Pio Clementino Museum of the Vatican

Museums and Galleries

The Pio Clementino Museum, also known as Pio Clementino (Museo Pio Clementino) as part of the Vatican Museums, is one of the most famous and oldest museums in the world dedicated to ancient sculpture. The exposition presents the most outstanding examples of ancient Roman and Greek statues, as well as busts of emperors and deities, sarcophagi, antique masks, floor mosaics.

Pio Clementino Museum - a brief history

The core of the collection of the future museum was laid by Pope Julius II, a well-known Renaissance figure and patron of the arts. Having ascended the throne of St. Peter, he transferred the sculptures from his personal collection to the square courtyard of the Belvedere Palace - it is from this courtyard that the history of the Vatican Museums (which are considered the second oldest museum in the world after the Capitoline Museums) begins.

In the 18th century, the number of exhibits increased significantly. The Pio Clementino Museum in the Vatican was created primarily to be a repository for the numerous finds that were discovered during excavations in those years. Donations from wealthy families and acquisitions from private collectors and antique dealers also served as a source of replenishment of the collection.

The Pio-Clementino Museum got its name from the names of the two Popes who oversaw its creation - Clement 14 and Pius 6. In 1771, Pope Clement 14 founded a museum where antique finds were collected. His successor on the throne of St. Peter, Pius 6, continued to replenish the collection and equip the Belvedere Palace for the needs of the museum, entrusting the design of new rooms that would favorably set off the most outstanding masterpieces, the architect Michelangelo Simonetti.

Pope Clement XIV
Pope Clement 14.
Pius VI
Pope Pius 6.

Michelangelo Simonetti was given a rather difficult task - to create a museum. The difficulty was that no architect before Simonetti set out to build a museum, a museum space. Designing the galleries and rooms for the Belvedere Palace, Michelangelo Simonetti was inspired by classical Greek and Roman architecture. The most striking example of this is the Rotunda Hall as a mini-copy of the Pantheon.

Staircase simonetti
Monumental staircase designed by Simonetti / Scala Simonetti.

Belvedere means an extension, a small house or even a whole palace, which is located on a hill and allows you to view the surroundings. The building, which offers beautiful views of Rome, was built under Pope Innocent 8 in 1487 and was later connected by Donato Bramante with the Apostolic Palace and the Sistine Chapel, forming a single space.

When Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere became Pope Julius II in 2, he moved his personal collection of statues to the courtyard of the Belvedere. Some of the statues subsequently received nicknames due to their location - Apollo Belvedere and Belvedere Torso.

View from the windows of the Belvedere
View from the windows of the Belvedere.

What to see in the museum

The museum is quite large and consists of several galleries and halls.

Square Entrance Hall, Round Entrance Hall and Apoxyomen's Study

The visit to the museum starts from the Square lobby. On top of the arch, you can see the inscription in Latin Musevm Clementinvm - in honor of Pope Clement 14, who founded the museum. The ceiling is decorated with frescoes by Michelangelo's protege Daniele da Volterra. The square vestibule is followed by the round vestibule, in the center of which is a bowl of pavonacetto marble with purple veins.

Square lobby Pio Clementino Museum

Round lobby Pio Clementino Museum

In the Cabinet of Apoxyomenes is a Roman copy of the Greek bronze statue of Lysippus, one of the greatest Greek sculptors of the classical period. The statue, discovered during excavations in Trastevere, depicts a traditional Greek sculpture athlete in a characteristic action. Before the competition, athletes abundantly lubricated the body with oil, and after that they cleaned the adhering sand from the body with a small curved scraper (Roman shearer).

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The Apoxyomenus statue is considered one of the first 3-D statues, which could be viewed not only frontally, but also from all sides (the principle of "rotation").

Roman copy of the statue of Lysippus
Roman copy of the bronze statue of Lysippus.

Octogonal Courtyard / Cortile Ottagono

From this courtyard in the Belvedere Palace, the history of not only the Pio-Clementino Museum, but also the Vatican Museums as a whole begins, since it was here in 1506 that Pope Julius II placed sculptures from his personal collection. Further, each subsequent pontiff considered it his duty to replenish the Vatican collection, acquiring new masterpieces.

Initially, the yard served as a mini-garden and had a square shape. In the 18th century, after it was decided to create a museum, the courtyard was rebuilt according to the design of the architect Michelangelo Simonetti into an octagon with niches and arcades to protect the sculptures from the weather and increase the exhibition area. The most valuable exhibits are installed in niches called "cabinets". In addition to sculptures, in the Octagonal Court you can see ancient theatrical masks, bas-reliefs and richly decorated sarcophagi.

