, around the late 1800's, the Apollo Belvedere started to lose its appeal and today is no longer considered the height of artistic beauty.

So why is the Apollo Belvedere in my list of Vatican Museum Must Sees?

First, because it was once considered to be the ideal of classical male beauty. Second, because this is the piece that began the entire collection in the Vatican Museums. Third, it was said to be Napolean's favorite piece of art that he took from the Vatican to the Louvre (of course after Napolean's fall, this statue and most of the rest of the art he took was returned to Rome and in this case, to the Vatican.)

If you do take the time to visit the Pio-Clementine museum, and want to see some more special exhibits, you can add in the Gregorian Egyptian museum, with its superb collection of papyri, mummies and ancient statues.

One floor up from this is the Gregorian Etruscan museum, with extraordinary examples of Etruscan relics, including a life-sized Etruscan tomb that you can walk into and enjoy a well-done video and light-show presentation.

And these museums are almost always empty so it's a moment of respite and calm from the otherwise frenetic and crowded Vatican Museums.

Mummies in the Egyptian wing of the Vatican Museums

There is a superb collection of Etruscan antiquities in the Vatican Museums

Vatican Museum Must Sees - Rotunda Room and Porphyry Basin

The Sala Rotonda, or Rotunda Room, of the Vatican Museums has a lot going for it.

First of all, it is modelled after the Pantheon, right down to oculus in the ceiling, and to the decorative rosettes in each of the little niches in the dome. It is smaller in scale than the pantheon but still impressive.

The Sala Rotonda in the Vatican Museums is modelled after the pantheon right down to the oculus in the ceiling

Second, the floor is also not to be missed: It is made up of tiny, intricately designed mosaics from around the 2nd century and is simply stunning. These mosaics used to decorate an ancient Roman villa and are incredibly intact and colorful. There are other ancient black and white mosaics in the room that you can even walk on . something I find shocking, but you can!

This giant porphyry basin was part of Nero's Golden House, and was made from a single piece of stone

Third, but definitely not least, is the giant (about 40-feet in diameter) porphyry basin in the center of the room. What is porphyry you ask?

There are two answers to this: The first answer is that it is a type of igneous rock (which means it was created from cooled lava), that is full of large pieces of crystal. The rock is extremely hard, and difficult to cut. And unbelievable heavy.

So imagine about 2000 years ago, the emperor Nero ordering a bath for his Domus Aurea (Golden House), and having someone get this giant rock out of Egypt (there is one quarry in Ancient Egypt where all the porphyry rock came from) . and then carve it into a single piece like this and get it to Rome?

The second answer as to what is porphyry is that it is a color. The word comes from the Greek word for purple, and in ancient Rome, purple was for royalty. This particular basin is a reddish purple. Basically, when you see porphyry marble around Rome, just know it was hauled over here from Egypt, and it must have been for a pretty special person.

So do I need to tell you why this room and the basin are in my Top 10 List of Vatican Museum Must Sees? The shape of the room, the exquisite, detailed mosaics on the floor, and this giant, amazing porphyry bathtub. It's truly awesome.

Vatican Museum Must Sees - The Tapestries Hall

It's impossible to miss a visit to the Galleria degli Arazzi, or the Tapestry Hall, as you literally have to walk through it to get to the Sistine Chapel.

But it could be easy to breeze past these special works of art, and not really know what exactly you should look at. Most tours cover at least some of the tapestries room, but in case you are on your own, take some time to notice these things:

First of all, look up. The ceiling looks like a plaster 3-dimensional design. It's actually painted!

Take some time to enjoy the Flemish tapestries in the Tapestries Hall of the Vatican Museums

As for the tapestries, they are from two different periods and regions. The ones on the right were made in the 17th century in Rome for Pope Urban VIII (Barberini), depicting scenes from his life. These are nice but the most amazing tapestries are along the left wall.

Here you have tapestries woven in Brussels by Pieter van Aelst’s School, from the 1500's. They made the tapestries based on drawings by Raphael’s pupils, during the pontificate of Clement VII. These tapestries depict the life of Jesus.

Each tapestry took years to make. They were finely woven by the best weavers of the day (who were in Flanders, or Belgium), out of wool but also silk, and gold and silver thread. Notice in particular the tapestry of The Resurrection of Christ (below).

The Resurrection of Christ in the Tapestries Gallery of the Vatican Museums is an amazing work of art and craftsmanship - don't miss it!

My photo cannot do this tapestry justice. You have to really look closely to see how amazing this weaving is. Notice all the shading and even how the weavers were able to depict human emotion. using thread!

