While the Eternal City might be best known for its collections of ancient artifacts, there are also world-class art museums in Rome.
From Caravaggio paintings houses in old palaces to Italy’s national gallery – here are the 10 best art museums in Rome:
Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna (Viale delle Belle Arti, 131): Located on the edge of Villa Borghese park, Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna (GNAM) – or the National Gallery of Modern Art – houses the largest collection of 19th and 20th-century Italian art. Slightly overshadowed by nearby Galleria Borghese, the modern art museum usually has fewer crowds and more room to explore. Make enough time to see most of the 75 (!) rooms, and 1,100 pieces of art, including sculptures by Modigliani and paintings by Morandi. Recoup over a coffee at the lovely cafe that looks out over the park.
Galleria Borghese (Piazzale Museo Borghese, 5): This is very likely my favorite art museum in Rome. The gallery is housed in Villa Borghese Pinciana, a former 17th-century party house for the Borghese family on the edge of Rome. On display is a large part of the Borghese family collection of marble sculptures, baroque decorative art, and paintings (including some impressive Caravaggios). The gallery is also home to a sculpture by Antonio Canova of Pauline Bonaparte, Napoleon’s sister, who was often described as the most beautiful woman in the world. The museum is manageable in size, which is lucky as you are only allowed a two-hour window to explore the 20 rooms. Tickets must be booked in advance via phone or by reserving online for an additional fee, even for Roma Pass holders.
Palazzo and Galleria Spada (Piazza Capo di Ferro, 13): Palazzo Spada is located in heart of the city, a few minutes walk from Campo de’ Fiori. The palazzo and the galleria are named for Cardinal Spada, the man who transformed the palace after he purchased it in 1632. The gallery stretches through four rooms, filled with 16th and 17th-century work by the likes of Caravaggio, Reubens, and Titian.
When Cardinal Spada purchased the palazzo, he quickly hired Borromini to redo it for him. The master architect added a trick – the forced perspective in the internal courtyard. The columns and arches seem to stretch on for 35 m, but it is really less than 9 m (28 ft) in length. And that towering classical statue at the end? It stands only 60 cm, or just 23 inches, high.
Chiostro del Bramante (Via Arco della Pace, 5): Chiostro del Bramante is a striking building designed during the Renaissance. The church cloisters take their name from the architect – Donato Bramante. The beautiful complex hosts rotating exhibits, primarily by internationally renowned modern and contemporary artists. Don’t miss the Raphael fresco, and be sure to stop in the cafe on the second floor for a coffee while you admire the architectural details.
Palazzo Braschi (Piazza di S. Pantaleo, 10): Located on the edge of Piazza Navona, you can pass through the courtyard of Palazzo Braschi to get to Rome’s most famous square. The gallery has some lovely paintings of Rome’s monuments from the 1700 and 1800s, and the palace has space for temporary exhibits which recently included a show featuring Artemisia Gentileschi. However, the view out over the piazza is likely one of the major high points of the museum.
Galleria Barberini (Via delle Quattro Fontane, 13): Galleria Barberini is housed with Palazzo Barberini, a 17th century palace that is incredibly centrally located – just around the corner from the quattro fontane and a few streets over from the Trevi Fountain. The gallery is a part of the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica. One of the most notable works in the collection is a portrait of Holofernes while he is beheaded by Judith, painted by Caravaggio. The architecture and the gardens behind the gallery make this one of the best stops in Rome.
MACRO (Via Nizza, 138): “MACRO” stands for Museo d’Arte Contemporanea di Roma, or the contemporary art museum of Rome. The original museum can be found in the old Peroni beer factory in the Parioli neighborhood. The permanent collection showcases examples of some of the most important art movements in Italy since the 1960s, including Arte Povera and Forma 1.
MACRO Testaccio (Piazza Orazio Giustiniani, 4): This is the second branch of the contemporary art museum, which is located across town in the ex-slaughterhouse complex in up-and-coming Testaccio. The innovative exhibits are a far cry from the classics that are to be found at most of Rome’s other famous museums. An extra bonus, the MACRO is in the same complex as the Città dell’altra Economia (CAE). CAE is an alternative paradise, with an organic food market, a vintage bicycle shop, and a near continuous calendar of events from concerts to festivals.
MAXXI (Via Guido Reni, 4/A): The MAXXI is Italy’s National Museum of 21st Century Art. The museum is an architectural gem in and of itself, designed by Zaha Hadid. Located in the Flaminio neighborhood, the contemporary focus on the museum draws an eclectic crowd of art lovers. The MAXXI consists of two museums: “MAXXI art” and “MAXXI architecture.” The MAXXI also hosts revolving exhibitions, workshops, conferences, shows, projections, and educational projects.
Palazzo Corsini (Via della Lungara, 10): Along with Palazzo Barberini and Galleria Borghese, Galleria Corsini is part of Italy’s Arte Antica collection. The collection is primarily paintings by 16th and 17th century Italian artists. Palazzo Corsini also boasts an impressive library with row after row of beautifully bound volumes.
Il Vittoriano: Nicknamed “the wedding cake,” the huge marble Altare al Patria in Piazza Venezia is home to Italy’s unknown soldier. Behind the military guards keeping watch over an undying flame is a museum dedicated to the story of Italy’s unification. On the other side of the complex (in Italian called the “complesso di Vittoriano”) is a gallery space that regularly hosts Italy’s most prestigious exhibits. In recent years, the Vittoriano has curated shows by Picasso, Van Gogh and Modigliani.
If you include all of Rome’s home museums, there are even more but I think I will stop myself with this list.
Are there any other art museums in Rome that you absolutely love?