Christian Museum

Christian Museum

On October 4, 1757 by the Apostolic Letter Ad Optimarum Artium, Benedict XIV (Lambertini, 1740-1758) decreed the birth of the Vatican’s Christian Museum, at the southern end of the “corridor” delimiting the west side of the Belvedere Courtyard. The same act which established the new museum, preceded by the acquisition of private collections, placed the entire collection under the care of the Veronese scholar Francesco Vettori (1692-1770), who was thus required to oversee a complex of more than a thousand documents. The Museum itself, which focuses on the exposition of items originating from catacombs, sought through the tools of historiographic exegesis to illuminate the heritage of faith and culture of the Christians of the first centuries, by way of an apologetic and philological reading of the objects found. Under Vettori’s guidance, materials deemed relevant to the historical design of the collection were displayed according to eminently classificatory criteria, in cabinets specifically designed for the purpose. With the expansion of the collection and its extension to works of art and worship of the following centuries, the Museum gradually came to occupy the rooms adjacent to it along the southern side of the Belvedere corridor, such as the Hall of the Papyri, designated by Clement XIII (Rezzonico, 1758-1769) for the display of Latin papyri of the church of Ravenna (sixth to ninth centuries), the so-called Room of the Tributes (“Sala degli Indirizzi”), assigned by Pope Pius VII (Chiaramonti, 1800-1821) to accommodate books from his own library, and by Pope Gregory XVI (Cappellari, 1831-1846) for the exhibition of “a rare and important collection of Christian paintings from the beginnings of the art” (the so-called “primitives”, later transferred by St. Pius X to the new Picture Gallery). Following the removal of these paintings in 1909, the hall was adapted to accommodate the “tributes”, in homage to Leo XIII (Pecci, 1878-1903) and Pius X (Sarto, 1903-1914), to which it owes the name it retains to this day. Since 1936 it has housed the Library’s extraordinary collections of applied arts, transferred to the competence of the Vatican Museums in 1999.