Italy Museums and Galleries
Piazza del Carmine, Santo Spirito
Of all Florence’s cultural gems, the pre-Renaissance frescoes at the tiny Brancacci Chapel might be the ones we return to the most. The architects broke ground on the chapel in the mid-1200s, but artists Masaccio and Masolino’s era-defining frescoes weren’t painted until around 1425 and 1427. They depict the life of St. Peter, the most famous scene being the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise. Their bodies mark the first time an artist attempted perspective, depth, and realism in depicting the human body, and these frescoes signal the beginning of the Renaissance.
Via della Ninna 5, Uffizi
A secret passage spanning close to a mile across Florence, the Vasari Corridor was built by Cosimo de Medici to traverse the city—and the Arno river—from the Palazzo Vecchio to the Palazzo Pitti safely and secretly. Enter from the Uffizi, which feels like passing into Narnia. The narrow corridor is filled with sixteenth- and seventeenth-century artworks and self-portraits by several artists, including Andrea del Sarto, Marc Chagall, and Delacroix. Don’t forget to look out the windows as you cross the Ponte Vecchio—yes, it will be packed with tourists, but yes, it will be worth it—to see the most beautiful parts of the city, as intended by the architect, Giorgio Vasari.
Musei Vaticani Roma
00120 Vatican City, Vatican City
A religious pilgrimage for some, an architecture/art-history mecca for others, the Vatican museum—the beating heart of Vatican City and all of Rome, really—is at the tippy top of the must-see list. The museum is a catch-all for the Sistine Chapel (famously covered in works by Michelangelo and Botticelli among others), St. Peters Basilica, the Vatican gardens, and so much more—meaning that once you take wait-times into account, a visit can easily turn into an all-day situation, so plan accordingly. Avoiding weekends, hiring a private guide, or booking an off-hours tour are all good ways to go.
Palazzo Doria Pamphilj
Via del Corso, 305, Centro Storico
Works by Caravaggio, Raffael, and Titian are just a few notables in the private collection of the Doria Pamphilj family, which still owns and resides in the 16th-century palazzo on via del Corso. The open-to-the-public museum portion of the sprawling building is spread out within four wings on the ground floor. It includes galleries, a chapel, extravagantly furnished royal apartments, and a stunning courtyard. Pro tip: Do a little research on the history of the palace and the families that have occupied it over the years, it will add some extra color to the experience.
Piazza di Spagna, 26, Campo Marzio
Taking up the top floor of a townhouse at the foot of the Spanish Steps, this teeny museum and its vast collection of artifacts and books is a love letter to English Romanticism. The main draw here is the room where poet John Keats lived until his untimely death at 25, which has been kept virtually unchanged save for the furniture that had to be burned to prevent the spread of tuberculosis. It may all sound a little creepy at first, but it's well-worth the entrance fee and makes for a nice stop while exploring the Piazza do Spagna.
Maxxi: Museo Nazionale
Via Guido Reni, 4, Flaminio
Another unexpectedly contemporary structure for such an ancient city, Rome’s ambitious 21st-century art museum was designed by Zaha Hadid (she’s the woman behind the Guangzhou Opera House in China among many other impressive projects), with the curvy, hyper-modern space taking an entire decade to construct. The permanent collection galleries house works by Kara Walker, Ed Ruscha, Anish Kapoor, and so many more; meanwhile, the exhibit calendar is just as impressive. Plan your visit in conjunction with the Auditorium Parco Della Musica—they’re both located in the Flamino area and make for a nice change of pace from ancient architecture.
Piazza del Campidoglio 1, Ancient City
In a sea of Italian museums, there are few that can't be missed. Case in point: Musei Captiolini. One of the world's oldest public museums, it boasts a huge collection of Roman art that covers the ages. It's comprised of two buildings on either side of the Piazza del Campidoglio (linked by a passageway that runs through the historical records office of ancient Rome), supporting the popular sentiment that the buildings are as amazing–and mystical–as the art. Bonus: The museum's restauraunt is a solid choice for lunch–and offers a great view of the city.
Via delle Quattro Fontane, 13, Trevi
A light-filled, 17th-century baroque palace museum that provides the most gorgeous backdrop for the art it houses. Seriously, you can spend hours here reveling in the building's details–and gardens–even before you start to pore over the National Gallery of Ancient Art collection. The giant ceiling of clouds and swirling figures by Italian painter-architect Pietro da Cortona are epic. Just around the corner from the Quattro Fontane, its central location makes it easy to get to.
Fondazione Prada Milan
Largo Isarco, 2, Ticinese
Those heading to Venice this summer for the Biennale might consider making a quick pit-stop in Milan for Miuccia Prada and husband Patrizio Bertelli’s brand new arts compound, which opened earlier this month. A little off the beaten path from the fashionable side of town, it’s worth the trip to the industrial ex-distillery for a full day’s enjoyment courtesy of the Pradas and architect Rem Koolhaas’s firm OMA. The three new buildings—one of which is painted gold—reference Italy’s architectural past and are dispersed through the elegantly restrained complex. It’s the sort of place where you just sort of wander around: You might come across the whimsical Wes Anderson-designed Bar Luce, chance upon the Prada’s own stunning collection of contemporary works from John Baldessari to Jeff Koons, discover the site’s ‘Haunted House’ (and a recent commission by Robert Gober), or take in the heady opening exhibition, Serial Classic, which explores the Roman tradition of copying Greek originals. Photo: Bas Prinzen. Courtesy Fondazione Prada.
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