Historical Archive

The Historical Archive of the Vatican Museums preserves the documentation relating to the Museums’ collections and the activity of the Institution from the second half of the eighteenth century to the end of the twentieth century.
The most ancient nucleus of the archive is constituted by the Visconti Papers: four files containing documents relating to the work carried out by the then “Commissioner for Antiquities” Giovan Battista Visconti for the constitution of the Pio Clementino Museum and continued, after his death in 1784, by his sons Ennio Quirino and Filippo Aurelio. Purchased by Pope Leo XIII, the Papers were then given to the Museums in 1888 on account of their relevance to the Museums’ history.
These are chronologically followed by the D’Este Papers relating to the period in which Antonio Canova served as “Inspector General of the Fine Arts and of the Papal Museums”, assisted by the sculptor Antonio D’Este and the latter’s sons, Alessandro and Giuseppe.
The subsequent administrative and scientific activity of the Museums, up to the year 1994, is recorded in chronologically ordered files containing the Weekly Custodial Reports (1849-1919), drawn up by the “First Guardian” and addressed to the Director of the Museums until the end of the nineteenth century and, from the early years of the twentieth century, by the Director himself and sent to the “Butler of the Sacred Apostolic Palaces”.
These are followed by the Monthly Reports of the Directorate (1920-1974), produced by the Director to illustrate to the “Butler of the Sacred Apostolic Palaces” the activity carried out by Museum staff.
After the signing of the Lateran Pacts (11 February 1929), however, and the consequent abolition of the role of “Butler of the Sacred Apostolic Palaces”, it was decided to continue the production of the aforementioned Reports for internal use, entrusting this task to the Secretary of the Museums.
The archives of Entries (1898-1960) and Permits for photographs, teachers, artists and scholars (1934-1955) instead enable an examination of the entry flows into the Museums throughout the twentieth century.
The Historical Archive also contains and preserves among its documentation the Papers of the Senior Museum Staff, a fundamental tool in the study and understanding of the history of the collections through the figures of: Bartolomeo Nogara (Director General of the Museums and Pontifical Galleries from 1920 to 1954); Guido Galli (Deputy Director of the Museums and the Pontifical Galleries and Artistic Director for Sculptures from 1903 to 1952); Filippo Magi (Assistant for the Classical-Archaeological Section and then Director Regent of the Museums from 1954 to 1961); Deoclecio Redig de Campos (Assistant for the Photographic Archive, then the Medieval Section, and finally Director General from 1971 to 1979); Carlo Pietrangeli (Director General from 1978 to 1995); and Fabrizio Mancinelli (Director of the Department for Byzantine Medieval and Modern Art until 1994).
In 2016 were acquired the papers of the Biagetti Archive, from Recanati; these are a valuable source of information on the activity carried out by the then “Artistic Director for Paintings” and founder of the Vatican Museums Paintings Restoration Laboratory. The Biagetti Papers are indeed directly connected to two other important archives conserved in the Historical Archive: those of the Paintings and Wood Materials Restoration Laboratory and the Tapestries and Textiles Restoration Laboratory, composed principally of reports on restoration work from the end of the nineteenth century to the end of the 1970s. The archives include graphic and photographic documentation included in the reports.

The Archive is a Service accessible to internal Museum staff and, subject to approval by the Directorate, also to external applicants.

Marta Bezzini, Director
Silvia Milana

+39 06 69885571