But the most amazing part of this particular tapestry? As you approach it from the left, keep your eyes on Jesus's eyes . keep walking and watch his eyes. By the time you pass the tapestry, the eyes are still with you! It's a wonderful example of "moving perspective", a technique you find sometimes in paintings (like the Mona Lisa.) But to do this with a tapestry takes a lot more mastery and talent, and requires some very fancy stitching indeed!

Why is the Tapestry Gallery in my Top Ten list of Vatican Museum Must Sees? Because even though you will visit it anyway, you should pay attention to some of the detail in here, on the ceiling and on these amazing tapestries, in particular the Resurrection tapestry. Besides the fact that I always love seeing people's faces when they realize the eyes have followed them, I think this level of work and craftsmanship deserves some attention.

Vatican Museum Must Sees - The Maps Hall

After you go through the Tapestries Gallery, you will inevitably pass through the Galleria delle Carte Geografiche (Maps Gallery).

As with the Tapestries Hall, it would be easy to just coast through here, beelining for the Sistine Chapel.

In the case of the Maps Gallery, it's pretty hard not to notice the ceiling, a must-see all by itself (and one of the most photographed ceilings in the museums besides Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel!)

The Ceiling of the Map Room in the Vatican Museums is a masterpiece in itself

The Gallery of Maps contains the largest collection of geographical paintings ever created. These wall-sized maps depict Italy and Italian provinces, and were commissioned by Pope Gregory XIII in the 16th century.

These maps, based on drawings by the Dominican Monk Ignazio Danti, are amazingly accurate for being made in the 1500's! The maps are really well-detailed, showing mountain ranges and even boats in the water, but they are also somewhat whimsical, containing fantastic sea creatures and even Neptune, the Roman god of the sea.

Why is the Maps Room on my Top Ten List of Vatican Museum Must Sees? As with the Tapestries Gallery, it's too easy to walk through here without really looking at the art. But the maps are really genius, and even fun to look at. See if you can find the depictions of Neptune in some of the maps!

Detailed map of Italy, Sicily and Corsica in the Maps Hall of the Vatican Museums

So, exactly what is the Vatican? Find out here!

Vatican Museum Must Sees - The Papal Apartments

At one time, popes lived inside what is now the Vatican Museums. This collection of residences is generally called "The Papal Apartments" (and does not have anything to do with where the current pope resides!)

The two most spectacular of these are the Borgia apartments and the Raphael rooms. These are easily missed/skipped if you want to shortcut to the Sistine Chapel. But as this page is about what I consider Vatican Museum Must Sees, I am telling you not to miss them!

The Borgia Apartments in the Vatican Museums, with frescoes by Pinturicchio

The Borgia apartments, frescoed by Pinturicchio, a contemporary of Raphael, actually come after the Raphael rooms.

I just wanted to show you what else you would get to see if you include the Raphael Rooms. It's all wonderful and a feast for the eyes!

Vatican Museum Must Sees - Raphael Rooms and Raphael's School of Athens

While there is a lot to see in the Papal Apartments, we are focusing this page on Vatican Museum Must Sees.

So let's talk about The School of Athens by Raphael. I think this painting actually makes the top ten list for a lot of people! It's one of the most famous paintings in the Vatican Museums besides Michelangelo's paintings in the Sistine Chapel.

Renaissance Popes Julius II and Leo X had the best artists of the day decorate their sumptuous homes. And that meant hiring Raphael. In 1508 Pope Julius II hired Raphael to paint a room called the Stanza della Segnatura.This was right after he commissioned Michelangelo to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel! Can you imagine living in the time and just being able to hire these guys?

In the Stanza della Segnatura, there are actually four paintings by Raphael, one on each wall. They represent the themes: Theology, Poetry, Philosophy, and Justice.

So enjoy all the Raphael paintings in these rooms but in particular, stop and take note of the School of Athens (philosophy.)

The painting is a fantasy gathering of the greatest philosophers, mathematicians and thinkers from classical antiquity. They are all together in this one painting even though they came from different places and different moments in time. That's already whimsical in itself.

But what Raphael did was even more fun.

He put the faces of his buddies in there: Plato, in the center talking to Aristotle, has Leonardo Da Vinci's face. Another Renaissance master, Donato Bramante (who designed the Belvedere Courtyard we talked about above, and was the first one to design the dome for St. Peter's Basilica), appears on Euclid's body (he's the one drawing on a chalkboard.) Raphael himself is also in there, on the bottom right corner, looking out at us. And, while Raphael was painting this extraordinary masterpiece, he popped into the Sistine Chapel and saw what Michelangelo was doing . and put Michelangelo front and center of The School of Athens, in the form of the Greek philosopher Heracleitus (he is the one resting his head on his arm, and with boots on, sitting on the steps.)

