Vatican Museum’s Gallery of Maps Includes Fine Nautical Artwork

Last week I was very fortunate. I was in Rome, Italy and spent an entire day at the Vatican. I did not do much research before going, because I wanted to take it all in without a lot of preconceived ideas. I wanted my mind to be fresh. I wanted to be surprised.

So, there I was making my way through one long hall after another, each filled with the most amazing artwork in the world. Everything from Egyptian coffins and Etruscan pottery to paintings by European masters and Greek sculptures. Every doorway was a colossal arch held up by marble pillars, every ceiling decorated with frescoes and ornate golden trim.

Here’s the scene as I entered the Gallery of Maps.

A few steps down the corridor I looked back and up and here’s what I saw:

To say this is art and architecture on the grandest scale is an understatement. Descriptions such as profound genius and epic masterpieces seem to fall short. As I walked along the corridor, I listened to the audio guide and learned that Pope Gregory XIII, back in 1580, commissioned a map maker to draw and paint detailed maps of Italy along the corridor which is over 100-meters long. The maps look like this:


As I walked along and gazed on theses amazing maps, my eyes were constantly drawn to the ships, sea creatures and ports cities painted in all along the Italian coastline. I felt like I was in heaven.


The intricate detail showing wooden ships with their sails full as they crossed the Mediterranean to Greece and Egypt made me wonder about the adventures those sailors must have had back in the 1500s. The elaborate paintings of sea creatures made my imagination run wild.

As you well know if you have read this blog before, I love nautical artwork in all its forms, including sea stories, novels, movies, tattoos, drawings and paintings. All I can say is that I was very happy, surprised and impressed with the fine details found in these old paintings. I would give almost anything to be able to travel in a time machine back to the mid-1500s and be able to meet with the artist who painted these marvelous pictures. I would give almost anything to be able to sail with the sailors back in those days, when the sea was full of mystery and monsters.

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Malcolm Torres is the author of sea stories and nautical fiction.

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