Octogonal Courtyard, Pio Clementino Museum
Octogonal (octagonal) courtyard, Pio Clementino Museum.
  • Laocoön and His Sons, one of the most important works of art that is kept in the Vatican, is considered the first example of the image of agony in Western culture. This marble copy of a bronze original, which has not survived to this day, was found in 1506 in the ruins of Domus Aurea (Golden Palace of Emperor Nero) and almost immediately acquired by Pope Julius 2, impressed by its expression and realism.
Laocoon and his sons
Laocoon and his sons. Pliny the Elder wrote that he saw the statue of Laocoon in the house of Emperor Titus, attributing its authorship to three sculptors from the island of Rhodes.

The life-size sculptural group depicts the Trojan priest Laocoon and his sons in mortal combat, compressed and almost strangled by sea snakes. Laocoon was punished by Athena for trying to go against the will of the gods and uncover the trap hidden in the Trojan horse. The hero of the Trojan War Aeneas listened to the words of the unfortunate priest and fled from Troy, heading towards the Apennine Peninsula. For Rome, this had far-reaching consequences, since, according to legend, Aeneas was one of the progenitors of Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome.

  • Apollo Belvedere is a marble Roman copy of a bronze statue of the Greek sculptor Leochar. The statue was found in the villa of Nero at the end of the 15th century in Antia (modern Anzio) near Rome and entered the collection of Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere (the future Pope Julius 2).
Apollo Belvedere
Apollo Belvedere, mid 2nd century AD Roman copy of a bronze statue by the Greek sculptor Leocharus.

After the cardinal ascended the throne of St. Peter, taking the name of Julius II, he transferred the statue to the Vatican, in the courtyard of the Belvedere Palace (hence the nickname of the statue).

The sun god Apollo, who existed in both Greek and Roman mythology, is represented here as an archer who has just fired an arrow. Apollo's face is calm, and the pose is relaxed and laid-back. The sculpture depicts a perfect male body - the body of God without a single flaw.

The statue of Apollo was the first work in the Vatican's collection of works of art before the museums themselves and one of the most famous examples of Greek sculpture, replicated in many copies around the world.

  • The statue of Divinità fluviale (Arno) depicts the deity of the Tuscan Arno River in a characteristic reclining position. It is mounted on a sarcophagus decorated with an elaborate bas-relief with a battle scene between Greeks and Amazons.
Statue of Fume (Arno)
Statue of the deity of the river Arno. Roman copy (2nd century AD) of a Greek original from the Hellenistic era.
  • Perseus Triumphant by the great neoclassical sculptor Antonio Canova is the first modern statue to be exhibited in the Vatican Museums. The hero of Ancient Greece is depicted by Canova at the moment of triumph, with the head of the Gorgon Medusa defeated by him. Pope Pius 7 liked the statue so much that he placed it on the pedestal of Apollo Belvedere (which inspired Canova when creating his Perseus), which was taken to France at that time.
  • In contrast with Perseus, with his ideal body of God, the rude statues of fist fighters look left and right. Canova was inspired by the story told by the Greek traveler Pausanias. The statues depict boxers Krevg and Damoxen, who fought on equal terms for a long time, until Damoxen used the forbidden trick, hitting Krevg in the stomach and pulling the insides out. The judge was so impressed by what happened that he disqualified Damoxen, and Krevg awarded the victory (admittedly, posthumously).
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Perseus Triumphant Antonio Canova
Center: Perseus the Triumphant (1797-1801). Left and right: Crewg and Demoxenus (1796-1801).

Gallery of Statues and Hall of Busts / Galleria delle Statue e Sala dei Busti

When the creation of a museum began in the Belvedere Palace, Pope Clement 14 instructed to rebuild the open loggia that existed in the palace so that priceless exhibits could be placed in it without damage. Here we meet statues of Jupiter, Apollo, Minerva, Mercury, Aesculapius - various gods of Olympus and heroes of ancient mythology. These are all Roman copies of Greek originals. Also, at one end of the gallery, a separate hall was created, where there are busts of Roman emperors and gods.

Statue Gallery Pio Clementino Museum
In the center in a red niche: Jupiter Verospi, late 3rd-early 4th c. AD The statue was nicknamed Verospi because it was previously kept in the Verospi Palace. This is a copy of the cult statue of Capitoline Jupiter, which was made of gold and ivory (it has not survived to this day).

At the other end of the gallery in the center in the red niche is “Sleeping Ariadne”, a sculpture that depicts a young woman who fell asleep on a stone in a reclining position. Because of the snake-like bracelet on her forearm, it was believed that this was a sculptural image of Cleopatra, who committed suicide by allowing the snake to bite herself. But later, art historians were inclined to the version that before us is Ariadne, the daughter of King Minos. Ariadne helped Theseus get out of the labyrinth of the Minotaur, giving him a ball of thread. But the ungrateful Theseus left her in Cyprus, where Ariadne, according to one version of the myth, consoled herself in marriage with the god of winemaking Dionysus.

