The Eternal City has historically been a leading in numerous different art forms, especially painting, sculpture, and architecture from the High Renaissance. Today, Rome has some of the most magnificent museums and galleries in the entire world, with many that unveil fundamental historical and cultural events through the display of world-famous artworks and artefacts. Here are just a handful of the very best.
The Vatican Museums
Although technically another European country, Vatican City is an enclaved area within Rome, known as the official residence of the Pope. Traveling to Rome and skipping the Vatican Museums would be a great shame, as it houses world-famous art collections formed by the Catholic Church over the centuries. The museums, founded in the 16th century with a single sculpture, are one of the most-visited in the world.
Planning your visit carefully and getting tickets in advance is best. With over 50 galleries to explore, one of the best-known is the Sistine Chapel. The room contains precious frescoes created by Michelangelo between 1508 and 1512. His paintings on the altar wall and the ceiling depict vital, now iconic portrayals of Biblical scenes including The Creation of Adam and The Last Judgment. Another highlight of the Vatican Museums is the four Raphael Rooms, with frescoes by the renowned master painter of the Italian Renaissance, Raphael, and his assistants. Visitors can also enjoy the stunning Scuola di Ateni, one of the most extraordinary frescoes of all time.
One of the most astonishing galleries within the Vatican Museums is the Gallery of Maps, a long room of frescoes by Ignazio Danti. These frescoes are beautiful painted maps depicting every corner of 16th-century Italy. Other noteworthy sites include the Borgia Apartments, the Pinacoteca Art Gallery, the Round Room, the Lapidary Gallery, and many more. It is nearly impossible to see all the masterpieces in one visit, so it’s best to prioritize which artworks to discover each time you visit.
The Galleria Borghese
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One of the best-known private art galleries worldwide is the Galleria Borghese. The building housing the Gallery is the fascinating 17th-century Villa Borghese Pinciana, surrounded by beautiful gardens and the third-largest park in Rome. The gallery features paintings, sculptures, and artifacts collected by Cardinal Scipione Borghese, the nephew of Pope Paul V. Inside its twenty rooms, guests can indulge in paintings and sculptures by artists including Caravaggio, Raphael, Titian, Bernini, and Canova. In the area around the Villa are some well-known institutions like the National Etruscan Museum of Rome and the National Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art.
The Capitoline Museums
The Capitoline Museums, built in 1471 after a donation by Pope Sixtus IV, are the world’s oldest public museums. What started as a small collection of precious bronze statues is now one of the most splendid collections of Romanesque art. The museum complex consists of two buildings, Palazzo dei Conservatori and Palazzo Nuovo, located on the square planned by Michelangelo. There is a corridor connecting the buildings called Galleria Lapidaria (not to be mistaken with the Lapidary Gallery at the Vatican Museums).
In the Capitoline Museums are some world-famous statues and sculptures, including the Capitoline Wolf, the Discobolus, the Dying Gaul, and others. One of the museum’s highlights is the statues of Marcus Aurelius and Emperor Constantine. In addition, the collection boasts works by renowned artists Van Dyck, Rubens, Caravaggio, Tintoretto, and more. The displayed items make the museum a must for the art and history buffs.
In the Flaminio neighborhood of Rome stands the MAXXI, a grand national museum dedicated to the arts and architecture of the 21st century. Designed by the famous Zaha Hadid, the museum opened its doors to the public in 2010. The multimedia displays offer an opportunity to dive into contemporary art and architecture in a fun and engaging way. The collection presents works of both international and Italian origin. Although over 300 art objects are in the museum, the collection’s focus still prevails on architecture. Visiting the MAXXI is a great chance to discover and enjoy works by Carlo Scarpa, Paolo Soleri, Alighiero Boetti, William Kentridge, and many others. The building of the MAXXI is indeed multifunctional, as it regularly hosts performances, conferences, workshops, and numerous temporary exhibitions.
The National Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art
The National Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art is one of Rome’s most comprehensive art museums. Its collection features around 20,000 artworks, from paintings to sculptures to photographs and design pieces. Visiting the Gallery is a perfect opportunity to indulge in the various art movements of the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries, all in one place. The museum opened in 1883 in a different building, not the current Palazzo delle Belle Arti. The palace is spacious enough for the museum’s collection, promoting appreciation for renowned Italian and foreign artists. Some of the best-known artistic names on display include Paul Cezanne, Claude Monet, Giacomo Balla, Van Gogh, Marcel Duchamp, and Jackson Pollock.
The Doria Pamphilj Gallery
Not far from the Pantheon is the 16th-century Palazzo Doria Pamphilj, housing Rome’s most extensive private art collection. The museum and the residency are owned by the Doria Pamphilj family. The palace is a masterpiece, with stunning frescoes and intricate carvings. In addition to art, visitors can see a small chapel and glimpse at a few private rooms, including the room of Princess Doria. The family’s history is captivating, too, and well-narrated in the audio guide available at the museum. Their collection includes works by Correggio, Caravaggio, Titian, Raphael, and Bernini. One painting in particular, the Portrait of Pope Innocent X by Velazquez, is the high point of the Gallery, housed in its own separate room.
La Galleria Spada
To avoid the crowds and enjoy a small but extraordinary art collection, it’s worth visiting the Spada Gallery. The Palazzo Spada, also known as Palazzo Capodiferro, is one of Rome’s finest 16th-century Renaissance palaces. It has a beautiful and lavishly decorated facade. Although the Gallery’s collection is modest in size, it comprises valuable Baroque paintings, sculptures, and furnishings distributed across four rooms. Most pieces are from the private collection of Cardinals Bernardino and their great-nephew, Fabrizio Spada.
There are many renowned artists presented in the Gallery, including Domenichino, Bernini, Parmigianino, Titian, and Bartolomeo Passerotti. However, most visitors come for the spectacular illusionist colonnade by Francesco Borromini. He used the technique of forced perspective to make the colonnade appear much longer than in reality. This masterpiece was a marvel at the time of its creation in 1653, and it is still an exceptional work of art that is well worth a visit today.