Explore the Ancient Statues at St. Peter's Basilica
St. Peter's Basilica is the most well-known Renaissance-style church in Vatican City. One of the reasons for its popularity is the extensive art incorporated within its walls. It contains some of the best artworks not just in Rome, but world-wide. We've put together all the information you need to know about the St. Peter's Basilica statues and their fascinating stories.
About St. Peter’s Basilica Statues
Popular St. Peter’s Basilica Statues
The Pieta, created by the Italian master Michelangelo, is one of the most famous statues in the world. The Carrara marble structure shows Jesus after his crucifixion, on the lap of Mother Mary. It stands nearly 6 feet tall and exudes a monumental aura that captures the moment's sanctity, leaving its viewers in complete awe.
Michelangelo's only signed sculpture from the late 15th century is the Pieta, which roughly translates to "Pity." As you enter St. Peter's Basilica, look for this magnificent statue in the first chapel on the right.
Monument to Pope Alexander VII
Bernini's final great work was the Monument to Pope Alexander VII, which he designed at the age of 80. It can be considered as one of the most important masterpieces in St. Peter’s Basilica history of statues. The pope kneels in prayer, surrounded by four female statues, each representing one of the Pope's favorite virtues: charity, prudence, justice, and truth.
The last one is particularly noteworthy because it holds an intriguing political message from the 1600s - ‘The truth is stepping onto a globe with easily identifiable countries.’ The winged skeleton that emerges from beneath a heavy marble drapery is the most startling aspect of the monument, with the skeleton being Death herself, holding a large hourglass as if to emphasize that the time of life has passed.
Monument to Innocent XII
Inspired by his idol, Innocent XI, Pope Innocent XII was also a reformist. Among many significant initiatives, he also worked towards creating judicial and economic justice for everyone, opened up a hospital, and built a palace for disabled people.
The Monument to Innocent XII by Filippo Della Valle is a simple composition. It has an urn with the statue of the Pope, figures of Charity and Justice, and two angels at the top. They are placed in a higher position due to limited space. As a result, the monument-like effect is inevitably visible. In a peaceful but uncommunicative pose, the Pope is depicted seated, with the "Triregno" on his head and his right hand in the act of blessing.
Monument to Pope Pius VIII
A statue of Christ enthroned, as well as statues of St. Peter and Paul, flank the Pope as he kneels, with allegories representing Prudence and Justice. During the reign of the French in Italy in 1808, Pope Pius VIII was imprisoned for refusing to take Napoleon's oath of allegiance. He signed and approved the decrees of the Council of Baltimore (October 1829), which included the first formal gathering of the bishops of the United States.
Under the monument is a small door that leads to the Sacristy and Treasury Museum. The passage leading to the museum contains the list of all the Popes buried in St. Peter’s Basilica.
Monument to Benedict XIV
Pope Benedict XIV is seen rising from his throne to grant his blessings to all. Beneath him are two allegorical statues of Sacred Wisdom to the left and Disinterestedness to the right. Both these were sculpted by Gaspare Sibilla.
A gilded sun adorns the first figure's breast, who holds a book in her right hand. A stout little angel that holds a cornucopia full of jewels and money flanks the second. Bracci created this piece with classical designs from the 17th-century, using multi-colored designs with pyramid-shaped arrangements.
Monument to Urban VIII
The pyramidal layout of Bernini's Monument to Pope Urban VIII is similar to that of Pope Paul III's tomb, but it is more harmonious. On a white marble, there is a bronze statue of the Pope who is giving his blessings to all. The various figures on the right and left have different meanings. The one on the left that is a child signifies Charity and the one on the right which has a sword and other weapons signifies Justice. For the very first time, a skeleton was used by Bernini to signify death.
Bernini included tiny depictions of Barberini’s Bees on this monument, something that can also be seen throughout the Basilica.
Statues on the Facade
The facade of St. Peter's Basilica is crowned by thirteen colossal statues. Between 1612 and 1614, a number of sculptors worked on these statues.
St. Matthew by Bernardino Cennini, St. Thomas by Simeon Drouin, St. James the Great by Egidio Moretti, St. John the Baptist by Simeon Drouin, Christ the Redeemer by Cristoforo Stati, St. Andrew by Carlo Fancelli, St. John the Evangelist by Antonio Vals, and St. James the Great by Giuseppe Fontana are some of the statues of Facade that you must see on your visit to the Basilica.
Statues of Founder Saints
Aside from its many Papal monuments, St. Peter’s Basilica also contains almost 40 statues of important founder Saints. These statues can be found all across the Basilica and are a homage to important figures in the history of the Church. Some of these important Saints are St. Peter of Alcantara, St. John of God, St. William, St. Dominic, St. Paul of the Cross, St. Vincent de Paul, St. Teresa of Jesus, and St. John Eudes.
Discover St. Peter’s Basilica Statues
St. Peter’s Basilica has been an architectural marvel for many centuries now. On your visit to the Basilica, take the time to observe the intricate details of these ancient statues. They truly are timeless masterpieces.
Frequently Asked Questions About St. Peter's Basilica Statues
A. The Pieta was designed by Michelangelo.
A. Monument to Alexander VII was the final work of Bernini.