4 Must-See Ancient Roman Works of Art

The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo on the Sistine Chapel ceiling

The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo on the Sistine Chapel ceiling

Art historians around the world consider Rome a major artistic hub where visitors can enjoy some of the world’s most famous paintings, sculptures, and frescos. The abundance of artwork on display in Rome’s museums and churches make it an ideal destination for Art History students interested in studying abroad for a semester or the duration of their undergraduate degree.

Popular institutions like the Vatican Museums hold famous works of art from iconic artists like Michelangelo and Raphael. However, visiting students will also spot several sculptural masterpieces right on the streets of the Eternal City.

If you plan on studying abroad in Rome, you’ll definitely want to plan visits to these four artistic works of wonder.

The Sistine Chapel Ceiling by Michelangelo

No study abroad in Rome would be complete without a visit to the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City. With a ceiling that boasts a highly complex and detailed fresco by Michelangelo, the chapel is hailed around the world as one of the most respected paintings of all time.

Although he considered himself more of a sculptor, Michelangelo was commissioned by the powerful Pope Julius II to paint the ceiling with scenes from the Old Testament. The result showcases Michelangelo’s renowned ability to depict the human form both beautifully and accurately, while communicating a range of emotions —a skill that no painter before him had come close to mastering to the same degree.

A twilight view of the Fountain of Four Rivers

A twilight view of the Fountain of Four Rivers

Bernini’s Fountain of Four Rivers

In the heart of Piazza Navona lies the sculptural masterpiece Fountain of Four Rivers by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Rome is an artistic playground for fans of Bernini’s work—who himself was a Roman citizen. Out of all the Bernini fountains erected across Rome, Fountain of the Four Rivers is certainly the most intricate.

The fountain depicts the river gods of four rivers on four continents – the Nile in Africa, the Danube in Europe, the Ganges in Asia, and Rio de la Plata in America. Powerful, provocative and rich in symbolism, Bernini’s Fountain of Four Rivers is an excellent piece for students who study Art History in Italy to visit, explore, and decode.

Caravaggio Paintings in the Church of San Luigi dei Francesi

When visiting Rome, most people expect to find masterpieces in places like the Borghese Gallery and the Vatican Museums. But students can also find wonderful paintings and sculptures tucked away in the most unassuming areas of the city.

One of these places is the Church of San Luigi dei Francesi, which is home to several paintings by Roman painter Caravaggio. Caravaggio lived and worked in Rome during a time when there was a great demand for artwork , to fill the many churches being built at the time. Caravaggio found fame after completing a commission to decorate the Church of San Luigi dei Francesi. His works, which include the Martyrdom of Saint Matthew and the Calling of St. Matthew are famous for introducing a new realistic style developed by Caravaggio himself. Caravaggio’s new realism, as art historians know, sparked the debut of the Baroque era of art.

Laocoön and His Sons on display at the Vatican Museums

Laocoön and His Sons on display at the Vatican Museums

Laocoön and His Sons: A Mysterious Masterpiece

While many of Rome’s greatest pieces of art come from the Renaissance era, there is one ancient sculpture that continues to awe visitors to the Eternal City. Laocoön and His Sons was excavated in 1506, but is believed to have been created sometimes between 27 BC and 68 AD. The Laocoön’s age and sheer magnitude make it one of the most famous—and certainly one of the most exquisite—ancient sculptures in the world.

This mysterious masterpiece narrates a mythological scene in which the Trojan priest Laocoön and his sons are attacked by a sea serpent. Students can find this fascinating sculpture on display at the Vatican Museums.

What Roman work of art do you think is a must-see for students attending university in Italy?

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