Vatican Museums

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Institutions housing the enormous collections of antiquities and works of art accumulated by the papacy since the beginning of the 15th century. As the leaders of the Christian Church the popes have always commanded the services of the best artists of the day, and they have also been continually showered with gifts. The Vatican collections are consequently among the largest and most important in the world, housed in a complex of buildings in the papal palace and elsewhere in the Vatican. There are several separate museums and the visitor to them is also admitted to the exhibition rooms of the Vatican Library and to various suites of Renaissance painting, of which the most important are the Sistine Chapel, decorated by Michelangelo and others, and the Stanze, decorated by Raphael and others. The museums had their origin with Julius II (Giuliano della Rovere, ruled 1503–13), who placed some of the most famous works of antique sculpture in the Cortile del Belvedere (Belvedere Court), accessible to artists, connoisseurs, and scholars. However, it was not until the 18th century that further development took place. Small museums of sacred and pagan art were created in 1756 and 1767 respectively, but the decisive impetus was provided by Popes Clement XIV (1769–74) and Pius VI (1775–99). They built an extension to the Vatican palace to house classical statuary, and this—named after them as the Museo Pio-Clementino—still forms the heart of the Vatican Museums. It is in a handsome Neoclassical style that was highly influential on museum architecture elsewhere. The Vatican Museums are still primarily famous for their classical statues, including the Apollo Belvedere, the Belvedere Torso, and the Laocoön, but they also contain great riches in, for example, Egyptian art, jewellery, and vestments. The Pinacoteca (picture gallery) was founded in 1909 and the present building was opened in 1932. It has an impressive if somewhat haphazard collection, devoted mainly to Italian painting of the 13th century to the 17th century. There is also a collection of modern religious art (opened 1973), much of it merely of curiosity value.

Subjects: Art.

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