The Vatican Museums are a must-see attraction when visiting Rome. Located within Vatican City, The Vatican Museums house an extensive collection of sculptures, Christian art and Renaissance art. With so many collections to explore within the Vatican Museums, knowing where to begin is a daunting task for the first-time visitor. The Pinacoteca (or Pinacoteca Vaticana) houses a collection of paintings that date back as far as the 12th-century. This collection of paintings owned by various popes beginning with Pius VI in 1775 is a great place for first-time visitors to begin their Vatican Museums experience.
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The History of the Vatican Pinacoteca
The collection housed inside of the Vatican Pinacoteca was originally housed inside of the Borgia Apartments. Pope Pius XI, the first pope to reign in Vatican City after it became an independent state in 1929, ordered the construction of the Pinacoteca. The building housing the Vatican Pinacoteca was designed by Luca Beltrami and inaugurated on October 27, 1932.
The Pinacoteca features a large array of collected works owned by past popes beginning with Pius VI around 1775. The gallery features sixteen rooms displaying works of art from the middle ages through the early 1800s displayed in chronological order. Many of these works were taken back to Paris by Napoleon in 1797 but were returned to Italy in 1815 following the Congress of Vienna.
The Collected Works Inside of the Pinacoteca
With sixteen rooms spanning at least six centuries’ worth of artwork, navigating the Pinacoteca’s extensive collection of art requires much research. Here are some of the museum’s most influential works, including some of our own favorites.
The Transfiguration is Renaissance master Raphael’s final painting. Commissioned by Pope Clement VII (who also commissioned the painting of Michelangelo’s The Last Judgment in The Sistine Chapel) in 1516, the painting was meant to be an altarpiece for France’s Narbonne Cathedral. The painting itself took Raphael four years to complete and portrays the transfiguration of Christ from the New Testament. The Transfiguration’s use of chiaroscuro (the contrast of light and darkness in painting), makes it one of our team’s favorite works of art featured in the Pinacoteca, including co-founder Sean Finelli who notes the use chiaroscuro becoming heavier as the scene moves from the top to the bottom of the painting.
The Last Supper Tapestry
A tapestry of The Last Supper taken from Leonardo da Vinci’s original work is located in Room VIII of the Pinacoteca. Made in a Flemish (a region now occupied by sections of modern-day Belgium, the Netherlands and France) workshop, the tapestry is a full-scale reproduction of Michelangelo’s original work. Despite being a reproduction of Leonardo’s painting, our Quality Assurance Manager Jillian Madeira loves the tapestry because it is “pretty different from the original…the tapestry work is mind-blowing.”
St. Matthew and the Angel
Guido Reni’s St. Matthew and the Angel is a Baroque painting from 1635. One of many instances of Baroque art and architecture throughout the Vatican Museums, St. Matthew and the Angel incorporates the use of chiaroscuro. Reni’s painting is our co-founder Brandon Shaw’s favorite work of art inside the Pinacoteca. An admirer of the works of Guido Reni, Brandon is a fan of the painting style of the Bolognese School, where Reni and many other Baroque painters developed their painting technique. Brandon loves the portrayal of St. Matthew interacting with an angel and its similarity to a grandfather looking intently at his grandchild.
Caravaggio’s Entombment of Christ
Caravaggio painted The Entombment of Christ from 1603 to 1604. The original painting is located in the Pinacoteca, while a copy sits inside of the second chapel of the Santa Maria in Vallicella. The painting depicts Christ’s body being brought to the tomb after the crucifixion. Caravaggio’s Entombment has been copied by French and Flemish painters including Cézanne. Our Quality Assurance Manager Jillian Madeira loves The Entombment of Christ because “it is so powerful and reminds me of Michelangelo’s Pietà.”
Saint Jerome in the Wilderness
Painted in 1480, Leonardo da Vinci’s Saint Jerome in the Wilderness is one of the Pinacoteca’s most influential works. Portraying Saint Jerome kneeling in the midst of a desert landscape, Saint Jerome in the Wilderness is considered to be one of Leonardo’s first anatomical drawings.
With sixteen rooms full of some of the greatest works of art in Christendom, the Vatican Pinacoteca offers a visual walk through the history of Christian art from the middle ages through the early 1800s. Experience this must-see section of the Vatican Museums on our Detailed Itinerary Vatican in a Day tour and make the most of your visit to the Eternal City with The Roman Guy!
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