The Vatican Museums are a series of 26 museums across the Vatican City-a microstate in the middle of Rome. Mostly housed in the Vatican palaces, the museum houses historical books, special artefacts, exquisite sculptures, and timeless art. Each of these museums has various galleries in Rome, and affiliated gallery spaces worldwide, with pieces from the Vatican Museum, loaned to them.

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Vatican Museums_©Xavier Coiffic

The Laocoön Group – The First | Vatican Museums

The Vatican museums were founded in the 16th century and still remain the most visited museums to date, celebrating their 500th anniversary in the year 2005. With renowned and infamous artists like Michelangelo, paintings on the ceiling and frescoes, walls, and detailing done by Raphael, every inch of the Vatican museums is a piece of art – even the entryway corridors. The roots of the Vatican museums can be traced back to the first sculpture purchased by the Pope – The statue of Laocoön and His Sons, also called the Laocoön Group.

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Vatican Museums_©Sean Ang

The Laocoön Group was excavated from Rome in 1506 and then displayed in the Vatican museums a month later. Following the traditional Hellenistic marble concept and movement, some say that the Laocoön Group – attacked by sea serpents, was a monumental statue for Laocoön (built to life-size – of about 7 feet) after the gods had him killed. In Christianity and other western analyses, the Laocoön Group is drawn in parallels to Jesus and martyr-like qualities, with one single significant exception- the Greek counterparts had no redemption.  

The Laocoön Group of the Vatican museums has been restored, built, and preserved over the year meticulously for years as it has been a subject of conversation in every art critic class and every renaissance college course; some argue that Laocoön Group may be the ideal piece of art, depicting raw emotion, familial connection, human fragility, and mortal grief.

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Laocoön Group ,Vatican Museums_©Sean Angfrank

Pinacoteca Vaticana – The Art 

Founded in 1932, the New Vatican Art Gallery was built in the 19th century in the Square Garden. Detailed avenues and built-in isolation surrounded the building in such a way that it got the best lighting conditions to preserve the artwork. This museum was one of the first to open its doors to the public to view war treaties and art pieces stowed away in royal treasuries across Europe. The collection of Modern Religious Art was added to the Vatican Museums in the 1970s and included pieces from Pablo Picasso, Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, Marc Chagall, Paul Klee, and Salvador Dalí.

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Vatican Museums_©Anton Scherbakov

The New Vatican art gallery has some of the finest pieces from the Italian Renaissance, including some of the pioneering work done by Giotto. The museum also houses Raphael’s last painting and Leonardo Da Vinci’s – St. Jerome in the Wilderness, the only Di Vinci piece in all of Europe. In this painting, Jerome holds a crucifix symbolising Christ’s suffering and gazes at the skull – depicting mortality. The starkest feature, however is his faithful and loyal companion – a tamed lion that sits beside his feet. 

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The Picasso_©picassocollectionarchive

The Sculpture Museums

The Vatican museums have a series of sculpture museums surrounding the memorable Cortile del Belvedere, more commonly known as the Belvedere court or the Belvedere Courtyard. Built-in the 1500s, the Belvedere Courtyard of the Vatican museums was a typeface for other courtyard systems that quickly started gaining momentum in Renaissance Europe. The Belvedere courtyard formalised the concept of piazzas and garden plans – something familiar in western European architecture now.

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The Piazzas_©Victor Malyushev

The Octagonal Court houses the first antique classical statues – including The Laocoön and the Belvedere Apollo, with a wishing well in the core of the octagon tying the space with nature. The Sala Rotunda/round Hall or the Atrium of the Four Gates, built as an imitation of the Pantheon, houses various Classical sculptures intricately detailed. The floors and parts of the statue mantles are adorned with mosaics, and the floors depict scenes of traditional Greek and Roman folklore and mythology.

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The Octagonal Gallery_©cezar Sampaio
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The Octagonal Gallery_©Nicolas Hoizey
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The Octagonal Gallery_©kanetidouk

Michelangelo Simonetti designed the Greek cross gallery, and in true fashion has painstakingly intricate ceiling and flooring work. The walls and statues in this gallery remain completely marble-stoned white in juxtaposition to the colourful ceilings and floorings. Each side of the elaborate staircase is flanked by a traditional Egyptian-style pillar statue of pink granite. In the center of the floor is a mosaic bust of the Greek goddess Athena. There is also a portrait statue of emperor Verospi Augustus in a heroic pose, a statue of Caesar and his nephew of the same name – Augustus. 

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The Atrium Wishing well_©kanetidouk
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Statue of Apollo_©MVSVATICANA
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The Heroic Pose_©MVSVATICANA

The Gallery of Statues in the Vatican museums is a glorified shrine to the greatest heroes, rulers, and royals across the greater European continent. The walls were once completely covered with landscapes and cities in frescoes done by Pinturicchio and his assistants. Though these romantic blue-toned paintings have faded over time, they are still visible to date. An extension of this museum was later added with vaulted dome ceilings, which Cristoforo Unterberger painted.

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The Iconic Vaticana Ceilings Pose_©Ilia bronskiy
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The Iconic Vaticana Ceilings Pose_©Harold Wainwright
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The Iconic Vaticana Ceilings Pose_©unsplash
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The Iconic Vaticana Ceilings Pose_©Taps Mwenye
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The Iconic Vaticana Ceilings Pose_©Kyle Arcilla
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The Iconic Vaticana Ceilings Pose_©Pierre Voisin

The Gallery of busts may be every dark academic aesthetic person’s dream. Before mood boards started pushing the Greek bust sculpture as a must-have in a millennial home and were saved on various Pinterest boards, the Vatican museums had a dedicated Museum to preserve these pieces. 

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The Gallery_©Xavier-photography
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The Gallery_©Corey Buckley

Conclusion | Vatican Museums

The Vatican Museums act as a physical archive of art, architecture, and sculpture. Like walking through the greatest artist’s minds in history. They also preserve art according to relevance in time, from Roman Classic to European romantic to the modern abstracts from Michelangelo to the Van Gogh; the Vatican Museum is in talks of even having a gallery for NFTs Preserving beauty, technique, and human emotion through time, and inspiring artists and creative visionaries of our time and the future. A look around all these creations by humanity and the essence of the creator helps connect us to our past and the world and also makes us question the fragility of time and life. How empires with the greatest minds and creators can die out, but their legacy continues to live on in their art and architecture, immortalising a piece of them in their creations. 

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The Vatican Details- Sculptures_©Francisco Ghisletti
©Andrey Tikhonovskiy
The Vatican Details_©Andrey Tikhonovskiy
The Athena floor Mosiac_©MVSVATICANA
The Vatican Details- The Athena floor Mosiac_©MVSVATICANA
©Michael Jeddah
The Vatican Art Gallery_©Michael Jeddah
©Gary Campbell
The Vatican Details_©Gary Campbell
Staircase_©Nicolas Hoizey
The Vatican Details- Staircase_©Nicolas Hoizey
©Taylor Smith
The Vatican Details_©Taylor Smith

Citations for websites:

MVSEI VATICANI. Vatican Museums Official Page. [online]. Available at:   [Accessed date: 12th December 2022].


Jaya is a whimsical old soul. She’s passionate about architecture journalism - an amalgamation of the two things she loves most - designing and writing. She loves all forms of art, literature and mythologies from any corner of the world and from any period in time- the older the better.