What is so special about Raphael's School of Athens and why is it in my Top Ten List of Vatican Museum Must Sees? Many art historians and experts consider Raphael's School of Athens one of the greatest paintings of the High Renaissance. His use of the Renaissance color palette, and mix of ancient and contemporary Roman architectural elements to create unity in the painting, and the theme itself (a coming together of earthly and godly elements), all turn this painting into one of the greatest masterpieces of the Renaissance.

Vatican Museum Must Sees - The Sistine Chapel


I once had the amazing privilege of attending Vespers inside the Sistine Chapel. Take a look:

And of course, no visit to the Vatican Museums would be complete without the Sistine Chapel.

In fact, it's usually the only reason people come to the Vatican Museums. And since it is at the very end of the museums, you won't miss it.

Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, by Michelangelo Buonarroti, 1508-1512

When you have a tour of the Vatican Museums, they will give you an explanation of the chapel before you go in, since you are supposed to be quiet in there.

If you go in on your own, here is what to look for once you are inside the Sistine Chapel:

Vatican Museum Must Sees - The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo

The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo Buonarotti, 1508-1512

I think the most famous part of the Sistine Chapel is the series of paintings by Michelangelo on the ceiling. These are 9 scenes from the book of Genesis. And the most famous painting in this series, perhaps one of the most iconic paintings in the world, is the Creation of Adam.

But take the time to look at the rest of the panels on the ceiling too.

I LOVE this book, and cannot recommend it highly enough. If you want to know all about Michelangelo and how he came to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, I suggest you get this book. I found myself surprised to find it was a page-turner that I could not put down!

Vatican Museum Must Sees - Michelangelo's Last Judgement

Il Giudizio Universale, or The Last Judgement, Michelangelo Buonarroti 1536–1541

Every time I visit the Sistine Chapel, I notice everyone looking straight up.

Yes, the star attraction is Michelangelo's ceiling, in particular, the Creation of Adam. And with good reason. It's spectacular. And one of the world's most famous pieces of art. So get a good look and enjoy.

But also, take the time to enjoy some other things in here as well, especially Michelangelo's other great masterpiece in this room: The Last Judgement.

This painting was done later, between 1535 and 1541.

And by this time, Michelangelo was in his sixties. He'd thought he was done with painting . he'd thought of himself primarily as a sculptor. But the new Pope Paul III (Farnese), convinced Michelangelo he had more in him, as a painter but also as an architect. So he had Michelangelo finish St. Peter's Basilica. And the Pope had Michelangelo paint Il Giudizio Universale, The Last Judgement.

The painting shows the second coming of Christ on the Day of Judgment (Revelation of John.) Notice Jesus' position in the center, he is neither standing nor sitting, but almost in motion. On the bottom left are the souls selected for passage to heaven, and on the bottom right, are the damned souls being transported to hell by Charon on the river Styx.

Michelangelo painted The Last Judgement after the Sack of Rome in 1527. Also, he'd become much more devout as he'd gotten older, and had a lot of inner conflict about his younger, more pagan days. So the painting has a considerably darker feeling about it than the ceiling panels. And, if you look closely at the flayed skin of St. Bartholomew, just below Jesus and to our right, you can see that is Michelangelo's face. It was his way of atoning.

This painting is for me one of THE Vatican Museum Must Sees, as it shows a transition for Michelangelo, and so much drama and raw human emotion than many of his previous paintings.

Vatican Museum Must Sees - The Cosmatesque Floor of the Sistine Chapel

And speaking of looking not only up and around, look down, too. This beautiful floor has a pattern called "Cosmatesque", so named for the Cosmati family that created this style and decorated churches around Italy, and particularly in Rome, in the 12th and 13th centuries.

Don't miss the gorgeous Cosmatesque floor of the Sistine Chapel

Finally, in the last of my list of Vatican Museum Must Sees inside the Sistine Chapel, don't miss the wall panels underneath the ceiling.

Before Michelangelo came along and eclipsed their fame with his paintings, Pope Sixtus IV (for whom the Sistine Chapel is named), had the walls painted by Renaissance masters including: Sandro Botticelli, Pietro Perugino, Pinturicchio, and Domenico Ghirlandaio (one of Michelangelo's mentors.) These frescos depict the Life of Moses and the Life of Christ, and truly are Vatican Museum Must Sees in their own right.

To conclude, there are many "Vatican Museum must sees", including works I've left off this list.

But I do hope this will give you some idea of things you might wish to include on your visit to the Vatican Museums, in particular, some things you might not have thought to see.

No matter what you see/don't see, a visit to the Vatican Museums is one of the most special, exciting, and beautiful things you can do in Rome!

Of course you already know by now that the Sistine Chapel is at the top of everyone's list of Vatican Museum must sees.

In fact, it may be the ONLY thing people want to see when they visit these museums. But since it's not possible to see only the Sistine Chapel, I hope you will enjoy some of the other masterpieces there too.

