Rome Museums

Top 15 museums and art centers of Rome.

Top 15 museums and art centers in Rome

To go around all the museums of Rome, probably not enough, a few years. The main thing is to start somewhere. After the standard tourist route Colosseum – Roman Forum – Pantheon and taking selfies against the Trevi Fountain, you can explore the treasures hidden behind the walls of the majestic palazzos and, of course, the Vatican. Especially nice to take shelter in the cozy museum halls from the bad weather or, conversely, the searing Italian sun. ARTANDHOUSES compiled our guide to the most famous museums of Rome, highlighting the attractions of the Eternal City that can’t be missed.

Vatican Museums / Musei Vaticani

On the Vatican Museums could write a separate guide – there are twenty-nine. Within the Vatican City, the art occupies the entire seven kilometers, and it would take at least a month to explore them thoroughly. Five million people annually storm the museums and galleries of the papal residence, wanting to see the main treasures of the Vatican – the Sistine Chapel and the Stans. The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel was painted by Michelangelo, and the Stantza – the four rooms – were painted by Raphael and his students, the main masterpiece here is the School of Athens. Vatican Pinacoteca with paintings by Giotto, Raphael, Caravaggio, Fra Angelico, Perugino and other Renaissance geniuses is also a must-see.

Capitol Museums / Musei Capitolini

The Capitoline Museum, which opened in 1471, is the first public museum in the world. Today the Capitoline Square, designed by Michelangelo, is home to three museum buildings – the Senatorial Palace, the Palazzo Conservatorio and the New Palace. At the heart of the collection is the antique bronze collection of Pope Sixtus IV. It has been a tradition ever since – you have to come to the Capitol to see the sculpture. The most famous exhibit of the museum is the remains of a giant sculpture of Emperor Constantine – the head alone is 2.5 meters high. The feet and hands of the 12-meter-long colossus are preserved; together they look like a surrealistic installation. The interiors of the palaces themselves are a model of luxury, with murals depicting historical events and mythological subjects. One of the most beloved by the public is the 1st century B.C. statue of a boy taking out a splinter.

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Galleria Borghese

The Galleria Borghese was founded by Cardinal Scipione Borghese, a great lover and collector of art and also a tax collector. Thanks to his position, the cardinal was able to confiscate and buy up works of art for next to nothing. Borghese was a great admirer of the talents of Caravaggio and Lorenzo Bernini, and these are the masters best represented in the gallery. Here you can see “The Sick Bacchus” and “Boy with a Basket of Fruit” by Caravaggio, the sculpture “Apollo and Daphne” by Bernini, but also other Renaissance masterpieces – “Lady with the Unicorn” by Raphael, “Venus and Cupid” by Lucas Cranach the Elder, as well as paintings by Rubens, Giovanni Bellini, Vittore Carpaccio and many Mannerists.

Villa Farnesina

Villa Farnesina is an example of palatial luxury with paintings by Raphael. The villa originally belonged to the banker Agostino Chigi, who was a creditor to two popes. Raphael painted the walls of several rooms – the Triumph of Galatea in the first hall and the frescoes in the loggia of Cupid and Psyche. The fruit and flowers, painted very realistically by the artist, seemed an extension of the garden where the loggia overlooked. One of the walls depicts the head of a young man, according to legend painted by Michelangelo himself, who had visited Raphael, but had not caught him. The gallery’s most notable art object is a huge gold bed trimmed with precious stones and ivory, which was thought to have cost more than the entire palazzo.

Galleria Doria-Pamphilj

This gallery, which belonged to an aristocratic family, contains Italian paintings from the 17th century. One of the highlights is a portrait by Velázquez of Pope Innocent X from the Pamphili clan. The furnishings of the rich house, with candelabras, mirrors and gilding everywhere, deserve special attention. There are also Caravaggio’s Magdalene of Penance and Rest on the Way to Egypt, four paintings by Titian, Raphael’s Double Portrait and many landscapes by Claude Lorrain. Here one can also see a bust of Olimpia Maidalchini-Pamphili, who is said to have ruled in place of Pope Innocent X.

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Montemartini Power Plant / Centrale Montemartini

The former power plant houses the Archaeological Museum. Montemartini has an interesting combination of archaeological exhibits and industrial architecture. The idea to have a museum in the power plant built in 1912 came about when the Capitol Museums were under renovation and part of the collection was temporarily moved here. The combination proved so extraordinary that a museum was opened in Montemartini in 1997. Sculptures from the Roman Republic, archaeological finds and mosaics from the imperial gardens were placed among the factory interiors with machine tools.

Palazzo Altemps / Palazzo Altemps

Palazzo Altemps houses the antique sculpture collection of the Museum of Roman Ancient Art. The museum combined three collections – Cardinal Altemps himself, a passionate collector of art, and the Princes Mattei and Ludovisi. The latter built their palace on the site of the former villa of Caesar and then of Sallustius and became the owners of the most valuable collection of ancient art. From there the main masterpiece is the Ludovisi Throne, a marble block from the 5th century B.C. with reliefs depicting Aphrodite emerging from the foam of the sea.

