The Birth of the Public Art Museum

Imagine a world without art museums. No tourists crowding around the Mona Lisa, or students stood in wonder at a Warhol. The world’s masterpieces would be hidden away in private galleries to be enjoyed by a very few, very wealthy collectors. That’s pretty much the way the art world worked until 1734. Then Rome changed everything.

Untitled (2010) by L'ATLASOutdoor Project

The Birthplace of Public Art

Rome is a city of art. From its elaborate ancient frescoes, to the thriving modern street art scene, this city has always had a unique appreciation of aesthetics. But did you know that Rome invented the public art museum? 

View of the Farnese Gallery, Rome (about 1775) by Francesco PaniniThe J. Paul Getty Museum

Art For The Few

Before public museums, most art was housed in private collections like this one—Rome’s famous Farnese Collection.

In the 18th century all well-to-do homes were expected to house a collection of fine art and antiquities. However, this meant that art was only enjoyed by a few wealthy collectors and off limits to the average Italian.

Untitled (1901)LIFE Photo Collection

A Pope Patron of the Arts

Meet Sixtus IV—the Renaissance pope who beautified Rome. He restored or rebuilt over 30 churches, and even commissioned the famous Sistine Chapel. But his greatest contribution to the arts was a gift of 6 ancient bronze statues to the people of Rome in 1471. A gift that changed how we experience art forever.

Welcome to the Piazza del Campidoglio

The first public art museum, the Musei Capitolini, was founded here in 1734 to house the 6 bronze statues from Pope Sixtus IV.

His Euro Italy Rome Romulus And RemusLIFE Photo Collection

The Capitoline Wolf

The She Wolf—with the figures of Romulus and Remus—is the most famous of all the 6 gifts. It has become the symbol of Rome.

Untitled (2014) by Lady AikoOutdoor Project

Art For Everyone Lives On

Rome’s love for art is just as strong now as it was 300 years ago. It even spills into the streets. The Outdoor Festival—the city’s annual street art celebration—may seem far removed from the Musei Capitolini. But the spirit is the same. 

Alice Pasquini portrait (2015) by Alice PasquiniOutdoor Project

Alice Pasquini

Alice Pasquini has exhibited in galleries and museums around the world. But city walls are her favourite canvases of all. She brings a uniquely feminine aesthetic to Rome’s street art scene, with colourful and dynamic depictions of women, children and animals. In 2013, her street art even appeared at the home of public art: the Piazza Campidoglio.

‘Believe it or Not’ by Alice Pasquini

The Outdoor Festival, Rome, 2015

JBROCK portrait (2014) by JBROCKOutdoor Project

JB Rock

JB Rock was instrumental in bringing stencil and poster art to Rome in the early 90s. His art is inspired by a diverse mix of both pop culture and classic Italian art. He cites Verdi’s opera La Traviata as one of his major influences, as well as other contemporary Italian street artists.

‘Self Portrait’ by JB Rock

The Outdoor Festival, Rome, 2014

Laurina Paperina portrait (2014) by Laurina PaperinaOutdoor Project

Laurina Paperina

Laurina Paperina doesn’t take the art world too seriously. She’s created her own weird and wonderful world that combines dark humour, satire and psychedelia to challenge the conventions of modern art. Her work is fun, outrageously witty and accessible to everyone.

‘Proud to be a Loser’ by Laurina Paperina

The Outdoor Festival, Rome, 2014

The Outdoor Project teamOutdoor Project

Founded in 2014, Outdoor Project strives to free art from any barriers. Their projects and artists disseminate throughout the streets and the architectures of Rome, intertwining with the ever changing face of the city. By opening the doors of abandoned buildings and spaces through art, Outdoor Project give them back to the city, fostering education, emotions and sense of community

Outdoor ProjectOutdoor Project

Louvre (1850)LIFE Photo Collection

A Gift From Rome To The World

Today, it’s hard to imagine what life would be like without the Louvre or the Uffizi. Technology has even made it possible for us to see the world’s art from our computers and phones (like you’re doing right now). Art has come a long way since 1734. And we have the city Rome to thank—with its 6 bronze statues that started it all.

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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