Click here to visit the Vatican Museums website to view a map of the museums.

Did you know that if you book a visit to the Vatican Gardens, you automatically have a skip-the-line-ticket into the Vatican Museums?

Get your free Rome trip-planner!

Sala Delle Statue, Vatican

This photograph shows the Gallery of Statues (Sala Delle Statue) at the Vatican, taken over 150 years ago. James Anderson (1813–1877) made this photograph in the 1850s using an albumen print from a glass negative.

Today this view at the Gallery of Statues, which is part of the Vatican Museum, has not changed substantially, most of these statues from 150 years ago can be seen in modern photographs of this gallery.

The Gallery of the Statues holds various famous statues, including Sleeping Ariadne, the bust of Menander, and The Chiaramonti Caesar.

Albumen Print

Albumen silver print was the first commercially available method of producing a photographic print on a paper base from a negative.

In the 1850s, the process used the albumen found in egg whites to bind the photographic chemicals to the paper. This process became the dominant form for a photograph from 1855 to the start of the 20th century.

Glass Negative Photographic Plate

Photographic plates preceded photographic film as the medium for capturing images in photography. A light-sensitive emulsion was coated on a glass plate, instead of a clear plastic film.

The earliest plastic films were not available for the amateur until the late 1880s. The new plastic was not of high optical quality and initially was more expensive to produce than glass.

The quality and price of plastic films eventually improved, and most amateurs increasingly abandoned glass plates for plastic films.

Museo Pio-Clementino

The Gallery of Statues is part of the Pio Clementino Museum, which takes its name from two popes, Clement XIV, who established the museum in 1771, and Pius VI, the pope who brought the museum to completion in 1776.

Clement XIV came up with the idea of creating a new museum in Innocent VIII’s Belvedere Palace and started the refurbishment work.

The Pio-Clementino museum originally 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.


Reduced ticket: &euro 8,00 + 4,00 (reservation)
- Children between the ages of 6 and 18 years.
- Students aged not more than 26 years on presentation of a valid International Student Card, a student identity document or other documentation stating their registration to a university or institution of higher education
- Individual priests, men and women religious, seminarians and novices (upon presentation of valid documentation).
-Employees &ndash in service and/or retired &ndash of all Offices, Dicasteries and other Entities of the Holy See and/or Vatican City State (upon presentation of identity document).
The reduction can be extended to one companion only.

Scholastic reduced ticket: &euro 4,00
- Primary, Middle and High Schools (except universities) without distinction of places, on presentation of a letter of request on headed paper with the stamp of the institute and signature of the Headmaster, pointing out the number of the students, the teachers and possibile companions the Scholastic reduced ticket is granted to all students. A free ticket is granted also to a teacher or companion every 10 students. Other teachers or companions in excess pay the full fare.

Free Entrance:
- On the last Sunday of each month
- World Tourism Day (September 27)
- Children under 6 years of age
- Directors of museums, ministries, superintendences or governmental organizations assigned to archelogical, artistic, artistic heritage preservation
- Disabled (with a certification that attests the invalidity of more than 74%) and one companion each
- Journalists authorized by the Direction of the Museums after clearance from the Press Room of the Holy See, the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, the Foreign Press Association and the "Ordine Nazionale Italiano dei Giornalisti"
- Holders of valid ICOM (International Council of Museums) and ICOMONS (International Council of Monuments and Sites) membership cards
- Donors of works and patrons: Patrons and Friends of the Vatican Museums
- University professors (Chairs of Archaeology, Art History, Architecture and Ethnology), professors of academies seated in Rome. Academic Teaching Specialists may give special lectures in particular sections of the Museums on subjects within their specialization by presenting a written request to the Direction of the Museums. The authorization is not valid for a subsequent visit outside those sections. To continue the visit outside those sections it is necessary to buy the entrance ticket.

Pets and guide dogs
Access to the Museums is not permitted to animals, even small ones, with the exception of guide dogs for the blind or partially-sighted, provided they are equipped with a muzzle and lead, and animals for the certified purpose of pet therapy.
To enable reception and entry in these cases, communication of the visit must be submitted at least one day in advance by email at: [email protected]

Disabled people Access - services available:
- accessible entrance
- partially accessible wheelchair path
- accessible toilet
- services for hearing-impaired
- services for blind or partially sighted persons
- services for children

Pre-COVID 19 Timetables:
Vatican Museums - Sistine Chapel
Closed Easter and Easter Monday
Monday-Saturday: 9.00 - 18.00
Last admission 16.00

Last Sunday of the month: open and free of charge from 9.00 to 14.00, last admission 12.30.

