All eyes are on Rome as 115 cardinals decide who will be the next pope. With the Sistine Chapel closed to the public as we wait to hear habemus papam, many have asked what do when you can't look up at the world's most famous ceiling. Even during the frenzy of a conclave Rome has more art than clergy, so here are five museums to visit instead of the Sistine Chapel.
When in need a great ceiling, walk into Palazzo Barberini's grand salon. Perhaps the most beautiful Baroque era ceiling, the large span was frescoed by Pietro da Cortona in 1636, as the Allegory of Divine Providence and Barberini Power. The museum's collection includes Raphael's Fornarina and Caravaggio's Judith Slaying Holofernes' Head, and from now through the end of June, 43 recently restored painting are featured in a show celebrating the centennial anniversary of the Hertziana Library. Look for Giulio Romano's Madonna with Child and Filippo Lippi's Annunciation.
Rumor has it that Michelangelo contemporary Raphael Sanzio was locked in the tiny Trastevere neighborhood Villa Farnesina during the early 1510s in an effort to increase his productivity. Whether true or not (the two-level villa has frescoes by several artists), the ground floor loggias are lovingly and lavishly decorated by Raphael. His enticing Galatea dominates the loggia dedicated to the myth and the ceiling of the Loggia of Cupid and Pysche portrays beautiful frescoes depicting their fabled marriage.
The four-floor museum is choc-a-bloc with antiquities from sculpture and coins to mosaics and frescoes. The entire second floor showcases rooms, yes, actual rooms in situ, of 1st century BC to imperial age frescoes. Of particular beauty is the winter triclinium (dining room), whose details depict an evening scene. Palazzo Massimo's ticket also includes entrance into three additional antiquities museums- Baths of Diocletian, Palazzo Altemps and Cripta Balbi.
Galleria Nazionale Arte Moderna
Though far removed from frescoes and Renaissance, the National Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art is a visual history of Italian art from Italy's unification to present. The theatrical Salone dell'Ercole shows off Antonio Canova's early 19th century Hercules and Lica statue surrounded by 12 Olympic gods, while the Salone di Giordano Bruno houses the gallery's largest paintings- monumental depictions of the battles leading up to the 1870 unification.
Now a state-owned gallery, Galleria Borghese was conceived as home for the private art collection of Borghese pope Paul V, 1621. Unlike the other museums, Galleria Borghese is both well-known and well visited. Its enviable collection includes artwork from antiquity to post Baroque and counts several Bernini sculptures and Caravaggio paintings in its roster.