Vatican Collection of Modern Religious Art ☆☆☆

The Matisse Chapel in Room 14, Vatican Collection of Modern Religious Art, Rome, Italy (Photo courtesy of the Vatican Museums)
The Matisse Chapel in Room 14

The Vatican Museums's early and modern religious art

To many this is the least interesting part of the Vatican: 500 pieces of 20th-century religious painting and sculpture. Some of it is quite good; much of it, however, is schlock.

The bulk of it was gathered via donation by Pope Paul VI in the early 1970s in an attempt to revitalize Christianity as a theme in art.

Most interesting, in my opinion, are the Matisses.

For years, my favorite corner was the bit exhibiting several colorful ecclesiastical robes designed by Matisse during his cutouts phase.

Then, in June 2011, the Vatican took what had been a large room with little in it (other than a large, amorphous stone statue of the Madonna by Lucio Fontana, which proved too large to move so it's still there) and transformed it into the Matisse Chapel, a space for the display of Matisse's full-sized studies and designs (created from 1948 to 1952) for the Chapelle du Saint-Marie du Rosaire in the French Riviera town of Vence.

These include magnificent, 5-meter (16.5-foot) high paper cutout collages in green, yellow that served as the models for the actual chapel's stained glass windows, and the massive line drawing of a Madonna and Child the, in the chapel, is exectured as a wall sculpture of white ceramic panels. (Mary, unusually, is holding up the baby as if presenting him to the world rather than cradling him as was the artistic tradition.)

All of these works were dontated to the Vatican by the artist's son, Pierre in 1980. It just took the Vatican many years to figure out how to present the works properly (temperature and humidity must be strictly controlled to preserve the delicate paper).

There are also works by Chagall, Braque, Dalí, Kandinsky, Henry Moore, Morandi, Lipchitz, Picasso, Léger, Gauguin, Utrillo, and Van Gogh.

Photo gallery
  • The Matisse Chapel in Room 14, Vatican Collection of Modern Religious Art, Italy (Photo courtesy of the Vatican Museums)
  • Pietà (c. 1890) by Vincent van Gogh, after Eugène Delacroix, Vatican Collection of Modern Religious Art, Italy (Photo courtesy of the Vatican Museums)
  • The Christ and the Painter (1951) by Marc Chagall, Vatican Collection of Modern Religious Art, Italy (Photo courtesy of the Vatican Museums)
  • The Announcement - The Trinity (1960) by Salvador Dalì, Vatican Collection of Modern Religious Art, Italy (Photo courtesy of the Vatican Museums)
  • Study for Velazquez Pope II (1961) by Francis Bacon, Vatican Collection of Modern Religious Art, Italy (Photo courtesy of the Vatican Museums)
  • Casula Rossa by Matisse, Vatican Collection of Modern Religious Art, Italy (Photo by Renato Torii)
  • Cavaliere (1936–37) by Marino Marini, Vatican Collection of Modern Religious Art, Italy (Photo courtesy of the Vatican Museums)
  • Sketch for La Vierge à l’Enfant (1948)  in the Matisse Chapel, Vatican Collection of Modern Religious Art, Italy (Photo courtesy of the Vatican Museums)
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Tips

How long does the Collection of Modern Religious Arts take?

You end up walking though much of this en route between other parts of the Vatican.

Expect both the walking (lots of small rooms, up and down lots of stairs) and the slowing down to look at the best bits to total maybe 30–40 minutes.

How long do the Vatican Museums take?

Spend all day at the Vatican. Two days if you can swing it.

  • Even on a tight schedule, expect to spend at least 2–3 hours in the museums themselves, plus another hour St. Peter's around the corner. They're worth it.

Warning: The ticket office closes 2 hours before the museum, with the last entry at 4pm.

Book ahead

You can book Vatican entry tickets ahead of time to help avoid the lines, which can last for up to an hour or so in the summer. However, this adds a €4 fee to the already steep admission of €17. Or you can do it online via one of our partners:

Dress code?

