Have you heard about Laocoon, the priest who tried in vain to warn the Trojans about the big horse?
His statue was discovered in 1506 in a vineyard in Rome. Pope Julius II immediately purchased the marble statue and displayed it in the Vatican. Thus began the world renowned Vatican Museums which currently consist of 54 galleries.
A favorite Gallery is “Raphael’s Rooms” (there are four of them), which Pope Julius II intended to use as his apartments. He commissioned Raphael in 1508 to decorate the rooms. (The same year he commissioned Michelangelo to decorate the Sistine Chapel).
The Room of the Signatura was the first room Raphael decorated. This chamber is where most of the important papal papers were signed, and the decorative theme chosen by Raphael was worldly and spiritual wisdom. Raphael’s most famous work, The School of Athens, is here, representing the truth acquired through reason.
The Room of Heliodorus includes four frescoes in which Raphael wisely included his patron, Pope Julius II, as a participant or observer. The theme of this chamber is the heavenly protection granted by Christ to the Church. It includes The Deliverance of St. Peter.
Pope Julius’ successor, Leo X, is depicted in the third room, making the sign of the cross to extinguish a raging fire in Rome. This room is named for the Fire in the Borgo, which was based on Raphael’s design, but completed by his assistants. The other three paintings in the room were completed without any of his input.
The fourth and largest room, the Hall of Constantine, wasn’t begun until both Pope Julius and Raphael were dead. It is dedicated to the victory of Christianity over paganism, and was completed by Raphael’s associates.
In the beautiful Gallery of Maps there are topographical maps of Italy painted on the walls by Danti. It took three years to complete the 40 gorgeous panels.
There are several sculpture galleries, including Greek and Roman sculpture, as well as the Sala a Croce Greca, which houses the sarcophagus of both the mother and sister of Constantine the Great.
The Museo Gregoriano Etrusco was founded by Pope Gregory XIII in 1836 and houses important Etruscan pieces including sarcophagus, bronzes, and vases.
The Book of the Dead is housed in the Museo Egiziano, founded by Pope Gregory XVI. This museum is home to an enormous collection of Egyptian Material, including papyruses, the Grassi Collection, and animal mummies.
But they saved the best for last, the Sistine Chapel. I’ve been able to investigate this amazing room twice, and both times I was amazing at the glory of it. I will take my entire column next week to tell you about it. Until next week, wishing you la dolce vita.
Check out www.vatican.va for more information. Click on Vatican Museums at the bottom the page.
Joy Gawf-Crutchfield owns and operates The Joy of Travel.