The Vatican Museums’ massive door set in the foreboding ninth-century walls slowly creaks opens – from inside. A guard, jangling arguably the world’s most precious keys, quickly ushers inside the Italy with Us guide and your small group. No one else. Period. Tonight is your Night at the Museum during which ancient statues and Old Masters’ frescoes will come to life for only your viewing pleasure.
Every day an average of 35,000 people traipse through these museums. On this VIP tour created by Italy with Us, you’ll hear only your footsteps on the mosaic-covered and marble floors and your guide’s dulcet tones. Italy with Us’ guides are never didactic, more like the marriage of a favorite professor and a charming cocktail party guest.
You’ll start big with the spectacular classical statuary collection. The Round Hall, inspired by the Pantheon, is the perfect stage for the extremely rare, gilded-bronze Heracles from the Roman-era. In another niche, the colossal, second-century AD Braschi Antinous dominates. The young Egyptian was supposedly Emperor Hadrian’s lover but drowned in the Nile and the ruler declared him a god. Just one of many works with histories that are, let’s say, the stuff of long confessional sessions.
Without elbowing crowds, ponder the perfectly proportional Belvedere Torso that has inspired countless artist. In fact, Michelangelo based his figure of Christ in the Last Judgment on this first-century BC Greek sculpture. Admire the elegant Belvedere Apollo and the Laocoön, all rippled muscles and strain, proving that marble really can move.
Stroll through the Gallery of Tapestries where the 500-year-old masterpieces hanging on the walls look like paintings. That’s due to the illustrious designers, the school of Raphael, and masterful Belgian weavers. Yet the Vatican Museums’ collection is far more than the art on walls. The rooms themselves are historically and artistically significant. Need we say more than the Sistine Chapel and Raphael’s Rooms?
In the latter, step back into the early 16th century. Visit Pope Julius II’s private office to admire the frescoes recently completed by a young Raphael who was working at the same time as Michelangelo on the Sistine Chapel. Both artists even make cameo appearances in Raphael’s iconic School of Athens fresco of philosophers.
Such an unprecedented visit can only be topped by the magnificent Sistine Chapel. In peace and quiet, gaze at the chapel’s splendors. More than 100 cardinals gather here to select a new pope; you’ll have a fraction of that number. Select the spot of your choice for studying Michelangelo’s ceiling begun in 1508. A painting novice who much preferred sculpting, he infused nine scenes from the book of Genesis with extraordinary life. Two decades later, he created his controversial Last Judgment above the altar. You won’t be able to tear your eyes away from the saints and sinners rising or falling to their destinies.
The Sistine Chapel must be seen in person to fully appreciate its breathtaking beauty. When the chapel and the museums are visited with just a few people, it becomes a truly magical, once-in-a-lifetime experience. As if you were pope for the night.