5 (less known) masterpieces at the Vatican Museums

In addition to the famous Sistine Chapel and the Rooms of Raphael, the Vatican Museums contain an incomparable collection of artworks. While it’s impossible to miss some of the rooms as they’re part of the route that takes visitors to the Sistine Chapel, there are some other collections that you might want to look for and visit if you’re an art lover and art museum enthusiast or simply on a second visit to the Vatican Museums.

1. Pinacoteca (Paintings collection): Caravaggio’s Deposition (1602-1604)

Caravaggio is one of the most extraordinary and talented Italian painter from the 1600’s. His works were truly revolutionary for his use of lights and shadows and his extreme realism. This painting was in a chapel in the church of S. Maria in Vallicella in Rome and was confiscated by the French in 1797. There is no background in the painting, simply darkness, resulting in a very dramatic effect. The body of Christ looks really dead and a very realistic Nicodemus seems to struggle holding it.

2. Braccio Nuovo – The Nile  (I-II c. AD)

Found in 1513 in central Rome, this stunning sculpture was probably located in the temple dedicated to the Egyptian deities Isis and Serapis near the Pantheon. While it’s common in Roman statuary to represent rivers gods as old, bearded men reclining, here the god is accompanied by a series of playful children that alluded to the sixteen cubits of water by which the Nile rose during its (ideal) floods.

3. Braccio Nuovo – Augustus of Primaporta (I c. AD)

The Braccio Nuovo (New Wing) is a wonderful neoclassical building in the Vatican Museums. A portrait of the first Roman emperor found in 1863 on the outskirts of Rome (Primaporta) in a Roman villa that belonged to his wife. The statue holds a strong political value: the emperor talks to his troops and wears an elaborate cuirass, whose reliefs depict a Parthian king in the act of returning to a Roman officer the standards lost in 53 B.C. during the Battle of Carrhae.

4. Etruscan Museum – Gold Etruscan fibula (VII c. BC)

The Etruscans were an ancient civilization who lived in central and northern Italy and flourished in the VII century BC. Absorbed by the Romans, they were incredible goldsmiths. This is a large golden parade brooch from the Regolini-Galassi tomb, discovered in 1836 in Cerveteri, an Etruscan site west of Rome. The skeleton of a woman was found wearing this fibula, a gold pectoral and other jewels.

5. Collection of Contemporary Art – Van Gogh’s Pietà (1890)

This small painting is a bit difficult to find (2nd room in the collection). Painted a few months before the artist’s death, it was inspired by a lithograph by Eugene Delacroix. Even if Van Gogh’s father was a pastor, this painting is unique because he rarely painted religious subjects and might have left his self-portrait in Christ’s figure. This is the only painting by Van Gogh in the Vatican Museums.

For more info on the different collections at the Vatican Museums, visit: https://m.museivaticani.va/content/museivaticani-mobile/en.html