Hidden Art Treasures in Rome, Rome

Hidden Art Treasures in Rome (Self Guided), Rome

Rome is one of the world's top living museums, replete with some of the most iconic pieces of art on the face of the planet. Famous artists, such as Michelangelo, Caravaggio, Raphael, Bernini, to mention but a few, had lived and worked here and left indelible marks in the city.

Needless to say that the abundance of masterpieces makes Rome crowded with tourists anxious to see them, causing the local museums to charge hefty fees. Still, there's also a surprising number of hidden art gems in Rome that are free to look at and routinely passed by tourists totally undetected.

Indeed, Rome has numerous layers and the density of its art scene is truly mind-boggling even for a discerning traveler or culture vulture. Luckily, with a bit of insider knowledge, one can find and enjoy the works of art by renowned masters completely free of charge. Here are some of the “secret spots” worth checking out:

Saint Mary of Peace Church – rededicated to the Virgin Mary after a miraculous bleeding of a Madonna image in 1480; among other features here is the “Sibyls Receiving Angelic Instruction” fresco by Raphael.

Basilica of St. Augustine – known for plentiful artwork by Caravaggio, Raphael, Guercino and Bernini, as well as the Buongiovanni Chapel (in the left transept) decorated by Giovanni Lanfranco and the "St Thomas of Villanova Distributing Alms" sculpture by Bernini's assistant Ercole Ferrata;

Church of St. Louis of the French – a small basilica just one block from Piazza Navona; a hidden gem absolutely worth a stop, if only for the spectacular Contarelli Chapel housing the in-situ triptych by Caravaggio depicting life of St. Matthew;

Elephant and Obelisk Statue – the red granite obelisk from Egypt, dated circa 580 BC, set upon the marble elephant carved by Ercole Ferrata;

Santa Maria sopra Minerva Church – renowned, in part, for housing the Cristo della Minerva, aka “Christ the Redeemer” or “Christ Carrying the Cross” marble sculpture by Michelangelo Buonarroti.

If you’re an art lover, traveling on a budget, and willing to be whisked off the beaten path for some unusual findings in Rome, take this self-guided walk and ferret out its less touristy and overlooked, but nonetheless just as magnificent, landmarks that are still under the radar.
How it works: Download the app "GPSmyCity: Walks in 1K+ Cities" from Apple App Store or Google Play Store to your mobile phone or tablet. The app turns your mobile device into a personal tour guide and its built-in GPS navigation functions guide you from one tour stop to next. The app works offline, so no data plan is needed when traveling abroad.

Download The GPSmyCity App

Hidden Art Treasures in Rome Map

Guide Name: Hidden Art Treasures in Rome
Guide Location: Italy » Rome (See other walking tours in Rome)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 8
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.2 Km or 2 Miles
Author: clare
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Chiesa di Santa Maria della Pace (Church of Saint Mary of Peace)
  • Basilica di Sant'Agostino (Basilica of St. Augustine in Campo Marzio)
  • Chiesa di San Luigi dei Francesi (Church of St. Louis of the French)
  • Piazza della Minerva & Obelisco della Minerva (Minerva Square & Elephant and Obelisk Statue)
  • Basilica di Santa Maria sopra Minerva (Basilica of Saint Mary above Minerva)
  • Basilica di Sant'Andrea delle Fratte (Basilica of St. Andrew of the Thickets)
  • Chiesa della Santissima Trinita dei Monti (Church of the Most Holy Trinity on the Mounts)
  • Basilica di Santa Maria del Popolo (Basilica of Saint Mary of the People & Cerasi Chapel)
Chiesa di Santa Maria della Pace (Church of Saint Mary of Peace)

1) Chiesa di Santa Maria della Pace (Church of Saint Mary of Peace)

In 1656, Pope Alexander VII commissioned Pietro da Cortona (1596–1669) to expand the small Peace Square (“Piazza della Pace”) in front of the 15th-century church of Saint Mary, so as to accommodate the carriages of wealthy parishioners. Cortona's solution involved designing a new church facade with a semicircular portico, demolishing select buildings to create a more spacious approach to the church, adding arches to architecturally unify the piazza, and constructing a series of small-size palaces. The outcome became one of Rome's most charming architectural ensembles.

