Art museums and galleries of all kinds are abundant in Italy, and it is easy to feel like you need to see them all before you leave. Well I’m here to tell you that you really don’t. I promise. After hitting every major art museum in Rome, I feel like I can safely say that some are more exciting than others. I consider myself an art lover, but the overload of Renaissance and Baroque art drove me up the wall after awhile. We may have different tastes, so all of the museums and galleries are worth researching before you decide. If you are planning on visiting Rome, here is my hit or miss list of museums and galleries.
Must See: Vatican Museums: I hate to say this, but you have to go. It is the worst experience in the world because of the crowds, and in my opinion, it’s a poorly designed experience, but you need to go. The highlights of the Vatican Museums are the Raphael tapestries, the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica. Even though I was disappointed in the Sistine Chapel, I think it is an extremely important place to visit.
St. Peter’s Basilica
Choose Between: Nat’l Museum Moderna and Maxxi Museum: I you’re in Rome long enough and need a break from Renaissance and Baroque art, these modern and contemporary art museums are the perfect escapes. I preferred the Nat’l Museum Moderna to the Maxxi because it focused on many pieces that we studied in Art History 103. I also enjoyed that this museum featured pieces by modern Italian artists. It was fun to compare modern art from around the world to modern art in Italy. Some of the highlights of the Nat’l Museum Moderna are Alberto Pirri’s Steps, which is a large mirror and glass installation at the entrance of the building, Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain, and a really cool garden in the middle of the building where you can make creepy sounds by moving a stick through water (yes, they encourage this). Use the stick in the water as therapy to get your mind off of Michelangelo. The Maxxi is a beautiful museum designed by Zaha Hadid. May of the exhibits focus on architecture, which doesn’t interest me as much as I thought it would. The museum also felt very empty, as if there weren’t enough exhibits. I’d say that the Nat’l Museum Moderna is more bang for your buck.
Alberto Pirri’s Steps at the Nat’l Museum Moderna.
Standing with part of the Food exhibit at the Maxxi Museum.
Worth Checking Out: Dorothy Circus Gallery: Nik and I stumbled across this contemporary art gallery while on our way to dinner one night, and it is definitely a hidden gem. It’s a great place to find a middle ground between modern art and Renaissance art. In other words, it’s not too contemporary to understand. Their staff is friendly, their art is beautiful, and their gif shop/bookstore is awesome! (And it’s free entry, too!).
Tara McPherson’s work on display at the Dorothy Circus Gallery.
Choose Between: Borghese Gallery and the Doria Pamphilj: Both of these smaller galleries contain relatively similar art, and even though they are both different in their own ways, it is possible to choose only one. If I had to do everything again, I would definitely choose to visit the Borghese Gallery because of its breathtaking Baroque sculpture collection. A couple of highlights from this mainly Baroque art gallery are Rape of Proserpine by Bernini, Apollo and Daphne by Bernini (my favorite), and David by Bernini. Needless to say, Bernini really dominates this gallery, but in a good way! My decision might be biased because when we attended the Borgese Gallery, Alaïa was in the process of setting up their new exhibit, “Soft Sculptures.” Seeing some of Alaïa’s most iconic designs up against some of the most famous Baroque sculptures was such a unique experience. I was less partial to the Doria Pamphilj, even though it has such an incredible story. The Doria Pamphilj was once only a home built in the 17th century that was filled with beautiful art over the years. Now, part of the home is opened to the public as a gallery, with the original family still living in the other parts of the building! It’s a strange experience to feel like you’re walking though someone’s home, but it really adds to the experience. The Doria Pamphilj is filled with Caravaggio paintings, and if you stay long enough and stare at the walls filled from top to bottom, I’m sure you’d discover some other hidden gems.
Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne at the Borghese Gallery.
Part of Alaïa’s new “Soft Sculpture” exhibit at the Borghese Gallery.
The Doria Pamphilij.
Must See: Coliseum: This goes without saying, but you really need to see the Coliseum while you’re in Rome- no matter how long your visit is. We were lucky enough to take a night tour, which ended up being incredible. We were the only people in the Coliseum, so there were no crowds of crazy tourist groups (besides us!). Since it was so empty, it was easier to picture the Coliseum filled with spectators, athletes and animals. None of my Coliseum pictures turned out great because it was so dark, but the memory of standing in the Coliseum at night is so cool that I don’t care!
This short list doesn’t even cover half of the amazing art we were able to see in Italy! It’s hard to wrap your head around the history and art that Rome has to offer, but there’s a museum or gallery for everyone in this cultured city- you just have to do some research!