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The History of the Pinacoteca (Picture Gallery)

If you’re planning a trip to Vatican City, a visit to the famous Pinacoteca is obligatory – especially if you’re an art buff! Offering a glimpse of the works of some of the most famous Italian painters – from the middle ages to the Renaissance – the Pinacoteca offers a stunning window into the impact Italian art had on the world of art, beauty, and culture for centuries. But what do we know about the Pinacoteca, and what can you expect when you visit? Let’s take a look!


What is the Pinacoteca?

The Pinacoteca, also known as the Pinacoteca Vaticana, is the Vatican’s art gallery, and it’s a vital part of the Vatican Museums. Established by Pope Pius XI in 1932, the Pinacoteca houses an impressive collection of paintings and other works, and is a popular site for visitors to the Italian capital.

The collection in the Pinacoteca is organised chronologically and spans from the Middle Ages to the 1800s, comprising works by many famed Italian artists, such as Giotto, Fra Angelico, Raphael, Caravaggio, and Leonardo da Vinci, as well as one of the gallery’s most notable pieces, Raphael’s “Transfiguration”. The Pinacoteca is housed in a purpose-built, 18-room building, and each room is dedicated to a different era or theme, allowing visitors to take a journey through the development of Italian painting.


What is the history of the Pinacoteca?

The history of the Pinacoteca, or the Vatican’s art gallery, dates back to the early 19th century. The establishment of the gallery can be attributed to Pope Pius VII, who had the vision to bring together and preserve the vast collection of paintings owned by the Vatican.

Pope Pius VII initially intended to create a separate building specifically for the display of these artworks, however, due to various challenges and limitations, his plans did not come to fruition during his lifetime. It was not until the reign of Pope Pius XI in the early 20th century that the dream of a dedicated art gallery within the Vatican was realized. In 1932, Pope Pius XI officially inaugurated the Pinacoteca Vaticana, providing a permanent space for the display and preservation of the Vatican’s impressive collection of paintings.


What to expect at the Pinacoteca

When visiting the Vatican Pinacoteca, you can expect to be immersed in a world of artistic wonders spanning centuries; there’s so much to see that you have to take your time or you’ll miss an important fresco or portrait! And if you want a tip, visit the Pinacoteca with one of our private tours in Vatican City – our knowledgeable tour guides will be able to guide you through the gallery while providing detailed stories and facts about each art piece, while also answering unlimited questions.

Among the many remarkable works, here are some highlights that you shouldn’t miss:

Fra Angelico, The Virgin and the Child Enthroned

Fra Angelico’s masterpiece, The Virgin and the Child Enthroned, is a serene depiction of the Madonna playing with her child, and one of the most popular pieces for tourists within the gallery. The delicate colors, gentle expressions, and intricate details convey a sense of divine grace and maternal tenderness, and help explain why Fra Angelico was once known as the “Angelic Painter” during the 14th century. An unmissable Renaissance piece, you don’t want to miss this when you visit the Pinacoteca.


Giotto, Stefaneschi Polyptych

Giotto’s Stefaneschi Polyptych is a magnificent altarpiece that showcases his innovative approach to composition, as well as use of vibrant colors. One of the most important artworks of the 14th century, Giotto’s piece is one of the oldest in the Vatican gallery, so make sure you get a glimpse of it during your visit.


Melozza de Forli, Sixtus IV Founding the Vatican Library

Melozzo de Forli’s masterpiece, Sixtus IV Founding the Vatican Library, adorns the walls of the Pinacoteca, and is as much a stunning historical artifact as it is a beautiful fresco. With a glimpse of all the major figures who headed Italy near the end of the 15th century, the composition celebrates the establishment of the Vatican Library, reflecting the intellectual and cultural legacy of the Vatican.

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