Extraordinary closures
- 01 and 06 January
- 11 February
- 19 March
- 13 April
- 01 May
- 29 June (Saints Peter and Paul)
- 14-15 August
- 01 November
- 8-25 -26 December (Christmas Day)

Tiberius Statue, Vatican Museums - History

(25) Reclining marble statues of the gods of the Tiber (left) and Nile (right) rivers (first/second century CE), combining features of the pair on the Capitoline Hill and two others then in the collections of the Vatican.

Tiber and Nile River God Sculptures

Fig. 1: Tiber and Nile River Gods, closeup from Heemskerck’s Panorama

While visiting Rome in the sixteenth century, northern artists made many studies of Greco-Roman antiquities. Ancient Roman sculpture, architecture, and monuments were incorporated into the paintings of northern visitors, a phenomenon clearly present in the Walter’s Panorama. Here Heemskerck depicts two statues of the personified Tiber and Nile rivers. These sculptures frame the entrance to the temple of Venus, a focal point in the narrative of Paris’ abduction of Helen. The painted statues were inspired by marble sculptures rediscovered in Rome in the decades preceding Heemskerck’s arrival in 1532 during his five years in Rome, Heemskerck spent time studying and drawing the ancient statues. Comparable river god sculptures appear in Heemskerck’s other paintings, such as the Landscape with St. Jerome, and throughout his drawings. [1] They also turn up in the works of Heemskerck’s Dutch compatriots studying in Rome, like Herman Posthumus’s Landscape with Roman Ruins (1536) and the later sketches of Hendrick Goltzius (1590-1591). [2]

In the ancient world, rivers were sources of life-giving water the practice of conceiving of rivers as divinities, taking on human form and worshipped as sacred, stretches far back into history. The ancient Egyptians, for example, depicted the Nile river as an upright, bearded male adorned with a papyrus crown, armlets, and a narrow three-part girdle. In Greco-Roman mythology, river deities were the sons of the Titan Oceanus , himself a vast, earth-encircling waterway.

In the Walter’s Panorama, Heemskerck’s statues exhibit the traditional attributes of Greco-Roman river gods, including the languid reclining posture, semi-diaphanous drapery, thick wavy hair, and mature bearded face. [3] Both figures grasp cornucopias (literally, “horn of plenty,” from the Latin cornū, meaning “horn,” and cōpiae, “of plenty”) overflowing with fruit, which symbolize the abundance and fertility that the rivers bestowed upon Rome and Egypt. Heemskerck based his representations on a study of four statues in Rome during the 1530s: two river god sculptures that stood in front of the Palazzo Senatorio on the Capitoline Hill, and two in the gardens of the Belvedere , a terraced courtyard connected to the Vatican palace. Rather than copying one sculpture exactly, he combined elements from each. When he studied the two Belvedere statues, they had been repurposed as garden fountains [4] perhaps this reuse is referenced in Heemskerck’s Panorama, in the sculptures’ proximity to the circular fountain in the foreground of the temple of Venus. There the statues frame the entrance to the circular precinct one gazes out, the other gazes in toward the temple’s entrance.

Within the Panorama, the statues function as part of the sculptural program of a sanctuary though unknown to Heemskerck, this use mirrors the original context of the Belvedere statues. During the Roman Empire, both sculptures stood in the Iseum Campense-- an ancient sanctuary dedicated to the Egyptian gods Isis and Serapis, located in the Campus Martius. [5] Displayed in the heart of Rome in a public space, the sculpted river gods would have reminded ancient viewers not only of the legendary founding of Rome, but also the conquest and absorption of Egypt within the Roman Empire (30 BCE). [6] Both statues had elaborate bases carved on four sides, which suggests that they were to be viewed in the round.

The Tiber River statue, shown on the left in Heemskerck’s painting, was modeled on a large sculpture first unearthed in Rome in the 1440s an Italian farmer stumbled upon its enormous marble head when digging a hole for planting. Poggio Bracciolini, a contemporary scholar and antiquarian, noted that the head drew so many visitors that the property owner quickly covered it up again “for the sake of peace and quiet.” [7] Not to remain hidden much longer, the so-called ‘ Vatican Tiber ’ was unearthed once and for all in 1512 (Fig. 2). [8]

Fig. 2: “Vatican Tiber:” Tiber River Statue, now in Paris (Musée du Louvre), Giovanni Pacoli, 1911 F ig. 3: Tiber River Statue, Staircase of Palazzo Senatorio, Capitoline Hill, Rome

