What are the most famous art pieces in the Vatican City?

One of the greatest treasures of the Vatican, the Sistine Chapel provides a showcase of pristine art that makes it hard to distinguish one masterpiece from the next. 

What better place to see some of the best art this world has to offer than in the famous Vatican City? Renowned for being the central hub for ancient art, traditional culture, and the catholic church, the city is bursting with beauty. With buildings crammed full of incredible art pieces, making up over 7 kilometres of art galleries spanning across the region. But with so many pieces to see, where do you start? The countless, never-ending hallways and buildings can easily confuse you into missing out on some of the greatest pieces. Therefore, we’ve made it easier for you, listing the best of the best masterpieces that you shouldn’t miss out on!

  • Sistine Chapel’s Ceiling

    Sistine Chapel’s Ceiling

    The iconic Sistine Chapel is most likely on the top of your bucket list, but it still needs a mention. The spectacular building is one of the most well-known in the world, with its interior decoration renown worldwide. Although the outside architecture is a beauty in itself, the real winner is the frescoes decorating the walls, and most importantly the ceiling. Painted by famous artist, Michelangelo, the master of the Renaissance period. Painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel was not an easy decision for Michelangelo however. Starting in 1508, the ceiling took over 4 years to complete, becoming his greatest torment and his greatest success. You can see the incredible amount of hard work that went into the project by the intricately detailed design, depicting three hundred figures with hidden meanings for each. This ceiling’s immense beauty is well worth the crick in your neck!

  • Stefaneschi Triptych

    Stefaneschi Triptych

    Created by the medieval painter Giotto di Bondone, this triptych was done way back in 1320. Said to be the very first realistic portraits in history. It was created to serve as an altarpiece for one of the alters in the Old St. Peter’s Basilica. Photos do not do this artwork justice, with its brilliant gold, red and blue colours creating a stunning masterpiece. It was commissioned by the cardinal Jacopo Caetani Stefaneschi, whom Giotto ended up painting in, portraying him at the feet of St. Peter’s throne.

  • Laocoön and His Sons

    This is the famous statue which began the Vatican Museum. The story goes that during 1508 when a new discovery of a marble sculpture was found in a country vineyard. The current pope, Pope Julius II sent both Giuliano da Sangallo and Michelangelo Buonarroti to investigate its value, who brought it back for him. It was then put on display within the museums, and the large collection of private families and other popes’ purchases became a public display of the city’s art. This sculpture depicts three figures, the Trojan priest Laocoön and his sons Antiphantes and Thymbraeus. All being attacked by sea serpents. It is currently held at the Museo Pio-Clementino within the Vatican Museums.

  • Raphael Rooms

    Raphael Rooms

    There are four rooms within the Palace of Vatican that are some of the most famous rooms in the entire country; Raphael’s Rooms. Raphael was one of the top artists during the Renaissance period, and in 1508 he began painting a range of frescoes within the Vatican rooms, which was also the apartments of Pope Julius II. The room of Constantine, Heliodorus, Segnatura, and Fire in the Borgo-known as the Stanze of Raphael. He was a young age when first began these rooms, a mere 25 years old. However, due to the detail and effort, Raphael died an old man before even completely two of them, with his assistants continuing his work.

  • Saint Longinus

    An incredible sculpture that sits within the St. Peter’s Basilica, Saint Longinus was completed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini in 1638. Each moulded curve expresses the detail and strength of this piece as the statue towers over you. At over 4 metres high it is listed as one of the largest sculptures in the world and sits in the north-eastern niche in the crossing of St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. Many travel to the Basilica for the history and traditions, being the central hub of the Catholic Church. However, many stay here to marvel at the epic masterpieces, most particularly Saint Longinus.

  • The Entombment of Christ

    Even if you aren’t an art lover, you’ll most likely have seen this great masterpiece at least in passing. The Entombment of Christ was done by the famous Italian painter Caravaggio, who completed the work from 1603-1604. This artwork is said to be the best representations of this bible scene, illustrating the progression from life to death with light, drama, and emotion.

  • St Jerome in the Wilderness

    Leonardo da Vinci; one of the most recognisable names in history! He was a painter, architecture, engineer, and many more occupations. His painting of St Jerome in the Wilderness’ is one of his unfinished artworks, held in the Vatican Museums. It depicts Saint Jerome during his retreat to the Syrian desert, with him kneeling in a rocky landscape, gazing toward a crucifix. There is a lion, a stone, and a cardinal’s hat, which all represent the traditional attributes of the saint. Despite its incompletion, is one of the finest examples of Renaissance art ever found.

  • Belvedere Torso

    The famous fragmented marble statue of a man is an ancient piece found in the Vatican Museums of the city. The sculpture dates back to the 1st century BC and is thought to be a copy of a previous original. Many have tried to discover the figure’s identity, with Herakles as the most popular candidate on account of his bulky physique and lion skin. The sculpture only depicts a chiselled stomach, chest, and thighs, with the arms, neck, and individual’s calf being non-existence. It may seem broken to some, but it is actually a celebrated piece of art, with many famous artists inspired by it. With this piece illustrating how the ancient world shaped pre-modern art and the latter’s indebtedness to the former.

  • Annunciation

    This piece is part of a series of paintings by Raphael for the Oddi family chapel in Perugia. However, nowadays it is held in the Vatican Pinacoteca. The stunning piece showcases the moment in which the angel Gabriel announces the Incarnation of Christ to the Virgin Mary. What makes this piece so breathtaking and iconic is the perspective and symmetry of the backdrop against which the two figures emerge, being both below the fatherly look of God in the sky. The pillars within the piece cleverly use perspective to make the scene three-dimensional in a truly Renaissance way.

Related article: Top things to do at Vatican City

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