Inside, you can find several magnificent Renaissance treasures, starting with Raphael's fresco above the first altar on the right, which depicts the Four Sibyls (exact replicas of Michelangelo's but with a more relaxed style). Meanwhile, the Cesi Chapel, located second on the right, features exquisite decorations designed by Sangallo in the mid-16th century. Across from it, you'll find Peruzzi's remarkable fresco of the Madonna and Child. Additionally, the octagon beneath the dome serves as an art gallery in itself, displaying works by Arpino, Gentileschi, and others, while Cozzo's "Eternity" adorns the lantern above.

Behind the church lies its cloister – designed by Bramante, the architect of St. Peter's Basilica – which stands as the first embodiment of the High Renaissance style in Rome. The cloister now hosts an exhibition space and a delightful coffee bar on its upper level.
Basilica di Sant'Agostino (Basilica of St. Augustine in Campo Marzio)

2) Basilica di Sant'Agostino (Basilica of St. Augustine in Campo Marzio)

Sant'Agostino, one of Rome's earliest Renaissance churches, is renowned for its façade crafted from travertine sourced from the Colosseum. This sacred place holds a special connection to motherhood, primarily due to the presence of Jacopo Tatti's statue, the Madonna del Parto ("Pregnant Madonna"). It is believed to possess the power to aid pregnant women, and thus it is surrounded by photographs of newborn babies and their elated parents. However, in a more distant past, during the 16th century, Sant'Agostino became a haven for Rome's creative community, attracting affluent patrons and well-connected artists.

As you venture further inside the church, you will encounter Raphael's vibrant fresco of a blue-robed Isaiah, adorning the third pillar on the left. Just below it, Sansovino's sculpture, influenced by Leonardo da Vinci, depicts a rugged St. Anne and the Madonna with Child. The most bustling crowds gather around the first chapel on the left. Here, you may discover Caravaggio's masterpiece, the Madonna of the Pilgrims ("Madonna di Loreto"), painted in 1605, which exemplifies a characteristic style that was considered nearly revolutionary for its realistic portrayal. It actually caused quite a stir in Rome as it depicted a kneeling pilgrim with meticulous attention to detail, including dirt on the soles of his feet. The Madonna herself stands in a humble pose within a weathered doorway, deviating from the typical majestic depictions of the era.
Chiesa di San Luigi dei Francesi (Church of St. Louis of the French)

3) Chiesa di San Luigi dei Francesi (Church of St. Louis of the French)

San Luigi's Contarelli Chapel, situated as the fifth and final chapel on the left, towards the main altar, is a pilgrimage destination for art enthusiasts. It is adorned with three astonishingly dramatic works by Caravaggio (1571–1610), the baroque master known for his captivating use of light and shadow. These paintings were commissioned for the tomb of Mattheiu Cointerel in one of Rome's French churches (San Luigi, dedicated to St. Louis, the patron saint of France). As you approach the chapel, the inevitable coin machine will illuminate the "Calling of Saint Matthew", "Saint Matthew and the Angel", and "Martyrdom of Saint Matthew", arranged from left to right. Caravaggio's unparalleled command of light elevates these works to unparalleled heights.

However, when these paintings were initially unveiled, they stirred considerable controversy among the clergy of San Luigi, who viewed the artist's dramatically realistic style as scandalously disrespectful. The first version of the altarpiece was even rejected, and the priests expressed discontent with the other two paintings as well. Over time, Caravaggio's patron, Cardinal Francesco del Monte, who secured the commission and staunchly defended the artworks, has been fully vindicated.

