Night at the Vatican: A Private Tour of the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel
Walking into the Sistine Chapel at night, there is nothing but the sound of footsteps on the magnificent marble floors. Looking up as Michelangelo had once done to paint the ceiling, you are immediately awestruck. The ceiling is one of the most beautiful pieces of art in the world.
Seeing the Vatican collection, especially the Sistine Chapel, after hours is a completely different experience than joining the thousands of daily visitors at peak hours. With nothing to distract you, you can focus your full attention on the rooms filled with magnificent treasures. Once, this privilege was afforded only to the papacy and the highest-ranking members of society. Today, these tours can be arranged with the Vatican.
You will first wind your way through the Galleries of the Candelabra, Tapestries, and Geographical Maps. The Gallery of the Candelabra is named for the enormous marble candelabra inside it. This room is sumptuous. Take a second to take in the intricate patterns of the colored marble floors, the gold ceiling featuring a painting of St. Thomas and other biblical figures, and the antique statuary that lines the walls.
In the Gallery of the Tapestries hang tapestries designed by Raphael’s students and made in Brussels. In the Renaissance, tapestries were significantly more valuable than paintings because they were so detail-intensive. With the room to yourself, you can appreciate the extraordinary compositions and materials of the works, including the silver and gold thread that would have made the scenes glimmer and shine when originally hung.
The Gallery of the Geographical Maps is one of the most impressive rooms in the Vatican museums. Painted in the five years between 1580 and 1585, the maps depict the Vatican’s holdings at the time. Perhaps most striking is their accuracy; without cameras or Google Maps, the geographer Ignazio Danti was able to depict mountains and seas around the continent and world.
Afterwards, you have the pleasure of seeing the famous Raphael rooms. These rooms are so rich with details, symbolism, and various influences that two hours are scarcely enough time to dedicate to them alone. The well-known School of Athens is in the Room of the Segnatura and depicts the most prominent classical thinkers in the likenesses of contemporary artists such as Michelangelo, Bramante, and Leonardo da Vinci. This room was the first Raphael painted, and as he progressed his frescos became more dynamic and dramatic, infused with the influence of Michelangelo, Venetian art, ancient discoveries, and more.
Finally, you enter the Sistine Chapel. The space is empty. On the walls are often ignored but magnificent frescos by Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, Rosselli, Perugino, and Signorelli depicting stories from the lives of Christ and Moses. These paintings are beautiful in their colors and unique style.
The Sistine ceiling is the most famous aspect of the space, and it is breathtaking. Michelangelo himself claimed he was not a painter and was not fit to fresco the ceiling. One can immediately see that his modesty was unwarranted. The ceiling includes many painted architectural forms—walls, pillars, and pediments, which are a testament to Michelangelo’s identity as a sculptor, and later, an architect. His figures inhabit a believable space yet are larger than life. His female and male figures are hulking and fantastical. His colors are brilliant and unprecedented for his time—pay attention to the combinations of colors; many are surprising even today. His sibyls, prophets, and other Biblical figures are beautifully rendered. There are so many details in this work… as soon as you begin looking at all it has to offer, you will never want to stop.
Art can inspire us to share our experiences of it with others and promote its preservation and appreciation. Art has always had the power to move people. If not, why would these works be commissioned, bought, and sold by the most powerful and influential people in the world throughout history? In today’s world, there is a unique opportunity for art and philanthropy to come together. If you have an impactful experience like this one, one that will stay with you long after you exit the walls of Vatican City, think of how you can share it with others. If we all had more opportunities to appreciate art, wouldn’t the world be a better place?