Today we took on theVatican and the many papal interests and intrigues within. We did not have an audience with the Pope. I was surprised as we had Tweeted that we would be there. It was beyond rude… I mean, are these people not connected? You think it’s a coincidence that all 10 commandments are less than 147 characters? We were able to walk to the Vatican from our hotel and crossed the Tiber River over the Bridge of Angels. I guess I will get used to the awe of antiquity that strikes me every time I see something so historic as century-old sculptures. But, I hope I don’t. That theory was tested during our tour through The Vatican Museum and neighboring St. Peter’s Basilica.
During our tour of the Pinacoteca gallery, we learned that an unfinished Leonardo DaVinci work had part of the masterpiece cut out and used as a seat on a stool for a shoemaker. Jeff has tried some pretty crazy DIY projects, but we have never cut up our DaVinci for home furnishings. Here we got our first taste of Rafael with The Transfiguration perhaps made most famous by being his final work.
The Vatican Museum was miles of fascinating history from marble statues salvaged from various Roman ruins to sarcophagi from Thebes. There were histories and theories surrounding each. One of the more interesting was of an emperor obsessed with the Egyptian culture who recreated a ritual at his villa in the country. Part of the plan was to flood part of the estate to simulate the Nile River. The map room was stunning with it’s long hallway of maps of the time. They led to the Rafael rooms with masterworks such as The School of Athens and The Disputa which lined the walls of the Pope’s bedroom. A philosophical moment: The School of Athens seemed displaced amongst the many interpretations of the crucifixion. For an artist of the time to introduce the idea that science could co-exist with religion must have taken courage. To plaster it on the Pope’s bedroom wall… took a set of Renaissance stones that you couldn’t carve from granite. We moved on to the Sistene Chapel.
As we moved through the modern art galleries leading up to the Chapel, I can’t help but wonder at the artists displayed. It must have been an honor to get the letter saying your work would be hung in The Vatican Museum. Only to find out you’re right before the Sistene Chapel. To enter the Chapel, you walk down a staircase and the first thing you see is a sea of hundreds of faces. Wall to wall looking up with their mouths open. The second thing you see is a floor to ceiling marvel called The Last Judgment. To call it a mural does not do it justice. In fact anyone caught calling it a mural is immediately judged. A few years ago, I completed a jigsaw puzzle of the Sistene Chapel ceiling. It was over 6 feet long and 4 feet wide and took a little over two years to complete. I thought that was hard. When you see the Sistene Chapel in person, you are added to the ocean of faces who are struck by the shear magnitude of the accomplishment. I was expecting not to be able to see The Creation of Adam or David and Goliath. The colors are so vibrant, you can see details from where you stand. You see expressions and you sense movement. It is the essence of creation and you are left pondering what you’ve done lately.
If you ever wondered where The Vatican keeps it’s old Popes, look no further than the grottoes. They kept them all. We didn’t realize this at the start of our visit, but these guys are everywhere. Under the basilica, in every niche of the basilica, you can even buy some of the lesser known popes in the vending machines. One of the most popular and moving was the simple white stone where John Paul II rests. Perhaps that is because of the impression that he left on me and the world. Perhaps it is because it made me think about legacies and staying true to your beliefs even after you are gone from the earth.
(To be Popetinued…)