The Niccoline Chapel

As we always tell friends going to Rome, the Vatican Museums are enormous, and you can spend days there but never see it all. We’ve been there many times as adults, yet feel we have barely scratched the surface.

The Vatican Museums are actually numerous smaller museums, but most people take the same route through the classical antiquities to the Sistine Chapel. We urge people to get off this beaten (and immensely crowded) path and go explore other areas, which can sometimes be practically deserted. We’ve spent many happy hours having rooms to ourselves, sometimes geeking out and attempting to translate ancient Roman writings (amo, amas, amat… amabatur?)

One hidden treasure of the Vatican Museums stands out, however. It’s tiny, and not open to the general public, although some tours will take you there. If you have been to the Vatican Museums before, it is definitely worth the splurge.

The Niccoline Chapel is a jewel box of art. Its dazzling glory surrounds you in beauty.

Pope Nicholas V had it built for his private use. He chose one of the greatest artists of his time, Fra Angelico, to decorate it over the period 1447 to 1451.

The chapel walls depict the lives of two early Christian martyrs, St. Stephen and St. Laurence. The beautiful ceiling, shown at the top of this post, is a deep blue decorated with stars, depicting the Four Evangelists.

It may be tiny, but the beauty and emotion in this little room are simply enormous. 

Panel of the life of St. Lawrence
Close up of St. Lawrence receiving the treasures of the church
Panel from the life of St. Stephen being stoned to death on the far right