The Vatican is home to thousands of works. Among all of its beautiful spaces, the Vatican displays its biggest exposition area: the Pio Clementino Museum. Let’s discover its history a little bit better and see what this space has to offer!
Eating, Drinking, and Taking a Tour
When I am on vacation I enjoy those 3 things above in that order. That’s why I want to make sure that you do too. Enjoy the best eateries by the Vatican after your visit and also the best rooftop bars by the Vatican.
Now that you have settled your hunger and your thirst, click on the link to see all of our amazing Vatican tours that visit the Pio Clementino Musuem.
History of Pio Clementino
Pope Clement XIV created these rooms for the first time in 1771. He previously acquired different collections from some Italian families and needed more space to display them all. However, Pope Clement’s successor, Pope Pio VI, decided to modify and improve the space by adding some monumental entrances to the complex.
The total space today contains twelve different rooms that showcase priceless works of art. As you can imagine, the name of the museum “Pio Clementino” derives from the two popes.
The Apoxyomenos Room
How perfect would this statue be in a commercial for Bed Bath & Beyond? Apoxyomenos literally means ” to clean oneself” and that is exactly what the athlete is doing. Back in the day, athletes would clean themselves by rubbing oil into their skin and with dust would scrape it off with a curved instrument called a Strigil.
According to the Vatican Official Archives, “The statue is a Roman copy from around 50 AD of an original greek bronze sculpture by the great Lysippus from around 320 BC. Of particular note is the motion of his foot in the air and also the extension of the arm which creates space and gives depth to the sculpture”.
The Ancient Greeks knew about soap but limited it to washing clothes. Both ancient Greeks and Romans used to rub their skin with oil and pulverized pumice stone, then emove it using a strigilEnrico Bruschini- Art Historian & Official Vatican Tour Guide
The Octagon Yard: the Apollo del Belvedere
“The Apollo Belvedere” arrived in the Vatican in 1508 because it was owned by Pope Julius II whose property it was even before he was even pope. Therefore, like many popes before him, he brought all his artwork with him into his new home, the Vatican upon ascending the purple. The sun god Apollo has just let go of an arrow and is watching where it lands.
The statue is a Roman copy from the mid 2nd century AD of an original Greek Bronze statue by Leochares from around 320 BC. The exquisite hairstyle and flowing cape are remarkable for that period. The Greek writer Pausanias wrote that this beautiful statue once adorned the Agora, Athen’s main square.
Cool Fact: If you look closely at the face of Apollo, you will see a resemblance of Jesus Christ in the Last Judgement by Michelangelo! Michelangelo would have arguably studied these statues and used them as inspiration for his own works!
Of all the works of antiquity that have escaped destruction, the statue of Apollo represents the highest ideal of artJohann Joachim Winckelmann- 18th century Art Historian
Popular Vatican Tours
Lacoön and His Sons
If you are a Star Wars fan, then the Laocoön might resemble Han Solo, when they froze him in carbon for Jabba the Hut. The sculptor was able to capture a precise moment of such pain. They discovered the statue on the Esquiline Hill in 1506 and informed Pope Julius II immediately. They identified the statue right away as the Laocoön statues made by the sculptors on the island of Rhodes.
The statue represents a story from the Aeneid by Virgil. The Trojans believed the war to be over when they received the Trojan horse from the Greeks. Everyone except the priest Laocoön who warned it would be their downfall. Athena, who sided with the Greeks, sent two serpents to kill the priest and his two sons, quieting them forever. The rest is history.
When they found the statue it was missing its right arm. Many artists made their own rendition of the arm with it pointing straight up in the air. Michelangelo looked at the body movement and realized that the arm should bend. A Swedish archeologist discovered the original arm in the 17th century and guess what it looked like? The arm bent just as Michelangelo had made it. Supposedly the museum connected Michelangelo’s arm to the back of the statue today!
The Sculptures Gallery: the Mattei Amazon
Another classical artwork showcased in the Pio Clementino Museum is the Mattei Amazon, a work inspired by the Greek artist Phidias. Originally the Mattei family owned this statue and the Vatican later acquired it in 1771, when Pope Pius XIV decided to buy their entire collection.
Unfortunately, some pieces of the entire sculpture got lost throughout the centuries but, according to classical sources, this work should have portrayed an Amazon while climbing her horse while, probably, holding a spear.
The Masks Room: the Aphrodite of Cnidus
According to history, the Greek sculptor Praxiteles created the original Aphrodite. Today, in the Pio Clementino Museum, we admire the best copy of this masterpieace. This sculpture represents the goddess Aphrodite while she’s about to take a bath.
Aside from the classical beauty and harmony that the statue can display, its importance has to be found in the fact that for the first time in history a woman was portrayed naked, completely changing the art history world. For centuries, artists studied and looked at this statue as its “S” shape is still considered the best-portrayed body of all time.
The Muses Room: the Belvedere Torso
Why the heck did the Vatican feature a statue with no head, hands, or feet right in the middle of a room? As modern people, we have tv, google, the internet, etc. to understand anatomy. The magic of this statue is that the body is in motion, contorting to his left, but all of his muscles compliment that movement perfectly, which means the sculptor had intimate knowledge of anatomy. This was a big deal even in the Renaissance period since it was forbidden to dissect humans to study muscles and anatomy.
How do we know the name of the sculptor? He engraved his name on it writing- “Apollonios, son of Nestor, the Athenian, created it”. This statue was found in the late 15th century and was in the Vatican collection by 1530.
This is the work of a man who knew how to do it better than natureMichelangelo
Michelangelo displayed his admiration for this statue repeatedly in the Sistine Chapel. In the Chapel, the angels around each ceiling painting, are curving their bodies in the same direction as the torso. In his Last Judgement, St Bartholomew’s body is also contorting to a degree in this fashion.
The Round Room: Hercules from Pompey’s Theatre
To find an ancient statue in bronze is truly a gift, considering that most were melted down by the Romans back in the day to recycle the metal. Hercules is gilded with big eyes staring at you and curly hair. Archeologists found the statue in 1864 under a courtyard near Campo de’ Fiori.
The statue was then given to Pope Pius IX (1846-1878) and that is why it’s in the Vatican today. Hercules is easily identifiable due to the Nemean Lion skin wrapped over his arm, the club he is resting on, and the apples of the Hesperides in his left hand. The statue has been dated with a few different dates ranging from the 1st-3rd centuries AD. Historians point to the style being copied from the Neo Attic style of the 4th century BC
Cool Fact– when they found “Hercules”, it was lying on its back with a slab of travertine stone on top of it like a burial. On top of the slab of stone was cut the following letters- F C S (Fulgur Conditum Summanium). The statue had been struck by lightning and since Hercules was the son of Zeus, the Ancient Romans had taken that as a sign that the statue should be properly buried together with the remains of a lamb.
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