It's rare when visiting a museum or historic site to spend most of the time looking toward the (ceiling). In Vatican City, however, that's how many tourists wander about. The ceilings of this tiny country are just as beautiful and intricate as any piece of art hanging on the walls. Most people know about the Sistine Chapel, but almost every ceiling at the Vatican either has a mural painted directly onto the plaster or is covered in intricate geometric patterns.
Ceilings of St. Peter's Basilica
St. Peter's Basilica took more than a century to build and required the work of many architects and artists, including Raphael and Antonio da Sangallo the Younger. However, the most instantly recognizable aspect of the basilica is the dome, more specifically the ceilings that make up the interior of the dome, and the design of both the dome itself and the artwork it features are due to the vision of Michelangelo, who took over work on the building after the death of Giulio Romano in 1546. Every architect had desired to top the building with a large dome, and Michelangelo studied the plans of all who came before him when he designed the dome. Sadly, the artistic genius died shortly after the base of the dome was finished. Jacopo Barozzi da Vignola, Michelangelo's assistant, took over the task of finishing the basilica along with Giorgio Vasari. However, the next pope assigned Giacomo della Porta to finish the building. He chose to stay true to Michelangelo's vision but with one change: He decided to raise the outer dome higher than the inner dome.
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Galleria dei Candelabri
The original Gallery of the Candelabra was built in the 1780s, but Annibale Angelini reimagined the space a decade later and included the incredible frescoed ceilings, which were painted by Domenico Torti and Ludovico Seitz. The ceiling depicts events from the reign of Pope Leo XIII. Visitors can walk through the gallery but are asked not to use the flash on their cameras, as camera flashes can damage the fragile frescoed ceiling.
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Galleria delle Carte Geografiche
Pope Gregory XIII loved maps, and he decided to devote one long hallway to the work of Ignazio Danti, an Italian priest and renowned cosmographer. Forty large maps were installed along the walls of the corridor. The ceiling frescoes depict stories of the lands shown on the maps. Today, visitors walk through the space as they move toward the Sistine Chapel.
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The most famous ceiling in the world is above the interior of the Sistine Chapel. It was painted by Michelangelo from 1508 to 1512. The ceiling frescoes were designed to coordinate with the works of Raphael, Botticelli, Pietro Perugino, and Domenico Ghirlandaio on the walls below. The ceiling depicts nine scenes from the Book of Genesis. Both nude and clothed figures are included, a testament to Michelangelo's skill and talent in depicting the human form.
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Stanza della Segnatura
The Stanza della Segnatura is one of four spaces in the Vatican's Apostolic Palace collectively known as the Raphael Rooms in honor of the frescoes designed and painted by the artist. The Stanza della Signatura was the first room that Raphael worked on in the palace. The artist wanted it to represent both Christianity and antiquity and show respect for the wisdom of both Greek philosophers and Christian tenets. He frescoed the ceiling to connect with the larger works on each wall.