The Vatican Museums - Masterpieces and Other Great Works of Art


The Vatican in Rome is not only the capital of the Roman Catholic Church; it is also a place where valuable books, works of art and sculptures have been kept over many centuries. Four million people come to the Vatican Museums every year to observe these precious masterpieces.

As soon as you enter the Vatican Museums you walk through sculptured doors created by Cecco Bonanotte in 1999 to symbolize the Vatican’s step into the new millennium.

Other works in the museum are thousands of years old. There are statues, cloth textiles and paintings that remind the visitor of ancient history. Not all the objects that the Vatican Museums possess can be seen. On some occasions the Vatican lends them to other museums for a certain time, or they may be temporarily taken out in order to be restored.

Observing all the Vatican's artwork would be a difficult task. Most visitors concentrate on the special points of interest. The following shows you the most important areas of the museum.

The Gallery of Maps contains a series of topographical maps of Italy. They display the world the way Italians saw it at the beginning of the Modern Age. The Gallery of Tapestries is full of wall hangings made of wool and silk. They tell picture stories from drawings that Raphael produced.


The Gallery of Maps in the Vatican Museums

The Gallery of Maps in the Vatican Museums


Roman Catholic leaders founded many of the Vatican Museums in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Pope Gregory XVI created an Egyptian Museum with nine rooms of artworks, which were brought to Rome from Egypt. They show pharaohs who ruled ancient Egypt. One of the most impressive works is the Statue of Ramses II, sitting on a throne.

Another section of the Vatican Museums shows objects from ancient Etruscans, who lived in Central and Northern Italy. They produced objects of baked clay. The Etruscan Museum was established by Pope Gregory XVI in the 19th century. The collection also includes objects made of bronze and gold, as well as heads and statues of human bodies.

The Chiaramonti Museum is named after Pope Pius VII. It contains over a thousand works of art , including statues of Roman gods. The Pio-Clementino Museum , founded by Pope Clement XIV, is filled with ancient Roman and Greek sculptures. One of them shows a realistic scene of the war between Troy and Greece. Based on Virgil's poem Aeneid it shows a Trojan priest and his sons who are crushed by sea snakes.

Of all the art works that you can see in the Vatican Museums, experts agree that those of Raphael are probably the most beautiful. In the 16th century he was asked to paint the walls and ceilings of some of the Pope’s private living quarters. One of his most famous works, a fresco called The School of Athens, shows famous Greek thinkers and scientists, who gather around Plato and Aristotle.

The Sistine Chapel is the private church of the Pope. It is the most famous room of the Vatican Museums, built in the 15th century. Besides being a special place where Cardinals get together to elect a new pope, the Sistine Chapel offers some of the most spectacular works of art. The ceiling is the most impressive part of the room, created by Michelangelo in 1508. He produced over fifty paintings with over 300 people in them. The paintings show scenes from the Bible, for instance God creating the first man, Adam. It took Michelangelo over four years to finish the ceiling.


The Sistine Chapel in Rome

The Sistine Chapel in Rome - Alex Proimos


Some time later Pope Paul III asked Michelangelo to paint the walls of the chapel behind the altar. This famous painting became known as The Last Judgment. It shows Jesus Christ as the judge between good and evil. In it, some of the figures rise to heaven and others fall down to hell. Art critics are undecided about the mood this masterpiece puts you in. While some think of it as beautiful others say it is very frightening. However, all of them agree that it is one of the most famous works of art every created.


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  • ancient = old
  • artwork = paintings and other objects produced by an artist
  • baked clay = sticky earth that you but into an oven to form objects
  • based on = here: to come from, originate from
  • capital = center
  • ceiling = the top wall of a room
  • century = a hundred years
  • chapel = small church in a big church
  • cloth textiles = works of art that are not painted but are made of cloth, silk and other materials
  • contain = consist of
  • create = make
  • crush = to press something hard so that it breaks into pieces
  • establish = make, create
  • for instance = for example
  • found- founded = create for the first time
  • fresco = painting made on a wall while the plaster is still wet
  • gather = stand around
  • however = but
  • impressive = something that you admire because it is very beautiful
  • including = also
  • judge = decide, give an opinion
  • lend = give something to someone for a short period of time
  • living quarters = place where you live
  • masterpiece = work of art that is the best an artist has ever created
  • millennium = the time when a new thousand year period begins
  • mood = feeling
  • observe = see
  • occasion = event, time
  • pharaoh = ruler of ancient Egypt
  • possess = have, own
  • precious = valuable
  • restore = repair
  • rise = move up
  • sculpture = object made out of stone, wood, clay etc.. by an artist
  • sculptured = cut or formed by hand
  • silk = thin , smooth cloth made from fine thread that is produced by a silkworm
  • spectacular = breathtaking , great, beautiful
  • tapestry = large piece of cloth with pictures made out of thread; it hangs on the wall
  • task = job
  • throne = special chair used by a king or queen
  • topographical = the shape of an area, its hills, valley, rivers … etc
  • undecided = not sure
  • valuable = worth a lot of money