Since I spent last post throwing all of the shade at the Vatican Museum, before I get into the rest of the glories of Rome’s many, many museums, I thought I would offer a few alternatives. Sure, the Sistine Ceiling is pretty singular, and Raphael’s Stanze are awfully special. BUT there are a few places throughout the city which offer near as makes no difference awesome art without all the unpleasantness of the Vatican. Meaning no lines, no crowds, and the possibility of quiet appreciation of the art, rather than hurried, jostled disappointment. (note: all images in this post come from wikipedia)
1. Instead of the Sistine Chapel, visit the Triumph of the Barberini at the Palazzo Barberini!
Painted by the incomparable Pietro da Cortona at the height of baroque Rome, the Triumph of the Barberini ceiling painting is the centerpiece of the Palazzo Barberini museum. Dramatic figures, fictive architecture and best of all? Every time I’ve been, I’ve stood in this giant space all by myself. AND there’s a little couch to lay on so you can look up at the ceiling comfortably. Win, win, win, win, win. Plus, the Palazzo Barberini has an insane Borromoini oval spiral staircase and it’s about a two minute walk from the Barberini metro stop (the Palazzo is in fact why the metro is called Barberini). So good, so good.
2. Instead of the Raphael Stanze, visit the Villa Farnesina!
The Stanze are nice, fancy, allegorical. The interior paintings of the Farnesina are nice, fancy, and allegorical. On the ground floor are some major paintings by Raphael, but there are also frescoes by other super cool Roman artists like Sebastiano del Piombo, Giuliano Romano, and Baldassare Peruzzi. And again, you can have these paintings all to yourself! The Villa Farnesina is also located in the ever-popular Trastevere neighborhood, so you can grab a drink at Bar San Callisto afterwards, which is a pretty righteous way to spend a morning.
3. Instead of the Vatican’s ancient collections, visit any one of the city’s National museums!
While the Laocoön is hard to top in terms of sheer drama, the city’s National Museums have enough sculptures with enough histrionics to make you never miss it. I’m going to review these places more thoroughly through the rest of Roman Museum Month part three with a Vengeance Return of the Jedi, but for a preview: How about the Suicidal Gaul at the Palazzo Altemps? Or the Sleeping Hermaphrodite at the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme?
4. Instead of the Pinacoteca, visit the Galleria Borghese!
While the Galleria Borghese is most famous for the insane Bernini sculptures there (which I’ll talk about in more detail in its own post), they actually have a way incredible painting collection, which includes Raphaels, Caravaggios, Titians, Correggios, and Bellinis that easily compete with what is found in the Vatican Pinacoteca. And while the Galleria Borghese is pretty popular in its own right, because they have a rigid ticketing system and only allow a certain number of visitors in at a time, it’s a million times more pleasant to ogle Caravaggios there than at the Vatican (though to be honest the Pinacoteca– because a lot of visitors skip it– is probably the least crowded space in the whole complex).
5. Instead of appreciating the Vatican’s architecture, visit the Palazzo Venezia, or the Bramante cloister at Santa Maria delle Pace instead!
I know, I know. Few people are going to the Vatican Museums for the architecture. But just in case you do want to appreciate some 15th c, early 16th c architecture (Raphael’s Stanze for instance are in rooms that were built in the 1450s–generally referred to as the Nicholas V addition–and the big main courtyard is partly by Bramante), the Palazzo Venezia, which is the backdrop to the Vittoriano is a good alternative. Built at the same time and with many of the same architectural principles as the Nick V addition, the Palazzo Venezia is good for the architecture, but also has its own little museum collection. While the cloister at Santa Maria delle Pace (which is about two steps away from Piazza Navona) is part of a great exhibition space that frequently has solid old master exhibitions AND a great cafeteria. Enjoy your lunch in a Bramante courtyard. C’mon, it’s fun!
So, there are only a few of the possible alternatives to visiting the Vatican Museum. None of them are crowded, all of them are lovely, and they generally make me WAY less crazy.