Recently, the Vatican (or at least some guards) seems to have decided that you must dress "appropriately" to visit any part of Vatican City—including the museums—and not just St. Peter's, where a dress code has long applied.

Err on the side of caution and make sure you arrive with no bare shoulders, knees or midriffs.

That means: no shorts, no miniskirts, no sleeveless shirts or blouses, no tank-tops. Also, no hats.

(If it's hot and you want to wear a tank top around town that day, just bring a light shawl to cover your shoulders while inside.)

Also, you cannot bring into the museum any bag or backpack larger than 40cm x 35cm x 15cm (roughly 16" x 14" x 6")—there is a cloackroom where you can leave it.

» more on packing the right items for an Italy trip

Admission quirks: When the Vatican is free, closed, crowded, open late, etc.

Vatican Museum free days

The Vatican Museums are free on the last Sunday of each month, when they stay open until 2pm (last entry: 12:30pm). This, however, is no secret, so they are also intensely crowded.

On any other Sunday, however, the Vatican Museum are closed—and if that final Sunday of the month happens falls on a church holiday (see below), they also remain closed.

The Vatican is also free on Sept. 27 (World Tourism Day).

Vatican most crowded on Sun and Wed

The Vatican Museums are most crowded on Sundays (because they're free) and many Wednesdays (because in the morning St. Peter's itself is often closed for the papal audience in the piazza, so everyone who doesn't have tickets walks around the walls to kill time inside the museums, and by afternoon all the audience-goers join them).

Open late on summer Fridays

The Vatican has been experimenting with reopening the museums on Friday evenings spring through fall allowing a limited number of visitors—upon advance booking only—to wander the mooonlit galleries without the crowds.

To book: Viator.com

Vatican closed on church holidays

The Vatican Museums are closed on all church holidays: Jan. 1, Jan. 6, Feb. 11, Mar. 19, Easter Sunday and Monday, May 1, June 29 (Feast of St. Peter and Paul—major Roman holiday), Aug. 14–15 (everything is closed in Rome on Aug. 15; head to Santa Maria Maggiore for mass with a "snowfall" of rose petals), Nov. 1, Dec. 25 (Merry Christmas!), and Dec. 26 (Santo Stefano—huge in Italy).

Last entry: 4pm

Note that the Vatican Museums close surprisingly early (last entry at 4pm, doors close 6pm).

So see the Museums first, then walk around the walls to visit St. Peter's.

How to get to the Vatican Museums

Cipro-Musei Vaticani is the closest Metro stop (on the A line, about 5 blocks northwest of the entrance; just follow the crowds).

Otherwise, bus 49 stops right in front of the museum entrance (you can catch it from Piazza Cavour, or anywhere along Via Cescenzio, which starts at the northwestern tip of the piazza, near Castel Sant'Angelo).

You can also take bus 490 or 492 to Via Candia (two blocks north of the entrance), or one of many bus lines to Piazza del Risorgimento, tucked into a inside corner of the Vatican walls a short walk east of the musuems entrance: 23, 32, 81,Tram 19, 81, 492, 590, 982, and 990.

Useful Italian phrases

Useful Italian for sightseeing

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
Where is?... Dov'é doh-VAY
...the museum il museo eel moo-ZAY-yo
...the church la chiesa lah key-YAY-zah
...the cathedral il duomo [or] la cattedrale eel DUO-mo [or] lah cah-the-DRAH-leh
     
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
Closed day giorno di riposo JOR-no dee ree-PO-zo
Weekdays (Mon-Sat) feriali fair-ee-YA-lee
Sunday & holidays festivi fe-STEE-vee
     
ticket biglietto beel-YET-toh
two adults due adulti DOO-way ah-DOOL-tee
one child un bambino oon bahm-BEE-no
one student uno studente OO-noh stu-DENT-ay
one senior un pensionato oon pen-see-yo-NAH-toh