Sleeping Ariadne Pio Clementino Museum

Hall Rotunda / Sala Rotonda

When designing this hall, Michelangelo Simonetti, who pioneered as the world's first museum architect, was inspired by the legendary Pantheon, the ancient Roman temple of all the gods. Just like in the Pantheon, the Rotunda Hall has a spherical roof with an oculus (hole) in the middle and niches along the perimeter, in which statues and busts of gods and emperors elevated to the rank of gods are installed (for example, the statue of Emperor Claudius, presented as the supreme Roman deity Jupiter).

Antinous Brasky and the Emperor Claudius as Jupiter of the Capitoline
Left: a statue of Antinous, the beloved emperor Hadrian, who was deified after his death. The statue was exhibited in the Palazzo Braschi, from where it got its name - Antina Braschi. It is considered one of the classic images of a beautiful and perfect antique young man. Right: statue of the emperor Claudius in the image of Jupiter the Capitoline.

In the center is a giant bowl of porphyry (a volcanic rock that was mined in Egypt) that served as a bathtub for Emperor Nero in his Golden House. Bowl diameter - 13 m.

The word "porphyry" comes from the Greek word for purple, and in ancient Rome, purple was considered the imperial color. Therefore, if you see some object from this material, it means that the person for whom the object was made was either an emperor or a member of the imperial family.

Rotunda hall
Hall of the Rotunda and Nero's porphyry bowl.
Rotunda oculus ceiling
The ceiling of the Rotunda Hall with an oculus.

The most valuable exhibit in the Rotunda Hall is a statue of Hercules made of gilded bronze, the only gilded statue preserved from the time of Antiquity. The statue was discovered in 1864 in the area where the Pompey Theater was previously located, therefore, to distinguish it from other Hercules, it is called the Hercules of the Pompeii Theater.

The statue of Hercules, struck by lightning, was ritually buried and buried with the sacrificial lamb, which ultimately helped to preserve it to this day, since bronze was often remelted for other purposes.

Hercules Statue in the Rotunda Hall, Pio Clementino Museum
The statue of Hercules in the Rotunda room, a Roman copy of a Greek original, dates from the end of the 1st century BC. AD before the beginning of the 3rd c. AD

Also pay attention to the floor, which is decorated with a skillful mosaic of the 2nd century, transferred to the Vatican from one of the ancient Roman villas.

Floor mosaic in the Rotunda hall, Pio Clementino Museum
Mosaic (3rd century AD), transported from a villa in Umbria.

Hall of the Greek Cross / Sala a Croce Greca

The hall was named in its form - an equilateral Greek cross. Michelangelo Simonetti decorated it in the Egyptian style, placing here the sphinxes and statues of the Atlanteans-Egyptians. In the hall are porphyry sarcophagi (remember that only the most distinguished persons were honored with porphyry) of St. Helena of the Equal-to-the-Apostles, mother of the first Christian emperor Constantine and an active distributor of Christianity, and his daughter Constance.

The sarcophagus of St. Helena is decorated with a bas-relief depicting the victory of Roman soldiers over barbarians. It is believed that the sarcophagus could be intended for the emperor himself, but after the death of his mother, he decided to transfer both his tomb and this incredible sarcophagus for her solemn burial.

Sarcophagus of St. Helena
Sarcophagus of St. Helena.

The magnificent ancient Roman mosaic depicting Athena Pallas, the goddess of wisdom, which was transferred to the Vatican Museums from one of the villas in the Tusculum region, admires with its colors.

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Hall of the Greek Cross
Hall of the Greek Cross. Mosaic on the floor: middle of the 1st c. AD

Animal Hall / Sala degli Animali

As the name implies, marble statues of wild and domestic animals are exhibited in the hall (among the exhibits there is even a crab made of rare green porphyry), as well as such fantastic creatures as the centaur, griffin and minotaur. Only about 150 sculptures depicting animals, which is considered the largest sculptural collection on this subject.

Vatican Animal Hall
In the center in a niche: a statue of the hunter Meleager, who defeated the monstrous Caledonian boar, sent by the goddess Artemis as punishment.

Animal Hall - Lion

Animals are depicted not only in static, but also in motion: they run away, eat, hunt. The collection includes both sculptures of the ancient period and neoclassical sculptures created in the 18th century. On behalf of Pope Pius 6, the sculptor Francesco Antonio Franzoni creates copies of Roman and Greek sculptures, some of the others are assembled from fragments of the ancient period.

