The Vatican: All The Paintings

Trevor Gager

A comprehensive collection of one of the richest art troves on earth.
The Vatican: All The Paintings

Image: Michelangelo's The Creation of Adam 

If you enjoy the simple pleasures in life, such as drinking coffee whilst leafing through a coffee table book, then you may just have found the ultimate caffeine companion: The Vatican: All The Paintings. Be aware however that with over 500 pages and a weight seemingly not far off that number in kilos, you will need to drink an awful lot of the black stuff in order to get through the whole thing; and indeed to give you the energy to actually lift it.

Following on in the same fashion as Black Dog & Leventhal’s 2011 publication Louvre: All the Paintings this latest release takes us on a journey through another one of the world’s great artistic wonderlands: the Vatican Museums. The formula for this and its companion is quite unique and will have wide appeal. For this is not just an impressive looking art book filled with beautiful photographs, but a comprehensive yet easy to follow guide through the various museums and spaces of this spiritual capital.

This book is not organised by artist name, style, or timeline, but by the actual museums themselves; and because of this we are given a much clearer understanding of how the Vatican’s formidable collection was formed, and how it has evolved over the past 500 years. The introductions to each section - there are 22 in total - are a highlight, with each one representing areas such as the Pinacoteca Vaticana, St. Peter's Basilica & Vatican Palaces and giving insight into when and why they were built, and who instigated their construction in the first place. We should never forget that the Popes were among the first sovereigns to open their palaces to the public in order to promote art and knowledge. 

All 661 of the Vatican’s permanent classical paintings collection are featured within in this single volume, including many of the world’s most important religious works from the 450 paintings within the pontifical collection. Some of the many highlights include: Caravaggio’s The Desposition; Leonardo da Vinci’s enigmatic St.Jerome; and one of the oldest works in the Pinacoteca, Giotto di Bondone’s The Stefaneschi polyptych, which also includes an additional tri-fold page, showing the work in finer detail.

These gatefolds are a nice touch and have also been included to highlight the scale and magnificence of two other highly iconic masterpieces, Raphael’s frescoes and of course Michelangelo's awe inspiring Sistine Chapel ceiling, which has been beautifully photographed. Actually the quality of images throughout the book is very good, however if I did have one slight gripe it would be regarding a few inconsistencies in quality where older lower resolution stock archive images have been used. This however does not detract from the book's overall quality, and even these lower quality photos are better than a majority of the pixelated interpretations we experience online.

Additionally a further 315 works are included (making a total of 976), and not only demonstrate the incredibly diverse inventory that these museums hold, but also the extraordinary wealth of the Catholic church. Included are contemporary works from The Collection of Modern Religious Art (inaugurated in 1973 by Pope Paul VI), as well as tapestries, maps, sculptures, architecture, and non-European non-Christian artifacts.

To top everything off each work has been meticulously annotated by title, date of artwork, artist name, birth and death dates, medium and size, with 180 of the most significant works illuminated by art historian Anja Grebe through additional text. Finally, as a bonus should the size and weight of this book finally get too much for you, then you can also take the digital approach and insert the supplied supportive DVD-ROM that not only includes every image, but enables you to search by museum location, painting type, artist, era and date. 

4 out of 5 stars 

The Vatican: All the Paintings
Anja Grebe
Black Dog and Leventhal
Hard Cover
Published: 1 November 2013

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Trevor Gager is Company Memberships Manager for ArtsHub.
When he’s not in the office you will find him listening to Bowie, Classical Music, and breaking up fights between his two Cats (Pablo & Andy).