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Tour of the Vatican Museums - Part One

Tour of the Vatican Museums - Part One

The Palaces of the Vatican are a world in itself: great and magnificent buildings with numerous rooms, galleries, libraries, chapels, halls, yards and gardens, filled with countless art treasures of all kinds. Since the Renaissance, there is no great artist who didn't leave here the immortal imprint of his genius. There is no soul, lover of beauty, who can escape its wonderful charm.

The entrance to the Vatican Museums is on Viale del Vaticano, inside the Vatican City State. The museums contain one of the largest art collections in the world, since they display the huge art collection accumulated by the Popes over the centuries. The museums were founded by Pope Julius II in the 16th century. The first nucleus of the Vatican Museums was a collection of sculptures; it was exhibited in the so-called Statue Courtyard, known today as the Octagonal courtyard. The part of the museums known as Pio-Clementino Museum was founded by Clement XIV, and expanded by his successor Pius VI. Pius VII founded, instead, the Chiaramonti Museum and greatly expanded the collections of Classical Antiquities and the Epigraphic Collection housed in the Galleria Lapidaria.

The Vatican Museums are distributed along the vast Cortile Belvedere (Belvedere Courtyard), which is divided into three sections. We will start our tour from the Cortile della Pigna, with the Chiaramonti Museum, which can be accessed by crossing the Egyptian Museum. Pius VII asked Antonio Canova to organize a long aisle at the border of the courtyard. About eight hundred sculptures were placed there. Besides this aisle, called Galleria Chiaramonti, and the following Galleria Lapidaria, reserved to scholars, it is also part of this museum the Braccio Nuovo that unites crosswise these galleries with the Vatican Library. In the Braccio Nuovo gallery there are numerous niches; midway, the wall widens in an apse, where there is located an allegorical representation of the Nile, a copy of an original work. It was discovered in 1513 in Campo Marzio, in the heart of Rome. In this section you can find other valuable statues, such as the Augustus of Prima Porta and a figure of an Amazon, also a copy of an original piece by Polyclitus. Another fine copy is the Doryphoros, a copy from an original work of Polyclitus as well.

Continuing our tour we find the Pio-Clementino Museum: it consists of twelve halls, containing sculptures from the Roman age and again numerous copies of original Greek pieces. As we pass the entrance arch, bearing the inscription Museum Clementinum, it can be seen, immediately to the left, the famous sarcophagus of Lucius Cornelius Scipio Barbatus, Consul in 298 BC. Through a rounded vestibule, adorned with a fine funerary altar, we arrive to the Cabinet of Apoxyomenos, which owes its name to the famous Statue of the Athlete Apoxyomenos, portrayed in the act of cleansing with a special tool after being doused in oil and sand. The statue is the only existing copy of an original Greek work by Lysippos.

Next we enter the octagonal courtyard of the Belvedere, not to be confused with the large courtyard of the Belvedere that extends between the library and the oldest core of the Papal palaces. Under the porch surrounding the courtyard, the Canova closed four small rooms, the cabinets, in which are located some of the most admired statues of the Vatican museums, including the Apollo Belvedere, a marble copy of the Apollo realized in bronze from the 4th century BC, which was discovered in the late 15th century and placed by Julius II in the Vatican Museums along with some other statues, which constituted the first core of the museums. In the wonderful Laocoön Cabinet, where the first part of our tour ends, we find the famous Group of Laocoön and his sons, assaulted by serpents, which seems to have inspired one of the most famous episodes of Virgil's Aeneid. The sculpture is an original work by three rhodians sculptors of 1st century BC - Agesander, Athenodoros, and Parkes - and it was found in 1506 at the Esquilino.

Read the second part of the article.

Author: Luisanna Vespa