Palazzo Barberini

Palazzo Barberini houses the National Gallery of Ancient Art. Here architecture rivals painting in importance. The palace was built for Pope Urban VIII, née Barberini. The palace was built by three great architects – Carlo Maderna, Francesco Borromini and Lorenzo Bernini. The two staircases demonstrate the talents of the two rivals – Borromini’s staircase curls in a spiral snail, and Bernini’s staircase goes into perspective in squares. Among the masterpieces of the gallery are Caravaggio’s Judith and Holofernes, El Greco’s The Adoration of the Shepherds, Raphael’s Fornarina and Titian’s Venus and Adonis. But in general the level of painting here is very high.

Palazzo Massimo / Palazzo Massimo alle Termi

The Palazzo Massimo houses the Museum of Ancient Art. The most interesting things here are the ancient Roman mosaics with hippos, crocodiles and cuttlefish, as well as authentic Roman frescoes. The main space is occupied by the collection of sculptures, and the most famous among them is Fist Fighter, found during excavations of the Quirinale. In the basement of the palazzo is the underground dining room from the home of Livia, wife of Emperor Augustus, whose walls are painted in the form of a garden of Eden.

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Galleria Spada

The small gallery is located in the palace of Cardinal Spada. It houses a nice collection of Italian paintings where Titian, Guido Reni and Guercino are found. But the main attraction of the palace is the Perspective Gallery, built by the architect Borromini. It is a unique architectural trickery on which the Baroque genius was master. It seems that you see a long gallery, which is actually only 8 meters long. And all because the floor slightly goes up and the ceiling goes down. The interior, including murals, furniture and Murano glass chandeliers, is also noteworthy.

Galleria Corsini

Galleria Corsini is another gallery belonging to a wealthy Roman family. The grand staircase decorated with antique sculptures leads to halls with antique furniture and paintings. The palace was built by Cardinal Neri Cosini, nephew of Pope Clement XII, in the 18th century. It houses a fine collection of Italian paintings from the Early Renaissance to the end of the 18th century. Highlights include Fra Angelico’s The Last Judgment, Ascension and Pentecost and Caravaggio’s John the Baptist in the Desert. There are also sweet, sentimental paintings by Guercino and Guido Reni.

Villa Giulia

Villa Giulia was named after Pope Julius III and served as residence for the pontiffs. The National Etruscan Museum in Villa Giulia houses the best collection of Etruscan art in the world. Belonging to one of the oldest civilizations, the people created art, on which, as on the foundation, stands the art of Rome. One floor of the museum is occupied by objects from Etruscan necropolises – sarcophagi, statuettes, urns. There are even reconstructions of Etruscan cities. In addition, Villa Giulia houses famous Etruscan terracotta sculptures, including a statue of Apollo, as well as a terracotta sarcophagus of a couple from the necropolis of Banditaccia, 6th century B.C. and, of course, vases and jewelry.

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MAXXI / Museo Nazionali delle Arti del XXI Secolo

Rome’s Museum of Modern Art was built by Zaha Hadid. Living up to its name, the museum covers an area of 27,000 square meters. The grandiose building, consisting of two buildings, MAXXI Art and MAXXI Architecture, cost a total of €150 million for the treasury. The museum is a real work of modern art, which is worth a visit, just to see the dizzying architectural perspectives. True, the Romans themselves wryly nicknamed MAXXI “macaroni” for tortuosity. Its permanent collection includes contemporary Italian art of XX and XXI centuries. By the way, the exhibition has recently been renewed. Temporary exhibitions are also taking place.

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The gallery has the largest collection of art from the 19th and 20th centuries. There are more than 1,000 works in 55 rooms. A large part is taken up by Italian art of the 19th century, which has long gone out of fashion, but today it may be worth reconsidering its merits. The strong point of the collection is Italian art of the 20th century, when Italy made a great contribution to the world art treasury. There is a collection of Futurists, a fine selection of works by De Chirico, Amedeo Modigliani, Giorgio Morandi, Renato Guttuso, Lucio Fontana, Alberto Burri, Janis Cunnelis. International modernism is represented by works by Gustav Klimt, Auguste Rodin, Marcel Duchamp, there is even Kandinsky.

MACRO / Museo d’Arte Contemporanea di Roma

MACRO is another museum of contemporary art, but not a national one like MAXXI. A former Peroni brewery was adapted as a museum, in keeping with a trendy concept of gentrification. The remodeling project was entrusted to a Frenchwoman, Odile Deck, who created a dramatic modern space in the red and black color scheme and attached the right wing to the main building. The museum’s permanent collection includes Italian contemporary art from the 1960s onward. The museum’s second building, MACRO Testaccio, rebuilt from a former slaughterhouse, hosts temporary exhibitions.

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