The sculpture (Fig. 2) was found between S. Maria sopra Minerva and S. Stefano del Cacco, the region in which the ancient sanctuary of Isis and Serapis was known to have stood. The original marble sculpture is thought to date to the early Roman Empire (1st century). [9] In both the ancient statue and Heemskerck’s Panorama, the river god leans back, placing the weight of his upper body on his right arm. The right leg rests upon the base of the sculpture, while the left leg is raised slightly on top of the right. In addition to the brimming horn of plenty, Heemskerck’s statue also incorporates Romulus and Remus, the mythical founders of Rome, being suckled by the She-Wolf this small sculptural group signifies the legend of Rome’s foundation, in which the She-Wolf saved and reared the twin brothers who had been exposed in the countryside. This element comes directly from the original Vatican-Tiber statue, though other details seem to stem from a second river god statue, the so-called ‘ Capitoline Tiber ’ (Fig. 3). This second statue was displayed on the Capitoline Hill after 1517 Heemskerck’s drawings reveal that he had studied it in some detail. [10] This sculpture was originally identified as the Tigris River, but was later reowrked into the Tiber by the addition of Romulus and Remus (likely between 1565-1568). [11] Although Heemskerck includes the She-Wolf suckling the twin founders of Rome, as in the Vatican Tiber, his depiction lacks this statue’s oar, a symbol of navigation. [12] Furthermore, Heemskerck’s statue exhibits drapery more closely akin to that of the Capitoline Tiber, which is cloaked modestly with the garment beginning below the waist. It becomes clear that Heemskerck collapsed the Vatican and Capitoline Tibers into one ‘composite’ sculpture in his Panorama.

Heemskerck’s depiction of the Nile River, on the right, was also based on a study of two ancient sculptures that came to light in the early 16th century. However, the statue in the Walter’s Panorama was mostly inspired by the so-called ‘ Vatican Nile ,’ uncovered in Rome several months after its Tiber counterpart. [13]

Fig. 4: A. Ramsthal, Louvre, "Father Nile" (1878)

This large statue (over 2 m. high and 3 m. long) also came from the sanctuary of Isis and Serapis, where the personified Nile served to complement the Egyptian deities. The sculpture is a Trajianic or Hadrianic copy (98 CE - 138 CE) of an earlier Hellenistic statue from Alexandria (3rd-2nd c. BCE), made of a dark Egyptian stone and likely carried off to Rome by the emperor Nero under the later emperor Vespasian (69-79 CE), it found its way to the Temple of Peace. [14] The Vatican Nile is considered the best example of a type “known from more than 20 examples fashioned in the round, a series of free creations after a shared prototype.” [15] Personifications of the Nile River have been found throughout the Roman Empire, as far afield as the Iberian peninsula [16] it is clear that the image of a reclining male holding a cornucopia, surrounded by exotic Egyptian animals and, sometimes, small children (see below), was well disseminated throughout the Mediterranean world. Pliny (c. 78 CE) writes that the famous Nile statue in the Temple of Peace was carved from a dark Egyptian stone, and surrounded by 16 playing children fanciful descriptions by both Lucian (2nd c. CE) and Philostratus (3rd c. CE) show that the Nile river was portrayed similarly in ancient panel paintings, in addition to the sculpted medium. [17]

After the Renaissance recovery of the Vatican Nile, the ancient sculpture was installed as a fountain in the Belvedere’s statue court, [18] where Heemskerck was able to study it. In the Panorama, the statue of the bearded Nile also appears reclining, supporting the weight of his upper body on the left arm under his right arm he holds a cornucopia that alludes to the bounty brought by the Nile’s annual flood.

Fig. 5: Statue of the river Nile , Museo Chiaramonti , Vatican Museums, Rome

Related to this theme of abundance, five nude male babies surround the river deity some engage the reclining deity, while others play among themselves. In ancient Greek, these small children were referred to as pecheis (οἱ πήχεις), a term which signifies a unit of measurement roughly equal to a cubit. The term represented a distance from the elbow to the tip of the middle finger, thus about the length of one small child. As the children were proportionate to this unit, they assumed the name itself. [19] On the original Vatican sculpture, and presumably its protoype(s), there were 16 of these chubby pecheis, who represented the ideal water level (16 cubits) of the Nile’s annual inundation. [20] This rise in river level was directly linked with the alluvial soil and fertility symbolized by the god’s cornucopia.

Along with the Tiber sculpture and, possibly, those of other river gods, these statues would have made powerful, multivalent statements about Rome’s imperial might, notions of core and periphery, and artistic ambition. The recovery of these personified river sculptures resonated across the theater of 16th-century Europe, where personification was a popular way to represent peoples, continents, and rivers through an embodied figure or form. One prominent and influential format for this was the engraved print series, such as those drawn, engraved and published by the Antwerp artist Philips Galle ( 1537–1612) Galle produced a series of personified rivers and oceans. He represented the Nile river (Fig. 5) as a muscular African male flanked by two playful naked boys, echoing the pecheis found on the Vatican Nile sculpture. In his engraving, the children appear much larger than a cubit in size, suggesting that Galle probably did not understand the role of pecheis as units of measurement. The personified river god is shown nude, sitting atop a scaly crocodile. The inclusion of this animal nods to the exotic African beasts--predominantly crocodiles-- found on ancient statues of the Nile river, [21] showing an awareness by Galle of this newly rediscovered sculptural type. In the background appear five obelisks and a pyramid, structures that geographically anchor the scene in Egypt.