Other works in the church include pieces by Cavaliere D'Arpino, Francesco Bassano il Giovane, Muziano, Giovanni Baglione, Siciolante da Sermoneta, Jacopino del Conte, Tibaldi, and Antoine Derizet.
Piazza della Minerva & Obelisco della Minerva (Minerva Square & Elephant and Obelisk Statue)

4) Piazza della Minerva & Obelisco della Minerva (Minerva Square & Elephant and Obelisk Statue)

During the 1600s, elephants were regarded by the Catholic Church as symbols of strength, intelligence, and sexual morality due to their monogamous nature and brief mating periods occurring once every two years. In 1667, Gian Lorenzo Bernini designed the elephant that carries the Obelisk of Santa Maria sopra Minerva for Pope Alexander VII. Obelisks were associated with wisdom, leading Alexander to have an inscription added to the base that reads, "A robust intelligence is required to support solid wisdom."

The red granite obelisk, unearthed in 1665 during excavations near the neighboring church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, is believed to have been brought to Rome in the 1st century AD for the temple dedicated to the Egyptian goddess Isis, which once stood in this location. Originally erected by Pharaoh Apries of the Twenty-sixth Dynasty of Egypt around 580 BC in his capital city of Sais, the obelisk stands at a height of 5.47 meters and is the smallest among the 13 ancient obelisks currently found in Rome. It is considered to be part of a pair, with the other obelisk located in Urbino.

In more recent times, Salvador Dali's painting "The Elephants" portrays two elephants with elongated legs facing each other while carrying fragmented obelisks, making visual references to the statue of the elephant in Rome.
Basilica di Santa Maria sopra Minerva (Basilica of Saint Mary above Minerva)

5) Basilica di Santa Maria sopra Minerva (Basilica of Saint Mary above Minerva)

Tucked away just behind the Pantheon in Rome, Santa Maria sopra Minerva is a hidden gem that holds not only religious significance but also a wealth of art. As the former Roman headquarters of the Dominican order, this church boasts two exceptional masterpieces that make it truly worth a visit: Michelangelo's statue, "Cristo della Minerva", and the remarkable cycle of frescoes by Filippino Lippi in the Carafa Chapel.

Also known as "Christ the Redeemer" or "Christ Carrying the Cross," Michelangelo's marble sculpture is located to the left of the main altar and was completed in 1521. The commission for this work was received in June 1514, and Michelangelo began working on the first version around 1515. However, upon discovering a black vein in the white marble, he abandoned the sculpture in an unfinished state.

A new version was quickly substituted in 1519-1520, with Michelangelo entrusting the final touches to an apprentice who unfortunately damaged the work. Nevertheless, the second version impressed contemporaries and garnered unusual praise, such as the remark that "the [statue's] knees alone were worthy of more than the whole of Rome."

Initially, Michelangelo depicted Christ unclothed in a standing pose, intentionally exposing his sexual organs to signify his uncorrupted sexuality, free from lust and under complete control of his will. This portrayal showcased his triumph over sin and death in his resurrected body. However, in 1546, a floating bronze loincloth was added to shield the genitals from view.

Christ's leg is bent, and his head is turned back, following the principle of 'contrapposto'. Compared to the first version, this more dynamic pose creates varied impressions when viewed from different angles, activating the space around the sculpture and suggesting an unfolding story.

While many medieval churches in Rome underwent Baroque transformations, concealing their Gothic features, the Church of Saint Mary above Minerva has largely retained its original appearance. It features several magnificent stained-glass roundels, including one depicting Mary surrounded by saints, which is considered the finest stained glass in all of Rome. The ceiling is painted deep blue with golden stars, adding to the church's enchanting ambiance.
Basilica di Sant'Andrea delle Fratte (Basilica of St. Andrew of the Thickets)

6) Basilica di Sant'Andrea delle Fratte (Basilica of St. Andrew of the Thickets)

Originally located at the northernmost boundary of Rome, Sant'Andrea delle Fratte was constructed in the 1100s. Although the church now resides firmly within the city, its name, which translates to "thickets" in English, harkens back to its initial setting.

During the 17th century, the church underwent a complete reconstruction, with Borromini playing a significant role in the project. The bell tower and dome, distinguished by their intricate concave and convex surfaces, offer a remarkable sight when viewed from Via di Capo le Case, situated across Via dei Due Macelli. The bell tower, in particular, showcases a fanciful design adorned with angel caryatids, flaming torches, and elaborate scrolls reminiscent of semi-folded hearts, all supporting a spiky crown.

