A large section of the Vatican Museums’ itinerary is dedicated to the Collection of Contemporary Art. Emerging from Paul VI’s desire to reinstate the dialogue between the Church and contemporary culture, this young collection covers a time span from the end of the nineteenth century up to the early twentieth century, and enables the visitor to view unexpected masterpieces of the variegated artistic panorama of the nineteenth century. Inaugurated on 23 June 1973 at the behest of Pope Montini, it brings together paintings, sculpture and graphic arts donated over the years by artists, collectors, and public and private entities. The majority of the donations resulted from contacts established by Paul VI though his address to the art world, in an encounter on 7 May 1964 in the Sistine Chapel. In his discourse, the Pontiff underlined the effective distance between the Church and contemporary art, compared with the close and fruitful link of the past, in the hope of bringing them closer to one another. The outcome was the constitution of the Collection of Contemporary Religious Art.
The operation, carried out by Paul VI’s personal secretary, Msgr. Pasquale Macchi, lasted for around ten years and led to the enrichment of the small nucleus of nineteenth century works that had already entered the Vatican Picture Gallery at the end of the 1950s, at the behest of Pius XII.
Today the Collection consists of around 8000 works. The selection displayed to the public, along an itinerary that passes from the Borgia Apartment up to the Sistine Chapel, offers visitors a rich overview of twentieth century Italian and international art. It includes works by important figures such as Van Gogh, Bacon, Chagall, Carrà, de Chirico, Manzù, Capogrossi, Fontana, Burri and Matisse. An entire room dedicated to the latter was inaugurated in 2011, housing a valuable collection of works relating to the genesis of the Vence Chapel, which joined the Vatican collections in 1980, thanks to an extraordinary donation by the artist’s son, Pierre Matisse.