Climbing this staircase made me feel like we were working up to Sistine Chapel. From this point, it was so congested.
In Gallery of Tapestries, the woven tapestries depicts the massacre of the innocents, the birth of Jesus and his resurrection.
Can you tell these are not reliefs but 3D paintings on the ceiling?
Check out the details of the 3D painting on the ceiling of the Gallery of Tapestries. Did it fool you?
In Gallery of Maps, the panels map the whole Italy in frescoes. Each panel illustrates a region and a perspective view of its most important city.
Before we reached Sistine Chapel, we entered the Raphael Rooms. The frescoes in the four Raphael Rooms were painted by Raphael and his assistants. Raphael Rooms and Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel represent the High Renaissance in Rome.
The picture above is The Mass at Bolsena. It recounts the story of an an Eucharistic miracle. It is said a Bohemian priest stopped doubting the doctrine of Transubstantiation when he saw the bread begin to bleed during the Mass at Bolsena. You can find Raphael's self-portrait in this painting. In the lower right of the fresco, one of the Swiss Guard, facing out with hair tied up, is the artist himself.
The Deliverance of Saint Peter describes how Saint Peter was set free from prison by an angel.
The school of Athens established Raphael's reputation and made him Michelangelo's equal. The painting shows a gathering of various philosophers, acquiring knowledge and science. In the center, they are Aristotle and Plato. Leonardo da Vinci as Plato points up and holds his book Timaeus in his hand. Michelangelo as the philosopher Heracleitus is leaning against a block of marble and writing on a sheet of paper. Most identities of the figures are speculative except the center figures are undoubtedly Plato and Aristotle.
The frescos in Raphael Rooms are very beautiful with saturated colors. I love these paintings.
Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo is the finale. It is famous for its painted ceiling and The Last Judgement. Yes, the frescos are glories, but the room was full of tourists and taking pictures was not allowed. See The Last Judgement from picture above. Christ and Mary are in the center of the painting. Recognize Christ's torso? Does it remind you Belvedere Tors? On Christ's left hand side, you can find St. Peter holding the keys and St. Bartholomew grasping flayed skin.
I probably enjoyed Raphael Rooms more than Sistine Chapel. In Raphael Rooms, getting close to the paintings to have a good look was achievable. Sistine Chapel was just so packed, I could barely move around to see the paintings.
Vatican museum has one-way system mainly because the museum is very crowded most of the time. No one would stop you from walking back, but you would be like a salmon swimming upstream when there's a huge crowd (especially with the tour groups).
In every tourist site, you will overhear the tour guides explaining the artwork or monument to their tourists. Not all guided tours are created equal. Some tour guides really don't know more than you do if you read the guidebooks and did some research before the trip. Choose guided tour carefully if you expect to not only skip the line but also learn something you don't already know.
There is no doubt Vatican Museum possesses the finest artworks. The question is how to enjoy it. Vatican Museum is the most crammed museum I have seen so far, more overcrowded than Louvre and other most visited museum. When it is so jammed like shoulder to shoulder, you don't stop and gawk at the artwork. You can hardly get inspired in that situation. The tour groups operate between 9am to 4pm. You will probably find a short line and less people during late afternoon if you don't mind going there three hours before closing.