Rome is home to dozens of museums, galleries and villas that contain priceless works of art. From the Vatican Museums and Galleria Borghese to the National Museum of Rome, there are numerous collections that are worth a visit and complement the artistic cultural heritage that you see on display outside in the city’s streets and piazzas. When in Rome, don’t miss these six galleries that house important ancient sculptures, intricately painted frescoes, arresting paintings and more.
Housing one of the most famous and extensive art collections in the world, the Vatican Museums are the uncontested most important museum to see in Rome. Laid out across hundreds of rooms, galleries and halls, the museums contain thousands of treasures ranging from antiquity to the present day, including sculptures, paintings, tapestries and frescoes. The museums date back to 1506 when Pope Julius II put an ancient sculpture, Laocoön and His Sons, on display at the Vatican. The unrivaled highlight is Michelangelo’s intricately-frescoed Sistine Chapel, a landmark of Renaissance art that illustrates the doctrine of the Catholic Church and depicts the creation of man, among other stories in the Old and News Testaments.
Nestled within the verdant Villa Borghese park, Galleria Borghese is one of Rome’s most noteworthy museums. The garden villa was commissioned in 1613 by Cardinal Scipione Borghese, an avid art collector, to house his impressive collection of Roman, Renaissance, and Baroque art. With its extraordinary Bernini sculptures and numerous paintings by Caravaggio, Raphael, and Titian the museum is a jewel that demonstrates the power of art sponsorship and reflects the personal finesse of Scipione Borghese.
Located on Rome’s Capitoline Hill, the Capitoline Museums are considered the world’s first public museum. The collection dates back to 1471 when Pope Sixtus IV donated a collection of important bronze statues to the people of Rome. The Capitoline Museums slowly grew to accommodate countless works of art and in 1734 Pope Clement XII declared that the museums be open to the public. They contain an incredible collection of ancient Roman bronze and marble statues, medieval and Renaissance art, and elaborate frescoes – not to mention one of the best views of the Roman Forum.
Rome’s National Gallery of Modern Art, founded in 1883, lies adjacent to the Villa Borghese Park and is an expansive space in the capital dedicated to modern and contemporary art. Located within the neoclassical Palace of Fine Arts, the museum’s works of art are complemented and enhanced by the building’s monumental architecture. It has the largest collection of 19th and 20th-century paintings and sculptures in Italy with numerous works by Italian artists on display, including Giacomo Balla, Giorgio de Chirico, Amedeo Modigliani and Giorgio Morandi. It also has a collection of works by international artists such as Kandinsky, Pollock, Calder and Van Gogh.
The sumptuous Galleria Doria Pamphili has a prime location on the city’s bustling Via del Corso and yet it feels like an undiscovered secret: you’d never tell this palazzo houses such regal treasures within it. The gallery contains one of the largest private art collections in Rome and includes important works by Raphael, Bernini, Caravaggio, Guercino and Domenichino. The highlight of the collection is Diego Velazquez’s Portrait of Innocent X as well as the magnificent Gallery of Mirrors, a frescoed hall with vaulted ceilings and ornate gilded mirrors.
Palazzo Massimo is one branch of the National Museum of Rome, a collection of four museums that exhibit works from pre- and early Roman history, along with numerous archeological finds unearthed in the city. Palazzo Massimo is housed within a 19th-century palazzo close to Termini Station and contains notable sculptures, including the bronze Boxer at Rest and marble statues that date back to the late Roman Republic and imperial era. The museum is famous for contained the frescoes of the Villa di Livia, depicting an exotic garden with colorful flora and fauna.