Fig. 6: Philips Galle, Nilus (1586), LA County Museum of Art, M.88.91.382h

In addition to the Nile, Galle’s engravings of personified bodies of water also included the Tiber river, shown as a mature bearded male holding a cornucopia, gazing out across the hills of Rome. The Renaissance interest in allegory and personification for portraying complex entities was also manifest in the Cosmographiae Universalis of Sebastian Münster (1544) this work described in six books the inhabited parts of the world, including descriptions of foreign peoples and the topographic features of their lands. Münster’s encyclopedia presents another way of ordering and depicting the known world: a type of representation based on putative observation. His work reveals new framework for evaluating and understanding the natural world it reflects new fascination and interaction with other cultures, and a changing understanding of the natural world. Münster structured the world as the sum of widely disparate elements-- peoples and places-- and this great, sometimes fanciful, diversity framed his world view. Münster’s detailed presentation of “grotesque” men and monstrous animals, including the two and a half foot tall African pygmies, mirrors the sense of ‘Other’ seen in the dwarves, hippopotami, and crocodiles on the base of the Vatican Nile. [22] The river god sculptures thus emerged into a climate that embraced the study of the many peoples and places within the Cosmos. Coming full circle with their Renaissance recovery, the personified rivers again came to signify the marvels of ancient Rome, and adorned yet another sacred landscape within Heemskerck’s Panorama.

Jessica L. Lamont
Robert & Nancy Hall Fellow, The Walters Art Museum

Selected Bibliography

Bober, P. & R. Rubinstein . 1986. Renaissance Artists & Antique Sculpture: a Handbook of Sources, London.

Brancciolini, P. 1989. De Varietate Fortunae, trans. and ed. Cesare d’Onofrio. In Visitiamo Roma nel Quattrocento: la citta degli umanisti, ed. Cesare d’Onofrio, 65-90, Rome.

Cavallaro, A. & E. Parlato. 1988. Da Pisanello alla nascita dei Musei capitolini: l'antico a Roma alla vigilia del Rinascimento, Rome.

Christian, K . 2010. Empire without End: Antiquities Collections in Renaissance Rome, c. 1350-1527, New Haven.

Curl, J. 2005. The Egyptian Revival, Ancient Egypt as the Inspiration for Design Motifs in the West, London.

Draper, J. 2002. “‘The River Nile’, a Giovanni Volpato Masterwork,” Metropolitan Museum Journal, Vol. 37 (2002): pp. 277-282.

Haskell, F. & N. Penny . 1981. Taste and the Antique: the Lure of Classical Sculpture, 1500-1900, New Haven.

Hülsen, C. & Egger, H . 1975. Die römischen Skizzenbücher von Marten van Heemskerck im Königlichen Kupferstichkabinett zu Berlin, Berlin.

le Gall , J. 1944. "Les Bas-reliefs de la statue du Tibre", in Revue Archéologique (1944) I, p. 115-137 II, p. 38-55.

McLean, M . 2007. The Cosmographia of Sebastian Münster: describing the world in the Reformation, Aldershot.

Stritt , M. 2004. Die schöne Helena in den Romruinen , Stroemfeld.

Roullet, A. 1972. Egyptian and Egyptianizing Monuments of Imperial Rome, Leiden.

Sellink, M. & M. Leesberg. 2001. The New Holstein Dutch & Flemish Etchings, Engravings and Woodcuts 1450-1700 : Philips Galle (Part III) , Rotterdam.

[1] For depictions of reclining river gods in the sketches of Heemskerck, or the circle of Heemskerck, see Die römischen Skizzenbücher von Marten van Heemskerck im Königlichen Kupferstichkabinett zu Berlin: I Fol. 19r, p. 20 I Fol. 25r, p. 26 I Fol. 45r, p. 46 I Fol. 54r, p. 55 I Fol. 61r, p. 62 I Fol. 62r, p. 63 II Fol. 75v, p. 108.

[2] Bober & Rubinstein 1986, p. 99.

[3] Stritt 2004, vol. 1, p. 85 vol. 2 pp.150-153.

[4] Swetnam-Burland 2009, p. 444.

