The Vatican Museums in the 16 th and 17 th centuries
During the Counter-Reformation in the middle of the 16 th century the tradition of collecting was opposed and expurgated with harsh words; in reference to the ancient sculptures collcted in the Vatican, St. Pius V declared: ” sunt idola profana” (these are profane idols). Furthermore, the great new construction site of St Peter’s required unprecedented effort and attention so the Popes of the 17 th century had to concentrate on the colossal projesct, indirectly imposing a lull in the growth of the future museums. The ancient Basilica of St. Peter was erected by the emperor Constantine but then demolished at the beginning of the 16 th century by Julius II, who, according to celebratory medals, laid the first stone of the new church designed by Donato Bramante in 1506.
The experimental exhibition set up in the Vatican by Paul V (Borghese 1605-1621) at the beginning of the 17 th century is noteworthy both for its historical and cultural value..
As the construction work went on the moment came to demolish the old facade of St. Peter’s, the last surviving element of the Constantinian basilica.
In the Vatican Grottoes the sculpture fragments, paintings and mosaics which were able to be saved from the demolition were exhibited with captions in Latin. Furthermore, a series of frescoes done especially for the occasion documented the appearance of the demolished basilica in detail.