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The Vatican Mosaics: Paintings for Eternity

If you’ve been lucky enough to visit Vatican City then you know that intricate and beautiful mosaics cover many of the floors and hallways as well as adorning walls and ceilings everywhere. They are a sight to behold and truly inspiring. Most would agree that the mosaics of St. Peter’s Basilica are particularly stunning.


St. Peter’s Basilica

The very first mosaics arrived and were installed at the Vatican in St. Peter’s at the end of the 16th century. In 326 AD the first St. Peter’s Basilica was consecrated.  It was located over the spot where the martyred St. Peter was buried in 64 AD.  Eventually a new Basilica was built to replace the original and was consecrated 1300 years later.

The interior of the spectacular St. Peter’s Basilica is lavishly decorated with well over 28,000 mosaic pieces on view. Many of these mosaics are replicas of paintings that once adorned the walls. Over time the paintings have been damaged by mold due to uncontrolled humidity levels inside the church.  Many believe that, “mosaics are paintings for eternity” because they are not easily damaged and will stand the test of time.

The Mosaic Studio of the Vatican

So, in keeping with this belief, the work of preserving, restoring and replicating the famous mosaics of St. Peter’s Basilica continues in a small studio located next to the church, inside the Hospice of Santa Marsa. 

This modest studio is the site where all of the mosaics of the Vatican are created. Here, about a dozen mosaic artists and restorers work on repairing older mosaics, creating new works and also making reproductions of the more famous artworks in the Vatican collection. Some of these reproductions are given as gifts to heads of state by the Pope and others are available for purchase by collectors. There’s a gift shop right next to the workshop where Vatican visitors can purchase already completed mosaics … but you’d better come prepared to spend more than a few dollars. These mosaic artworks can command prices that range from $3,000 – $300,000 EU!

Vatican Floor mosaics

Inside Vatican City beauty lies underfoot as well as on soaring ceilings and on cathedral walls. The floors of the Vatican are often intricately detailed and have their own stories to tell. Pictured below are two pavement mosaics; one from the Sala a Croce Greca (the Greek Cross Gallery) and the other in Sala Degli Animali (the Animal Gallery). These are just two of the museums established with the Vatican City to house the extensive Papal collections of art and cultural artifacts. Typically, the museum floors are decorated with mosaic pavements that reflect the artifacts housed within the individual museums.

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