From the crumbling ruins of the Roman Empire to the bright colors splayed across canvases in the Uffizi Gallery, for thousands of years Italy has been at the forefront of Western culture. And now the many celebrated historical treasures speak volumes about power and grandeur of the past, remain preserved in the finest Italian art museums.
In fact, considering the sheer number museums in Italy, a complete tour of them all would be an overwhelming challenge. Even the most resolute art lovers have saturation points. Carefully choosing which Italian museums to attend will enrich your experience while saving you hours spent in long lines amongst other tourists or wandering second-rate galleries.
The most formidable of all the Italian museums is the Vatican Museum. Ancient maps meticulously depicting strange lands line many of the corridors of the Sistine Chapel. But they are secondary to the real masterpieces there, Michelangelo"s enduring legacy painted upon the chapel"s ceiling and his Last Judgment on the altar. Raphael"s School of Athens is also found here, the defining work of his career.
The Uffizi Gallery is another of the critical Italian art museums, portraying all the treasures collected by the influential Medici family, Florentine leaders and renowned patrons of the arts for hundreds of years. Here you can find the birth of the Renaissance in all its glory, residing on the walls of the palace used by the Duchy of Tuscany as his administrative offices (or uffizi) for hundreds of years.
The Galleria Borghese rests in the heart of Rome, amongst the green landscapes and quaint roads of its namesake, the Villa Borghese. The most exclusive of Italian museums, it allows only small numbers of patrons at a time to view the works inside, among them pieces by luminaries such as Bernini, Raphael and Titian.
In the same Villa is the famous National Etruscan Museum the abstruse and puzzling ancestors of the Romans. What little of the Etruscan culture that exists can be found in one of the most surprisingly overlooked museums in Italy. The Etruscans were - like the Romans their culture gave birth to - extremely progressive in artistic sophistication, the proof of this residing in this accumulation of bronze and marble interspersed with glittering jewelry dulled only by the onslaught of time.
Unfairly overlooked in the sensory overload that is a tour of Italian art museums, The Spada Gallery features a baroque facade that is one of the most unique in the entire city. The gallery also includes statues looming in strange corners and a sloping floor and convergent walls meant to add to the already impressive grandeur - because, well, it"s hard to stand out in Rome. The inner rooms are adorned with marble, stucco and colorful frescoes.
The Academy Gallery is a superlative collection of Venetian works. One of the best museums in Italy if you wish to view the work of Tintoretto, often considered the last great painter of the Italian Renaissance. This effusive gallery also includes contributions from Bellini, Carpaccio and Titian. If modern art is more your style, the nearby Guggenheim in Venice is the Italian museum for you. Located on the bottom floor in the unfinished Palazzo Venier dei Leoni - an architectural wonder located directly on the Grand Canal - 20th century artists from all over the world have works on display.