The Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s Basilica
The Vatican Museums have their origins in the private collection begun by Pope Julius II in the early 16th century. Central to the art of the High Renaissance, Julius provides us with a theme through which to explore the art of the Vatican. Amongst his collection are sculptures which were to provide Michelangelo with inspiration for the paintings we will see in the Sistine Chapel during our Vatican tour.
After looking at some of the major pieces of the collection of ancient sculpture, we will pass through the Gallery of the Tapestries and the Gallery of the Maps, bombastic in its expression of late-16th papal power, which lead us to the Vatican Palace.
The oldest nucleus of the structures which grew up around St Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican Palace is home to the apartments painted for Julius II by Raphael, and of course to the Sistine Chapel, the private chapel of the popes, and the place of their election. Here Michelangelo spent almost ten years of his career painting both the vast ceiling and the Last Judgement on the altar wall, two of the great icons in the history of western art.
Leaving the museums at the Sistine Chapel, we shall visit St Peter’s Basilica. The church was first constructed by the Emperor Constantine in the fourth century and rebuilt in the 16th and 17th centuries. The altar of the Popes, above the tomb of Peter and beneath the dome, is marked by a vast bronze “baldacchino” by the great driving force of the Roman Baroque, Gianlorenzo Bernini. St Peter’s also contains the beautiful Pietà, the first major piece of Michelangelo’s prolific career.
The suggested itinerary is a c. 3.5 hour visit, if preferred, shorter itineraries of 2 or 3 hours are available focusing on the Sistine Chapel with or without St. Peter’s.
Alternatively, the tour of the Vatican Museums can be extended to include other elements of the Museums (for example choose from the Pinacoteca, Braccio Nuovo, Etruscan Museum, Egyptian Museum).
This could be combined with an in-depth tour of St Peter’s Basilica, including the Treasury Museum and the Grottoes to create a full-day, and fully comprehensive, visit to the Vatican.
- Skip the line entry tickets to the Vatican
- Visits to the Gallery of the Tapestries, the Gallery of the Maps, Raphael Rooms, Sistine Chapel
- Exploration of St Peter’s Basilica