In 1842, a Jewish banker purportedly witnessed an apparition of the Virgin Mary within the church, prompting his swift conversion to Christianity and subsequent missionary work. Inside the church, the Miraculous Madonna chapel immediately catches the eye. However, Sant'Andrea delle Fratte is most renowned for housing the angels sculpted by Bernini, a rival of Borromini, for the Ponte Sant' Angelo. These angelic sculptures were deemed too exquisite to face the harsh weather conditions, leading them to remain under Bernini's family's care until 1729. Eventually, they found their permanent home in the church, where they were positioned on either side of the high altar under the decree of Pope Clement IX.
Chiesa della Santissima Trinita dei Monti (Church of the Most Holy Trinity on the Mounts)

7) Chiesa della Santissima Trinita dei Monti (Church of the Most Holy Trinity on the Mounts)

Perched above the Spanish Steps, this 16th-century church boasts a unique facade with double towers that exude hints of late-French Gothic style. Interestingly, construction was financially supported by the French monarchy. Today, its beauty primarily stems from its commanding position and breathtaking vistas. The obelisk situated in front of the church was relocated here in 1789 but traces its origins back to the early years of the Roman Empire.

Upon stepping inside, the first chapel to the right catches the eye with its embellishments, featuring a "Baptism of Christ" and other paintings portraying the life of John the Baptist, created by Giambattista Naldini, a Florentine Mannerist painter. Moving to the third chapel on the right, one can admire an "Assumption of the Virgin" painted by Daniele da Volterra, another accomplished Mannerist painter and sculptor. Interestingly, da Volterra, who was a student of Michelangelo, is most famously remembered for his involvement in covering the genitals of figures in Michelangelo's "Last Judgment" with garments and loincloths after the master's passing. This earned him the nickname "Il Braghettone," meaning "the breeches maker."

In a niche located along a corridor that leads to the cloister, there is a revered fresco known as the "Mater Admirabilis", depicting the Virgin Mary. Painted by Pauline Perdreau, a young French girl, in 1844, this fresco holds a reputation for its alleged miraculous nature.
Basilica di Santa Maria del Popolo (Basilica of Saint Mary of the People & Cerasi Chapel)

8) Basilica di Santa Maria del Popolo (Basilica of Saint Mary of the People & Cerasi Chapel)

This early Renaissance church, believed to be the burial site of Nero according to legend, was commissioned by Pope Sixtus IV della Rovere in 1472. Underwent a Baroque transformation in the 17th century under the guidance of Bernini, it became a favored resting place for the wealthy inhabitants of Rome and is renowned as a treasure trove of artistic riches.

Within its walls, Raphael designed the Chigi Chapel, a centralized octagonal structure, and adorned its dome with mosaics depicting the Creation of the World.

In the left transept of the basilica, the Cerasi Chapel, also known as the Chapel of the Assumption, steals the spotlight. It is embellished with two grand Baroque canvases by Caravaggio—the "Conversion of Saint Paul" and the "Crucifixion of Saint Peter"—making them both crucial masterpieces not only within the church but also in Western art as a whole. Another notable artwork in the chapel is the "Assumption of the Virgin" by Annibale Carracci, an esteemed master of Italian Baroque.

Caravaggio's paintings, characterized by dramatic lighting and foreshortening, are meant to be viewed from an angle rather than head-on. They attract attention towards Carracci's frontal presentation of the Assumption, effectively uniting the chapel aesthetically despite the contrasting styles of the two artists. The light in Caravaggio's paintings emanates from the painted heavenly vault in the anteroom, where the dove representing the Holy Spirit resides.

The chapel itself exudes exuberant Baroque style. The frescoes on the short barrel-vault of the chancel depict the Coronation of the Virgin in the central medallion and the visions of Saints Peter and Paul, including "Domine Quo Vadis" and "Saint Paul Transported to the Third Heaven", in the side panels. These paintings are framed by opulent gilded stucco. Executed by Innocenzo Tacconi, an assistant of Annibale Carracci, the frescoes also feature a coronation scene personally painted by Carracci himself.

