"The Vatican, the Museum of Museums," not only houses the extensive collections of art, archaeology and ethno-anthropology gathered by the Popes over the centuries, but also contains some of the Apostolic Palace’s most extraordinary and artistically significant rooms.
Any history of the museums' collections should rightly begin with the history of the rooms that the Popes over the ages chose as places of residence or private prayer and reflection. The first ones, in chronological order, are the Niccoline Chapel and the Borgia Apartment.
In the first year of his papacy, Pope Nicholas V (Parentucelli), one of the greatest humanists of the time, called on Fra Angelico to decorate the private chapel of his apartments in the Apostolic Palace with a cycle of frescoes dedicated to St Stephen and St Lawrence. Fra Angelico, a renowned artist as well as a Dominican friar, depicted scenes from the saints' lives, drawn from the "Acts of the Apostles."
The decorations, richly detailed and full of meaningful allusions, make the Niccoline Chapel a perfect example of the link between religious and humanistic thought in fifteenth-century painting.
A masterful restoration of Fra Angelico’s works was carried out in 1995 and 1996.
Nicholas V's successor, Pope Alexander VI (Borgia) elected to live in the Apostolic Palace's most exclusive wing, and commissioned its decoration by Bernardino di Betto, better known as Pinturicchio. In 1494 the work was complete, a stunning cycle of frescoes decorating the various interconnecting rooms. The rooms were left empty following the Pope's death, and it was not until the end of the nineteenth century that the Borgia Apartment was open to the public.
Today most of Pope Alexander VI's rooms are used to display the Collection of Contemporary Art inaugurated personally by Paul VI in 1973.