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Connoisseur’s Rome - Art & architecture: lesser-known, off the beaten track and private visits

Artistic riches which are difficult to access or are rarely open to the public, including an out-of-hours visit to the Sistine Chapel.

Highlights of the Renaissance and Baroque.

As appealing for those new to the city as for frequent visitors.

25 Feb - 01 Mar 2020 £2,810 Book this tour

  • Villa Borghese, from 'Rome' by Alberto Pisa,publ. A&C Black 1905
    Villa Borghese, from 'Rome' by Alberto Pisa,publ. A&C Black 1905
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Rome is the city of eternal re-invention. After the decline of the imperial capital, it established itself as the centre of the medieval papacy in the ancient ruins. Quanta Rome fuit ipsa ruina docet: that which Rome was its ruin teaches. From the thirteenth century popes and princes of the church relaunched the idea of the Eternal City, culminating in the ‘High Renaissance’ of the early sixteenth century. Artists were drawn from all over Italy for this Renovatio Urbis. St Peter was rebuilt and the Vatican Palace refitted and painted. The Sack of Rome in 1527 briefly dashed this optimism but the city recovered in the Counter-Reformation period, becoming the centre of the Baroque, the first global style.

This tour focuses on Rome from the High Middle Ages to the seventeenth century. We rediscover some of its hidden riches or experience its familiar masterpieces either in private sessions or at quieter times of the day. The major climax is the exclusive visit to the Vatican and Sistine Chapel, after public opening hours and free from the madding crowds. Also private is our visit to Palazzo Colonna, one of the great Roman baronial family palaces with its magnificent Baroque gallery, famously featured in the film ‘Roman Holiday’. Other visits by special arrangement include the Casino Ludovisi, a retreat for cardinals and the early patronage of Caravaggio. His meteoric rise from connoisseur’s choice to public figure of avant-garde controversy will be explored in his major works in Roman galleries and churches.

The flowering of the Baroque culminates in the achievement of the presiding genius of seventeenth-century Rome, Gianlorenzo Bernini, in both sculpture and architecture. The Baroque assertion of the Catholic Church’s global reach and ambition is witnessed in one of the most dazzling of all illusionistic ceilings at S. Ignazio: the founder of the Jesuit order, St Ignatius Loyola, ascends into heaven while spreading his light to the four continents of the world. This tour provides a unique and privileged picture of Rome in its greatest era of splendour since Antiquity.

Day 1

Fly at c. 12.45pm (British Airways) from London Heathrow to Rome Fiumicino.

Day 2

In the morning see the stunning collection of sculpture and painting in the Villa Borghese and visit the 16th-century Villa Medici, now the seat of the French Academy. The ‘Holy of Holies’, the Sancta Sanctorum, was the private chapel of the medieval popes at the Lateran palace and was inaccessible for centuries. It was rebuilt in the 1278 by the Cosmati firm and decorated with frescoes and mosaics which prefigure the Renaissance. Also see Michelangelo’s Moses on Julius II’s tomb in the church of S. Pietro in Vincoli.

Day 3

Villa Ludovisi houses Caravaggio’s early ceiling painting Jupiter, Neptune & Pluto and Guercino’s ceiling painting of ‘Aurora’. Continue to Bernini’s own favourite among his churches, S. Andrea al Quirinale, and compare it with that of his rival, Francesco Borromini’s nearby S. Carlo alle Quattro Fontane. In the evening there is a private visit to the Vatican to see the Sistine Chapel and the adjacent Stanze. With Michelangelo’s ceiling fresco, his Last Judgement on the end wall and the quattrocento wall frescoes, together with Raphael’s frescoes in the Stanze, this is the most precious assemblage of painting in the western world.

Day 4

Palazzo Colonna is an agglomeration of building and decoration of many centuries, and has a collection which includes works by Bronzino, Veronese, Annibale Carracci and others. The 17th-century Grand Gallery is surely one of the most magnificent secular rooms in Europe. The ceiling fresco by Guido Reni in the Casino dell’Aurora in the garden of the Palazzo Pallavicini Rospigliosi is one of the greatest works of 17th-century classicism. S. Ignazio has an illusionistic ceiling painting by Andrea del Pozzo.

Day 5

The delightful Villa La Farnesina has frescoes by Raphael. Palazzo della Cancelleria, begun in 1485 by Cardinal Raffaele Riario, is a masterpiece of Early Renaissance secular architecture and has frescoes by Vasari of the life of Pope Paul III. Santa Maria in Trastevere is said to be one of the first churches in Rome
to celebrate mass, with stunning 13th-century mosaics by Pietro Cavallini.

Day 6

Palazzo Doria Pamphilj holds a famous picture collection (early Caravaggios and Velasquez’s terrifying portrait of Pope Innocent X). Some free time. Fly from Rome Fiumicino, arriving at London Heathrow at c. 7.00pm.

This gives a fair picture of the tour, but there may be substitutes for some places mentioned and the order of visits will probably differ.

Image of Michael Douglas-Scott

Dr Michael Douglas-Scott

Associate Lecturer in History of Art at Birkbeck College, specialising in 16th-century Italian art and architecture. He studied at the Courtauld and Birkbeck College, University of London and lived in Rome for several years. He has written articles for Arte Veneta, Burlington Magazine and the Journal of the Warburg & Courtauld Institutes.

Price, per person

Two sharing: £2,810 or £2,690 without flights. Single occupancy: £3,160 or £3,040 without flights.



Flights (Euro Traveller) with British Airways (Airbus 319 and 320); travel by private minibus; hotel accommodation; breakfasts; 1 lunch and 3 dinners with wine, water, coffee; all admissions, including a private visit to the Vatican Museums; all tips for waiters, drivers and guides; all taxes; the services of the lecturer.



Hotel Bernini Bristol: 5-star hotel excellently located on the Piazza Barberini. Single rooms are doubles for sole use.


How strenuous?

Unavoidably, there is a lot of walking on this tour. The historic area is vast, and vehicular access is increasingly restricted. Minibuses are used on some occasions but otherwise the city is traversed on foot. There is a lot of standing in museums and churches. A good level of fitness is necessary. It should not be attempted by anyone who has difficulty with everyday walking and stair-climbing. Average distance by minibus per day: 9 miles.

Are you fit enough to join the tour?


Group size

Between 10 and 22 participants.


Travel advice

Before booking, please refer to the FCO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting:


'It was truly wonderful to have a private visit to the Vatican Museum and have the Sistine Chapel to ourselves. A fantastic experience and privilege.'

'This was our first MRT tour. We shall certainly look forward to others.'

'I feel very privileged to have been to many of the sites. They were once-in-a-lifetime experiences.'