Basic phrases in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) pro-nun-see-YAY-shun
thank you grazie GRAT-tzee-yay
please per favore pair fa-VOHR-ray
yes si see
no no no
Do you speak English? Parla Inglese? PAR-la een-GLAY-zay
I don't understand Non capisco non ka-PEESK-koh
I'm sorry Mi dispiace mee dees-pee-YAT-chay
How much is it? Quanto costa? KWAN-toh COST-ah
That's too much É troppo ay TROH-po
     
Good day Buon giorno bwohn JOUR-noh
Good evening Buona sera BWOH-nah SAIR-rah
Good night Buona notte BWOH-nah NOTE-tay
Goodbye Arrivederci ah-ree-vah-DAIR-chee
Excuse me (to get attention) Scusi SKOO-zee
Excuse me (to get past someone) Permesso pair-MEH-so
     
Where is? Dov'é doh-VAY
...the bathroom il bagno eel BHAN-yoh
...train station la ferroviaria lah fair-o-vee-YAR-ree-yah
to the right à destra ah DEH-strah
to the left à sinistra ah see-NEEST-trah
straight ahead avanti [or] diritto ah-VAHN-tee [or] dee-REE-toh
information informazione in-for-ma-tzee-OH-nay

Days, months, and other calendar items in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
At what time... a che ora a kay O-rah
     
Yesterday ieri ee-YAIR-ee
Today oggi OH-jee
Tomorrow domani doh-MAHN-nee
Day after tomorrow dopo domani DOH-poh doh-MAHN-nee
     
a day un giorno oon je-YOR-no
Monday Lunedí loo-nay-DEE
Tuesday Martedí mar-tay-DEE
Wednesday Mercoledí mair-coh-lay-DEE
Thursday Giovedí jo-vay-DEE
Friday Venerdí ven-nair-DEE
Saturday Sabato SAH-baa-toh
Sunday Domenica doh-MEN-nee-ka
     
Mon-Sat Feriali fair-ee-YAHL-ee
Sun & holidays Festivi feh-STEE-vee
Daily Giornaliere joor-nahl-ee-YAIR-eh
     
a month una mese oon-ah MAY-zay
January gennaio jen-NAI-yo
February febbraio feh-BRI-yo
March marzo MAR-tzoh
April aprile ah-PREEL-ay
May maggio MAH-jee-oh
June giugno JEW-nyoh
July luglio LOO-lyoh
August agosto ah-GO-sto
September settembre set-TEM-bray
October ottobre oh-TOE-bray
November novembre no-VEM-bray
December dicembre de-CHEM-bray

Numbers in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
1 uno OO-no
2 due DOO-way
3 tre tray
4 quattro KWAH-troh
5 cinque CHEEN-kway
6 sei say
7 sette SET-tay
8 otto OH-toh
9 nove NO-vay
10 dieci dee-YAY-chee
11 undici OON-dee-chee
12 dodici DOH-dee-chee
13 tredici TRAY-dee-chee
14 quattordici kwa-TOR-dee-chee
15 quindici KWEEN-dee-chee
16 sedici SAY-dee-chee
17 diciasette dee-chee-ya-SET-tay
18 diciotto dee-CHO-toh
19 diciannove dee-chee-ya-NO-vay
20 venti VENT-tee
21* vent'uno* vent-OO-no
22* venti due* VENT-tee DOO-way
23* venti tre* VENT-tee TRAY
30 trenta TRAYN-tah
40 quaranta kwa-RAHN-tah
50 cinquanta cheen-KWAN-tah
60 sessanta say-SAHN-tah
70 settanta seh-TAHN-tah
80 ottanta oh-TAHN-tah
90 novanta no-VAHN-tah
100 cento CHEN-toh
1,000 mille MEEL-lay
5,000 cinque milla CHEEN-kway MEEL-lah
10,000 dieci milla dee-YAY-chee MEEL-lah


* You can use this formula for all Italian ten-place numbers—so 31 is trent'uno, 32 is trenta due, 33 is trenta tre, etc. Note that—like uno (one), otto (eight) also starts with a vowel—all "-8" numbers are also abbreviated (vent'otto, trent'otto, etc.).