The Painting Gallery of the Vatican Museums, constructed during the time of Pope Pius XI Ratti and opened in 1932, contains hundreds of paintings, including the masterpieces of Giotto, Gentile da Fabriano, Beato Angelico, Carlo Crivelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Giovanni Bellini, Caravaggio, Guercino, Valentin, and Poussin. However, the Vatican Painting Gallery is world famous for housing the works of Raphael: the tapestries commissioned by Pope Leo X designed for the Sistine Chapel, The Coronation of the Virgin, La Madonna di Foligno, and the Transfiguration. Unfortunately, the building of the Painting Gallery, designed more than eighty years ago, is not equipped with indoor climate control and lacks a lighting system worthy of the art works the building holds. The paintings on panel are subject to a continued risk of swelling, to the point that our restorers are constantly forced to intervene. The archaic and inadequate lighting also often causes protests from the visitors and is an embarrassment for the Vatican Museums. Therefore it has become absolutely urgent to ensure that the Painting Gallery in the Vatican Museum has acceptable environmental conditions and adequate lighting worthy of the works housed in the gallery. Provision should be made for the design work and then construction work, which is to be contracted at the highest international operators that cannot last less than two or three years at an estimated cost of € 3 million. At the beginning of the 1600s, the Popes moved from the Vatican and took up residence on the Quirinal. On this occasion the living areas in the Vatican were largely stripped of their furnishings, including paintings, which were transferred to the new papal residence. In 1748 Pope Benedict XIV decided to create the new Pinacoteca Capitolina on the Capitol Hill, thereby establishing the first public art gallery of the Papal State in Rome. Ever since their conception, the Pinacoteca Vaticana and the Pinacoteca Capitolina were considered as one and the same, but only in 1870 did the two collections actually become unified. Beginning in 1770, and thanks to the efforts first of Clement XIV (1769-1774) and subsequently of Pius VI (1775-1799), the great public sculpture collection of the Papal States began to be created in the Vatican, taking over the role previously played by the Capitoline collection. It was clear that this Museo Pio-Clementino would soon be enhanced with the collection of paintings. According to the Diario Ordinario of 1790, the museum was enriched with a collection of paintings by the most celebrated historical and contemporary artists.
The collection was hosted in three specially-created areas, in which the works of art were displayed without following any specific criteria. Originally it consisted of one hundred and eighty paintings, many of which have now been lost. The Pinacoteca inaugurated by Pius VI survived only a few years, because at the end of the 1700s the Papal States were affected by the political expansion of the new French State born of the Revolution. In fact, General Napoleon Bonaparte invaded the Papal States and, in 1796, an armistice was signed according to which a hundred works of art and a hundred and fìfty manuscripts were to be consigned to the French conquerors. Despite this agreement, hostilities soon broke out again, and in 1797 Pius VI was obliged to negotiate for peace and submit to the conditions of the Treaty of Tolentino, which confirmed the payment of war reparations and the consignment of the works of art, which upon arriving in Paris found a worthy setting in the halls of the Louvre. In 1800 the newly-elected Pius VII undertook a survey of the museums in Rome, including the Pinacoteca of his predecessor which, he discovered, looked something like a ransacked apartment, not only due to the loss of works by the Treaty of Tolentino, but also to pilfering that had occurred during the occupation. Amongst the first steps taken by Pius VII to recreate the artistic patrimony of the Papal State was his appointment of Antonio Canova as Inspector General of Fine Arts. As it was not possible to reopen the Pinacoteca given the disastrous state into which it had fallen, the surviving paintings were distributed around the apartments of the Quirinal.
Following the Congress of Vienna, which called the French to return the works of art to the States they had conquered, Canova was given the task of travelling to Paris to recover paintings and sculptures and, notwithstanding resistance on the part of the French, succeeded in returning at least the major works to Rome. Of the five hundred and six paintings removed, two hundred and fortynine returned to their homeland, two hundred and fortyeight remained in France and nine were declared lost. The new Pinacoteca was moved to the rooms of the Borgia Apartments, and the paintings recovered by Canova were held back to be put on display in the Vatican. In 1819 they were arranged in five halls modified by Raffaele Stern, in keeping with the layout of the main nuclei of the collection, which at the time consisted of about fifty works. The new home of the Pinacoteca soon proved inadequate because of the lack of light, and thus the decision was taken to transfer the paintings to a new location.
The first move took place in 1821, but in the decades that followed the Popes moved the collection on a number of occasions, not managing to find a suitable home. At the same time the collection continued to grow in size. To Pope Pius X (1903-1914) is due the merit of having created the great Pinacoteca Vaticana, which for the fìrst time consisted of suitably equipped premises, embodying criteria which were considered modern for the times. The new museum, in fact, had larger spaces, adequately illuminated and distributed around nine large halls. At the same time the works were classified and arranged following chronological and rational criteria. The Pinacoteca, solemnly inaugurated in 1909, contained two hundred and seventyseven paintings taken from the collections of the old Pinacoteca, the Pinacoteca Lateranense, the Vatican Library, and the apartments and storerooms of the Sacred Palaces. During the Papacy of Pius XI (1922-1939), Vatican City State was established and it was necessary to create a new entrance to the Museums to ensure the public did not cross Vatican territory, the Pinacoteca was moved again.
The new building, inaugurated in 1932, was constructed in the Gardens according to plans by the Milanese architect Luca Beltrami, who realized a work of an eclectic nature, inspired by Renaissance architecture. The new building had fifteen variously-illuminated rooms, and the number of works on display was now a considerable four hundred and sixty-three. In the years that followed, up to the present day, donations and purchases of artworks have continued to arrive.
A section of contemporary art has been instituted, and the halls have been modified, thereby consolidating and increasing the fame and importance of this museum which, in its eighteen halls, recounts the history of Italian and European art from the XII century onwards.