The slaughter of the bull by the god Mithra
Sculptural group depicting the slaughter of a bull by the god Mithra. According to the ideas of Mithraism, when a bull dies, spewing a seed (and the phallus of a bull is bitten off by a scorpion), a grain that gives bread grows from its brain, and a vine grows from blood.

Chariot Hall / Sala della Biga

The hall was named after the marble chariot stored in it, drawn by two horses. The sculptor Francesco Antonio Franzoni, already familiar to us from the Animal Hall, recreated the chariot, and at his disposal was only part of the horse and a small part of the chariot, preserved from ancient originals. Everything else was meticulously recreated by him.

Chariot Hall
Marble chariot, 1st century AD
Chariot Hall, Pio Clementino Museum
Marble Roman copy of the "Discobolus" after the Greek original of Myron (5th century BC), found in Hadrian's villa in Tivoli.

Hall of muses / Sala delle Muse

In the Hall of the Muses there are statues of muses and poets - Roman copies of Greek originals, mostly finds from the villa of Cassius in Tivoli. We see busts of Homer, Euripides, Plato and statues of 9 muses. Some of them did not originally depict goddesses, but were restored in the 18th century in accordance with the concept of the hall. The union of muses and poets is called upon to demonstrate the divine nature of art.

Vatican Muses Hall
Hall of Muses, architect Michelangelo Simonetti.
Muses Vatican Hall
“Scenes and Characters of Greek Mythology,” Tommaso Konka.
  • The famous Belvedere Torso (Torso del Belvedere) is located in the center of the Hall of the Muses, so that it can be viewed from all sides. This is an original by the Athenian sculptor Apollonius, dating from the 2st century BC. Little remains of the statue, but it was enough to inspire painters and sculptors since the Renaissance. Traditionally, the figure has been identified as Hercules, but a later version states that it is Ajax in an act of suicide. Michelangelo especially admired the torso, who called himself a "student of the torso" and used it as a source of inspiration in his works, including when painting the Sistine Chapel. Legend has it that Pope Julius II asked Michelangelo to return the legs and arms to the statue, but he respectfully refused, saying that the statue was too beautiful to spoil with additions.
Hercules Torso in the Muse Hall Pio Clementino Museum
Belvedere torso (1st century BC, presumably by the sculptor Apollonius of Athens).
Fresco fragment The Last Judgment of the Sistine Chapel
Fragment of the Last Judgment fresco (Sistine Chapel). In the figures of Christ and St. Bartholomew (on the right), the influence of the Belvedere torso on the work of Michelangelo is especially felt.

Cabinet of masks / Gabinetto delle Maschere

The name of this small room, rebuilt by Michelangelo Simonetti, was given by the mosaic found in the Villa Adriana, with images of antique theater masks. Typically, the Cabinet of masks is closed for visiting, it is one of the hidden gems of the Vatican, which you can see with your own eyes only as part of a special tour, which also includes a visit to the original Bramante stairs and the Niccolin chapel with frescoes by Fra Beato Angelico.

Bust of Pope Pius VI
The bust of Pope Pius 6, one of the creators of the Vatican Museums, meets at the entrance to the Cabinet of Masks.
Mosaic from the Villa Adriana, 1st century BC.
Mosaic from Hadrian's Villa, 1st century BC

This hall turned out to be “female” due to the abundance of female sculptures. Particularly noteworthy are Aphrodite of Cnidus, one of the best copies from the original Praxiteles, and the famous Three Graces, a popular antique motif picked up by artists in the Renaissance (for example, Sandro Botticelli and Rafael Santi depicted graces in their paintings).

Cabinet of masks Pio Clementino Museum
Left: the sculptural group “Three Graces”, a Roman copy from the Greek original. In the center: Aphrodite of Cnidus. Right in the niche: "Bathing Aphrodite."

Courtyard Belvedere / Cortile del Belvedere

The Belvedere courtyard, which today has a parking lot for those who come to work in the Vatican, is clearly visible from the palace windows. The courtyard was designed by Donato Bramante (one of the architects of St. Peter's Basilica) in 1506 to connect the Belvedere Palace with the Apostolic Palace and the Sistine Chapel.

Courtyard Belvedere Museum Pio Clementino
Yard Belvedere.

Tourist information

The Pio Clementino Museum is open during the opening hours of the Vatican Museums - from 9 in the morning until 18.00 (last entrance to 16.00), all days of the week, except Sunday and religious holidays. Also from April to October, the museum is open extra time on Friday from 19.00 to 23.00.

In time, a visit to the Pio Clementino Museum takes from 20 to 40 minutes.

Address: Italy, Viale Vaticano