[5] This precinct was quite large, roughly 70 m. wide and 200 m. long it was outfitted with water-filled basins, fountains, and several niches for the display of statuary. The sanctuary is known primarily from an ancient marble map of Rome, the “Severan Marble Plan,” which provides the dimensions of the precinct, and shows that it was laid out on a north-south axis cut by an east-west transept and apse. See Swetnam-Burland 2009, p. 443.

[6] Like other Greco-Roman sculptures that emerged during the Renaissance, these marble statues were once decorated with vibrant paint, gilding, or inlay. In antiquity, color was a common and constant element of sculpture that, by the time of the Renaissance, had largely disappeared. Added color served to embellish the statues and to make them more visible it could articulate sculptural details like garment decoration, or the carved reliefs on the statue’s bases.

[7] Brancciolini 1989, 72 Bober & Rubinstein 1986, pp. 66-67.

[8] Though called the “Vatican Tiber,” this sculpture currently resides in the Louvre and has since Napoleonic times.

[9] Haskell & Penny 1981, p. 311, who also suggest that the Tiber sculpture was an original statue designed as a companion piece for the Nile. It seems possible, however, that the Tiber and Nile sculptures were only two of a potentially larger group of sculpted river gods.

[10] Heemskerck: Album I, Folio 45r (Hülsen & Egger v. I, p.46).

[11] The sculpture was identified as the Tigris river because the fragmentary animal on which the god rested his right arm was thought to be a tiger it was probably reworked several decades after Heemskerck was in Rome. See Magrì 1988, p.215 Bober & Rubinstein 1986, p. 66.

[12] It is possible, however, that when Heemskerck saw the statue, it was without its oar. That the oar was restored sometime after 1591 is suggested by Goltzius’s sketch of the Tiber river (link above).

[13] Swetnam-Burland 2009, p. 439 Christian 2010, p. 267.

[14] Bober & Rubinstein 1986, p. 103 Swetnam-Burland 2009, p. 441-2.

[15] Swetnam-Burland 2009, p. 441, with further bibliography in fn. 9.

[16] For example, the sculpture of a reclining Nile from Roman Hispania now in the Córdoba Museo Arqueológico y Etnológico (Inv. 7170).

[17] Pliny, Natural History 36.56-8 Philostratus Imagines 1.5 Lucian Rhetorum Praeceptor 17-30.

[18] Haskell & Penny 1981, p. 272.

[19] Philostratus, Imagines 1.5 Lucian, Rhetorum Praeceptor 6.

[20] Pliny Natural History 36.56-8. Pliny refers to the chubby boys on the statue simply as liberi[s], or “children.”

[21] In addition to the Vatican Nile, crocodiles appear in the reclining Nile sculpture in the Córdoba Museo Arqueológico y Etnológico (Inv. 7170), and in the Nile river sculpture from Holkham Hall (see Swetnam-Burland 2009, p. 454, Fig. 16). Reclining Nile river gods with crocodiles (and hippopotami) also appear in the ekphrastic literary landscapes of authors from the Second Sophistic (Philostratus, Imagines 1.5 Lucian, Rhetorum Praeceptor 6).

[22] McLean 2007, pp. 270-1 and passim. For the pygmies on the base of the Vatican Nile, see Swetnam-Burland 2009, pp. 446-453.

ROMAPEDIA is a work of synthesis and anthology of the most authoritative and reliable sources of facts about the GREAT BEAUTY of Rome and the area of the Province of Rome.

ROMAPEDIA is an encyclopedic dictionary with 1,363 entries, including 487 churches, 278 palaces, and 153 museums. The word count is 746,174.

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Statue of Diana (Artemis) the Huntress in the Vatican Museums

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In vino Vatican

While the per capita nature of statistics definitely skews perceptions of Vatican City in terms of the crime rate, it actually kind of makes things worse in terms of how much wine is drunk in the Holy See. The Independent reports residents of the Vatican consume more wine per capita than any other country in the world. In fact, the average resident of the Vatican consumes 74 liters–about 20 gallons–of wine per year. That's double the average of notably oenophile countries like Italy and France, triple the average citizen of the United Kingdom, and over six times as much as the average American. Presumably it's because we are too busy slamming White Claws or Tide Pods or whatever is in right now to worry about wine.

Of course the frequent consumption of sacramental wine at Communion does affect those numbers (but should it, since it's technically blood at that point?), but the Vatican's population features a number of demographic anomalies that make its citizens more likely to go HAM on some vino. By and large, the average Vaticano is older, male, upper class, and educated. Additionally, Vatican residents tend to eat communally in large groups. Each of these elements on its own contributes to a larger consumption of wine, so piling them all together gives you a person who probably brushes their teeth with Merlot. The fact that the Vatican's only supermarket reportedly sells wine duty-free probably doesn't hurt sales either.

Watch the video: Vatican Museums


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