The Department of Byzantine-Medieval Art took its current form in 2008, following the new Regulation of the Vatican Museums, separating from the Department of Byzantine, Medieval and Modern Art, and is dedicated to the artistic heritage of the Museums and the Apostolic Palace for the period between the end of the High Medieval and late Gothic period, as well as icons.
Its responsibility is the care, enhancement and study of what remains of the mural and decorative works of the ancient Vatican Pontifical Palace, whose foundation and gradual extension was due above all to the pontiffs Eugene III (1145-1153), Innocent III (1198-1216) and Nicholas III (1277-80). Just a few fragments remain of the pictorial wall decoration of those times, found during later renovations. The oldest frescoes are found on the first floor of the Tower of Innocent III, while fragmentary friezes of the extensive decorative campaign carried out by Nicholas III have emerged in various rooms of the palace built at his behest (now the Sala della Falda, the Cubiculum of Nicholas V, the Sala Vecchia degli Svizzeri, and the Room of the Chiaroscuri). In addition, the “Marescalcia” and the granaries are preserved on the ground floor of the old palace.
The Department has the task of supervising the mobile and mural works of the medieval period in the four main Roman basilicas.
Particular attention is reserved to the collection of medieval paintings on display in the first two rooms of the Pinacoteca, including those of the key figures of the painting of the time (Margaritone, Simone Martini, Lippo Memmi, Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Giotto, Puccio Capanna, Vitale da Bologna). but also those of the early fifteenth century (Gentile da Fabriano, Olivuccio di Ciccarello, Sano di Pietro and Giovanni di Paolo). Since 1978 the icons have been kept in room XVIII, entirely dedicated to oriental religious art. Almost all the paintings are from the Sacred Museum of the Vatican Apostolic Library, where the collection was initiated in 1820 with the intention of documenting the origins and events in the history of Christianity through these valuable iconographic works. Saint Pius X (1903-1914), recognizing their value as works of art, had the “collection of the Primitives” transferred to the Vatican Pinacoteca (1909). Finally, Pius XI (1922-1939) was responsible for the current building, purpose-built with the most advanced conservational criteria of the time, and which houses all the paintings of the old Pinacoteca (1932).