3 people stood in front of Michelangelo's Last Judgement

The Best Way to See the Sistine Chapel? Undoubtedly!

by Sandra Robbins

I just went on Roma Experience’s Sistine Chapel Closed-Doors Experience. Not only is it, undeniably, the best way to see the Sistine Chapel – it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.  

Nothing compares to standing in the Sistine Chapel with only ten other people. All of Michelangelo’s frescoes appear more beautiful – even the colors are better.  

As a lover of Rome and art history, I’ve visited the Sistine Chapel many times. The Sistine Chapel may always be beautiful – but nothing compares to standing in an empty Sistine Chapel. The experience brought a tear to my eye.  

In this blog, I’ll describe the highlights of this After-Hours Sistine Chapel Tour – and you can decide for yourself if the best way to see the Sistine Chapel is for you. 

What I Did on The After-Hours Sistine Chapel Tour 

The best part of Roma Experience’s Sistine Chapel tour is that you don’t only visit the Sistine Chapel. You get to see rooms in the Vatican Museums that are normally closed. Our guide knew everything about the secret history of Vatican City; it was a real revelation.  

The artwork in these hidden rooms is of equal (or better quality!) than the works in the Vatican Museums. And the best bit? I was in these astonishing rooms, full of spectacular artwork, with only 10 other people! 

This tour isn’t only the best way to see the Sistine Chapel – but the best way to see the Vatican.  

16th Century Bramante Staircase

The original 16th century Bramante Staircase as seen from above
The original 16th century Bramante Staircase as seen from above

I was really looking forward to the Bramante Staircase, because I admire the work of the architect so much. It was originally built so carriages could drive up to the Pope’s apartment – that’s the life. 

Honestly, it was as good as I hoped. The staircase was strange to walk up, because it was so unusually steep and wide – and a cobbled floor inside feels weird. 

From the top, there was an astonishing view of Rome. I felt like royalty. 

The Cabinet of Masks 

The Vatican Museums Salon of Animals - with a sculpture of a lion attacking goat, front central
The Vatican Museums Salon of Animals – normally closed to the public!

The Cabinet of Masks was a highlight – it was way more special than I’d imagined it could be. We went through three different rooms in the area that’s called the Cabinet of Masks.  

First, we went through the Hall of Animals. It had an amazing collection of ancient sculptures of animals. The room was absolutely full to the brim with boars, bears, bulls… marble animals everywhere.  

Among the sculptures was a preserved lobster and crab, which were quite the weird highlight for me! 

Next, we went through the Gallery of Statues. It was so nice to see this corridor full of ancient statues, without a living soul in it, just me and the group looking down at it.  

After that, we went through to the Cabinet of Masks itself. Honestly, the only way I can describe this room is elegant. The statues in it were so gorgeous, and the Roman mosaics on the floor were so detailed.  

Most of the stuff here was taken from the Villa of Emperor Hadrian – and these artefacts are clearly worthy of an Emperor! 

The Niccoline Chapel  

Frescoes by Fra Angelico in the Vatican's Niccoline Chapel
The frescoes by Fra Angelico in the Niccoline Chapel were spectacular!

The Niccoline Chapel was built as a private chapel for the Pope, and when you walk in you get a sense of it as a really holy place.  

Fra Angelico’s frescoes look a million times better than they ever do on pictures. The colors were so vibrant. The pinks and blues positively sparkled, like it was painted yesterday. My personal favorite was the gold detail – it really shimmered.  

The Raphael Rooms 

An image of Raphael's School of Athens in the Vatican's Raphael Rooms
By the time we got to the Raphael Rooms, they were empty!

We did pass through ‘normal parts’ of the Vatican Museums on this After-Hours Sistine Chapel tour. Lots of it I’d seen before, and although all of it never ceases to impress, something truly special happened at the end of the day. 

The Raphael Rooms were totally empty by the time our group got there. The School of Athens has always been one of my favorite works of art, but I’ve often had trouble seeing it properly with the crowds. Now, I got to take the time to properly look at this gorgeous painting, with no one else around. Seeing The School of Athens like that makes for an experience I’ll never forget. 

The Sistine Chapel 

The Sistine Chapel, with Last Judgement in the altar wall, empty, with our figures in the foreground
Nothing compares to seeing the Sistine Chapel empty

The whole after-hours Sistine Chapel tour lasted half an hour – and I had to pinch myself for the first 10 minutes.  

The majesty of an empty Sistine Chapel is hard to describe. At first, it feels like you’re in a picture in an artbook – like you’re standing in reproduction of Michelangelo’s great works. Slowly, it sinks in that you’re really there – in the Sistine Chapel. An empty Sistine Chapel! 

I had the time to really admire the masterpieces. I noticed details on The Last Judgement like I’d never seen before. Honestly, it was the first time that I’d seen the Botticelli paintings on the side wall. Everything was brighter and more dignified when the chapel was empty of the days crowds. 

It was a sublime experience of one of the world’s greatest masterpieces – and an experience I’ll treasure forever.  

Why I Chose an After-Hours Sistine Chapel Tour 

I am fascinated with the art of the High Renaissance and love all the Great Masters; Raphael, Da Vinci, Michelangelo.  

Because of my passion for Renaissance art, I’ve visited Italy many times, and have been to all the main cities. However, I kept returning to Rome, and in particular, to the Sistine Chapel.  

