The Vatican has one of the greatest and oldest collections of statues in the world dating. The earliest sculptures date back to around 3,000 years ago, while other modern art pieces are contemporary examples of some of the best artwork of our time. The collection is expansive but here are the seven most famous statues in the Vatican today.
Inside the Octagonal Courtyard in the Vatican Museums is the Laocoon group of the Trojan Priest, Laocoon, and his two sons being killed by serpents sent by the god Apollo. The attack was sent by Apollo as punishment for warning the Trojans “beware of Greeks bearing gifts”. This stunning statue was created by the sculptors Agesander, Polydorus, and Athendorus from the Greek Island of Rhodes. The statue is believed to date from the 1st century B.C. and was discovered in 1506 in which Michelangelo was present for the excavation. Pope Julius II was so awed by the beauty of the Laocoon that he decided to open the Vatican Palace to the public to view the statue. This famous statue is one of the reasons why the Vatican Museums are still open to the public today.
The Belvedere Torso
Inside the Room of the Muses just after the Octagonal Courtyard is one of my favorite statues in the Vatican Museums known as the Belvedere Torso. Strangely the only part left of this statue is a beautifully sculpted male torso. This statue was sculpted either around the 1st century A.D. or the 1st century B.C. Scholars still today argue if it is a statue of Hercules or if it is the philosopher Ajax contemplating suicide. This statue had a huge impression on great artists of the Renaissance and afterward, none more so than Michelangelo Buonarotti who famously painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
In the Borgia Apartments, after visiting the Raphael Rooms, you will find a small statue cast in bronze called The Thinker by Auguste Rodin. Although the famous and most well-known Thinker by Rodin is in the Rodin museum in Paris there were over 20 casts made of the statue placed in different museums and private collections around the world. The one in the Vatican Museums is one of the smallest at just 30 inches (75 cm) high. This version of The Thinker was given to the Vatican Museums by the Rodin Museum in 1959.
The Apollo Belvedere
The Apollo Belvedere or the Beautiful Apollo in the Octagonal Courtyard in the Vatican Museums dates between 120-140 A.D. Sculpted by Leochares, Apollo is posed after he slew the serpent, Python. The statue stands 24 feet (7.3 meters) high and was discovered in the 15th Century. We know that the statue was sculpted by the Romans rather than the Greeks due to the Roman footwear Apollo is wearing. Apollo was the Roman god of the sun, archery, music and poetry.
Sphere within a Sphere
One of the most famous modern sculptures in the Vatican is the Sphere within a Sphere created in 1990 by the Italian artist Arnaldo Pomodoro. Also known as Sfera con Sfera, it is on display in the Pinecone Courtyard inside the Vatican Museums. The sphere has many cracks purposely created to represent the fractures in the Christian world today. The Sphere is 4 meters or 13 feet in diameter and there are a number of these Sphere within a Sphere sculptures throughout the world including New York and Trinity College Dublin in Ireland.
The Bronze Hercules
Inside the Round Room after the Room of the Muses, you can not miss a huge bronze statue of Hercules holding a large wooden bat. What makes this statue so rare is not just because of how noticeably big it is but because it is one of the only bronze statues that you will find in the Vatican that date from Ancient Roman times. After the fall of the Roman Empire, bronze statues were melted down for the value of their metal. This particular Hercules, however, was struck by lightning. The Romans took this lightning strike as a bad sign and had the giant statue buried. It was not discovered until 1864 in Campo De Fiori in the center of Rome, before being brought to the Vatican where it is on display today.
If you turn right directly after entering into Saint Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican you will find Michelangelo Buonarotti’s first masterpiece, The Pieta. The statue, meaning Pity portrays Mary holding her dead son, Jesus after he died on the cross. Michelangelo was just 23 years old when he worked on the Pieta completing it in just a year between 1498 and 1499. It was commissioned by a French Cardinal called Jean De Biltieres and it is the only work Michelangelo ever signed. Today it is behind bulletproof glass after it was attacked with a hammer on the 21st of May, 1972 by the mentally unstable Hungarian/Australian named Laszlo Toth.