Seven Roman Art Spaces And What They Are Good For

by Sara Clarke

Laocoon And His Sons. In the collection of the Vatican Museums. Image via Wikipedia.

Good for Seeing Slides from Art History class live and in person:

The Vatican Museums

Remember that time you had to take a quiz on all the different philosophers depicted in Raphael’s School of Athens? Yeah, I’m trying to block it out, too. If you look back on that time fondly — or maybe just want to get in a little Anatomically Incorrect Madonna And Child action —  the Vatican Museums are for you. It’s plural because there are different collections within the museum complex. Don’t worry about it.

The Calling Of St. Matthew. In the church of San Luigi dei Francesi, Rome. Image via Wikipedia.

Good for getting lost in the Caravaggio of it all:

The church of San Luigi dei Francesi

Maybe you don’t need to see all the important paintings ever. Maybe you just want to see a few really perfect ones. In that case, seek out this tiny church behind Piazza Navona which holds three works by Caravaggio depicting the life of St. Matthew. They’re counter-reformationtastic! Snarking aside, the ability to just wander into a nondescript parish church to stare at art of this caliber is one of the great pleasures of a trip to Rome. If you like this sort of thing, you should also try to schlep over to see Bernini’s Ecstacy of St. Theresa at Santa Maria della Vittoria.

A detail from the Fountain of the Four Rivers by Bernini. Image via Wikipedia.

Good for when you’re thirsty:

Fountain of the Four Rivers

This Bernini-designed fountain at the center of Piazza Navona is another world-class artwork you can see for free in Rome. Even better, Roman water is potable, so theoretically you could even get something tangible from the art. That said, Piazza Navona is pretty crowded, and it might be difficult to get at the fresh water spewing out. If you’re dead set on drinking from a work of art, try Il Facchino, a smaller fountain near the via del Corso which is rumored to have been sculpted by Michelangelo. It looks a lot like a zombie, which is probably not Michelangelo’s fault.

Palazzo Barberini, Rome. Photo by jmj2001, via Flickr.

Good for pretending you’re fabulously wealthy and it’s the 17th century:

A tie between the Villa Borghese and the Palazzo Barberini.

Rome is one of the best cities for public art, but a lot of that art was commissioned privately and meant for the enjoyment of a select few. Pretend you’re one of those few at either of these private homes which have been turned into government-run museums. The Borghese has more famous art and is in the middle of a manicured park which you can imagine is your sweet country estate, but the Barberini is less crowded, which keeps the fantasy alive. It’s your call.

Where is our place? Installation by Ilya Kabakov in the collection of MAXXI. Image via MAXXI.

Good for forgetting you’re in one of the oldest cities in the world:


Tired of all those Old Master paintings, sculptures of writhing naked people, and baroque architecture dripping with swirly bits and fussy details? Zaha Hadid’s long cold drink of a contemporary art gallery in Flaminio is the answer. The collection includes work by Gerhard Richter, Kiki Smith, William Kentridge, and other folks I’m kind of obsessed with.

House of the Vestal Virgins, Roman Forum. Photo by Arboreality, via Flickr.

Good for facing the whole Rome thing head on:

The Forum

Dude. You’re in motherfuckin’ ROME. Like, Ancient Rome. The Eternal City. The capital of the world for a solid millennium. Emperors, gladiators, togas, and the first Republic ever. This city is so important I just let myself use a total of four sentence fragments in order to describe it. What are you doing looking at a bunch of poncey installations when you could be in the Forum checking out temples and triumphal arches and the spot where Julius Caesar was assassinated? I mean, why did you even come here, anyway?