There’s something about Michelangelo’s ceiling frescoes that never fail to inspire me. However, often the Sistine Chapel is so busy. The guards ‘shhh’ you and tell you to move along. Truth be told, it’s not the most relaxing experience of one of the greatest artworks the world has ever produced. Which is why I decided to take this After-Hours Sistine Chapel tour.   

It was the best decision I could have made. I had an incredible time – and it really is the best way to see the Sistine Chapel.  

500 Years of Da Vinci: Leonardo’s Best Works in Italy

May 2nd 2019 marks the 500 year anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci’s death. Throughout May 2019, events in celebration of the Renaissance’s greatest Great Master will take place across France (where he spent his later years) and Italy.

Many of Leonardo’s most famous artworks are in Paris’ Louvre, including his iconic Mona Lisa. However, Italy doesn’t lack artworks by the Renaissance’s greatest Great Master. Da Vinci’s masterpieces in Italy include The Last Supper, the Annunication and his only surviving self-portrait. We’ll break down exactly where you’ll find Leonardo Da Vinci’s masterpieces in Italy.

Despite only producing 15 complete paintings, Leonardo da Vinci is considered one of the greatest artists of all time. Leonardo introduced subtle, psychological realism to Renaissance art. The quietly sparkling eyes of his subjects, and the mysterious half-smile of Mona Lisa, demonstrate his mastery of human expression.

Roma Experience are proud to offer 15% off all Roma Exprience tours in May with our code ‘DAVINCI’, in celebration of the great artist’s legacy.

Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan

Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper in Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan.
The Last Supper, Leonardo da Vinci

In the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, you’ll find what might just be Leonardo da Vinci’s most famous work in Italy: The Last Supper.

The last supper was painted between 1495 and 1498, when Leonardo was in his 40s. Today, it’s a highlight of any visit to Milan. However, its quite a miracle The Last Supper survived the ages.

Leonardo used a new painting technique called a secco, which left the work particularly prone to decay. In the 17th century, the monks who lived in the convent tried to raise the floor — and removed the feet of Jesus in the process. In the 19th, over-eager restorers removed a lot of Da Vinci’s original work. Then, in the 20th, Santa Maria delle Grazie was bombed in WWII.

Despite all trials, The Last Supper has survived. Today, it remains an evocative rendering of Jesus’ final evening.

Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, Milan

Within Milan’s historic library, the Biblioteca Ambrosiana, you’ll find a small but mighty collection of Renaissance art. Alongside Raphael’s sketches for The School of Athens (found in the Vatican’s Raphael Rooms) and Caravaggio’s Basket of Fruit, is Da Vinci’s Portrait of a Musician.

For many years, people believed the subject of Portrait of a Musician was the musician and composer Franchinus Gaffurius, who worked for Milan Cathedral. However, new Dutch research claims the drawing may be a young portrait of Leonardo da Vinci….

Gallerie dell’Academia, Venice

Vitruvian Man, Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo’s scientific sketch books, known as Codexes, are scattered across the world. One Codex is owned by Bill Gates; another by the British Family.

Perhaps the most iconic remains in Italy. You’ll find the most famous sketch from Leonardo’s notebooks in Venice: his Vitruvian Man.

However, don’t plan a visit to see this work alone. Vitruvian Man is particularly susceptible to age damage because it was made on paper with ink. Because of this, Vitruvian Man is only displayed publicly irregularly.

Biblioteca Reale, Turin

On the ground-floor of Turin’s Royal Palace — a UNESCO World Heritage Sight — is a spectacular historic library which houses many of Leonardo’s most beautiful sketches.

The library houses Da Vinci’s study for The Baptism of Christ and Virgin of the Rocks, which are incredibly impressive in their own right. However, Biblioteca Reale can also claim Leonardo’s only verified self-portrait, sketched when he was 50 years old.

Galleria Nazionale di Parma, Parma

Head of a Woman, Leonardo da Vinci

Visit Parma for the food (proscuitto and parmesan, two Italian favorites, come from the region) and stay for the artwork. Galleria Nazionale di Parma boasts an incredible collection of Renaissance art, and among them is Da Vinci’s Head of a Woman.

Head of a Woman manages to capture internal thought on a painted subject, much like Leonardo did with his Mona Lisa. As well as a triumph of psychological subtlety, Head of a Woman is a triumph of beauty. Her lidded eyes are downward facing and she does not address the viewer; her skin is positively radiant.

Vatican Museums, Rome

There are a million reasons to tour the Vatican Museums in Rome. From Michelangelo’s magnificent Sistine Chapel ceiling to the extensive collection of Classical Statuary, you’d be hard-pressed to find a gallery more spectacular.

Among the reasons to visit the Vatican is Leonardo da Vinci’s unfinished St. Jerome in the Wilderness. Although this painting is sparse, the depiction of an emaciated St. Jerome, alone and looking to the cross, is a deeply evocative rendering of faith.

Uffizi, Florence

The Uffizi is Italy’s most popular gallery and why is no secret. Some of the greatest masterpieces of the Renaissance can be found in the Uffizi, including works by Caravaggio, Raphael, Titian, Michelangelo — the list goes on and on.

Three works by Leonardo da Vinci can be found in the Uffizi, which is a special treasure considering only 15 of his paintings survive. Join an Uffizi gallery private tour and see his Annunciation, Baptism of Christ and Adoration of the Magi.

Discover Leonardo da Vinci’s Works in Italy

Italy is where Da Vinci was born, raised and become a great thinker. The fertile atmosphere of the Italian Renaissance set Leonardo da Vinci up for greatness. Now, a visit to Italy promises the chance to see many of the Great Masters most moving works.

by Annie Beverley