Antonio Paolucci has been art superintendent in Venice, head of Florence museums and Italy's culture minister in 1995-96.
Paolucci, 68, has also served as the government commissioner overseeing the restoration of the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi following a 1997 earthquake.
He replaces Francesco Buranelli, who was named secretary of a Vatican cultural office.
The Vatican museums gather hundreds of artworks from painters including Michelangelo and Raphael. The Sistine Chapel is the last stop on a tour of the museums.
Last year, 4.2 million people visited the Vatican museums.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said at the meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club that Russia will never initiate military actions, including with the use of nuclear weapons