Outside, in the piazza, make sure not to miss the sculpture of Neptune with his trident. Additionally, the Museo Leonardo da Vinci features a number of Leonardo's inventions built to scale, some of which can be operated by the public.

Walking Tours in Rome, Italy

Create Your Own Walk in Rome

Create Your Own Walk in Rome

Creating your own self-guided walk in Rome is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
"Roman Holiday" Movie Walking Tour

"Roman Holiday" Movie Walking Tour

A movie beloved by generations of people, "Roman Holiday" (1953) was filmed entirely in Rome and starred two of Hollywood's greatest icons: Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck. The romantic comedy would go on to earn three Oscars, including the best actress trophy for Hepburn, who is entirely sympathetic in a role that could have been off-putting. The main storyline centers on a day of...  view more

Tour Duration: 4 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 9.0 Km or 5.6 Miles
Spanish Steps to Trevi Fountain

Spanish Steps to Trevi Fountain

An established tourist mecca, today's Rome is hardly imaginable without two of its much loved attractions – the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain. Magnets for tourists as they are, these two sights are connected to a number of other, not less worthy of attention locations, such as the Fountain of the Longboat or Piazza Colonna and its centerpiece, the Column of Marcus Aurelius, to...  view more

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.0 Km or 1.2 Miles
EUR Sightseeing Walking Tour

EUR Sightseeing Walking Tour

The Esposizione Universale di Roma (EUR), located in the southern suburb of Rome, was originally constructed for an international exhibition that was planned by Mussolini as a grand celebration of Fascist Italy. However, due to the outbreak of World War II, the exhibition never took place. The architecture of EUR was designed to glorify Fascism and showcases a distinct style that sets it apart...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.6 Km or 2.2 Miles
Fountains and Squares Walking Tour

Fountains and Squares Walking Tour

In Rome there is a lively piazza round almost every corner, each with its own unique atmosphere and its own story to tell. These public squares have been the center of Roman culture for centuries, and some of the city’s most popular attractions are located within them.

Most piazzas have a fountain in the center and a lot of cafes around. In fact, Rome holds the largest number of fountains in...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.1 Km or 2.5 Miles
Roman Forum and Imperial Forums Walking Tour

Roman Forum and Imperial Forums Walking Tour

It's a known fact that "Rome wasn't built in a day." But when it was finally built, it stood the test of time and became "the eternal city." Many have heard that "all roads lead to Rome," but very few probably realize that inside Rome itself all roads lead to the Forum.

The central hub of ancient Rome, the Roman Forum (also known by its Latin name...  view more

Tour Duration: 3 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.6 Km or 1.6 Miles
Trastevere Walking Tour

Trastevere Walking Tour

Heading down from the Vatican along the River Tiber, one is bound to find yet another city hidden within the city – Trastevere. This name translates literally to "across the Tiber". Indeed, crossing the picturesque Ponte Sisto (Sisto Bridge) to the west bank, you will find yourself in a charming neighborhood with a distinct character that sets it apart from any other part of Rome.

...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.9 Km or 1.8 Miles

Useful Travel Guides for Planning Your Trip

10 Best Food Markets in Rome Italy

10 Best Food Markets in Rome Italy

Of all the things Italy is most famous for (cars, music, fashion, movies, etc.), food is, undoubtedly, top of the list. Rome may well not be the whole Italy, but no Italy is whole without Rome... And the Romans, much as all their fellow-Italians, like it "fresco", hence the abundance of...
Souvenirs Shopping: 15 Authentic Italian Things To Buy in Rome

Souvenirs Shopping: 15 Authentic Italian Things To Buy in Rome

Rome is the Eternal City and, as such, the list of gift options available here is countless. Whether it's something edible, drinkable, wearable or pleasing to the eye that you want - you will find it all here in abundance. However, if time or budget is the factor, perhaps you might want to...
17 Best Gelaterias in Rome Italy

17 Best Gelaterias in Rome Italy

For ice cream lovers and dabblers this guide is a treasure chest of Rome’s best gelato shops. There are gelaterias everywhere. Many visitors to Rome only have a few days to explore the city. You owe it to yourself to make the most of your time and find the gelato locals eat. Often the authentic...