Friday, January 15, 2010
If you hack the Vatican server, have you tampered in God's domain?- Aaron Allston
Rome only has seven hills. The exit to Palatine Hill sits about three quarters of the way up Capitoline Hill. At the top sits a piazza, surrounded by Renassiance buildings housing the Capitoline Museums, designed by an elderly Michelangelo who died before it was realised. The Piazza del Campidoglio is a perfectly proportioned square on a trapezoid shaped site (something which caused it's designer endless headaches) with the 2nd century bronze equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius in the center. Actually it's a replica swapped for the real thing in 1997, a little more worse for wear now thanks to modern air pollution, which is safely inside. The fact it survived at all is considered pretty remarkable as Aurelius was a pagan. It is thought it's resemblance to Constantine, a Christian, was probably what saved it. Legend says that when the original statues gold patina returns, it will herald the end of the world.
Commissioned by Pope Paul III, the artist turned the orientation of the square away from the Forum, to face Saint Peter's and the Vatican, to symbolise Rome's Christian allegiance.
The remains of the infamous, 6th century BCE, Temple of Jupiter was discovered, during a restoration by Mussolini on the site, controversally exposing artifacts such as 16th century tombs of children.
The Statue of the Nile (Tiber is there too), discovered on Quirinal Hill, and placed here, at the bottom of the staircase, just as Michelangelo had envisioned.
The two imposing figures at the top of the stairs, designed with a gentle incline so as to accommodate carriages, are Castor and Pollux. Twins who were born of different fathers the significance of which was realised when Castor died leaving Pollux, who was immortal, to plead to Zeus to share his immortality with his brother. Zeus complied and they became Gemini. The remains of the Temple of Castor and Pollux, you might remember, is down in the Forum. Again, these are not the original Michelangelo sculptures which are now in front of the President of Italy's palace on yet another, the highest, hill in Rome.
Inside the museum is the oldest public collection of art in the world. The vast majority of it is sculpture in marble, stone and bronze, busts, life size figures, colossal gods, mythological creatures, Popes and Heads of State -pun intended. Many of the male figures have amusingly and quite obviously had their maleness removed by the early Catholic church, to preserve the piety of the onlooker but of course it only succeeds in drawing ones attention to the fact- even at the ripe old age of 40!
Even though it was still raining this prodigious figure of Neptune really did deserve a closer look.
It was getting dark outside so we called it quits for the day and went instead in search of food.
Day two in Rome dawned dry. Trying to be relatively organised and avoid unnecessary queues we had purchased our tickets to the Vatican Museums online a couple of weeks before our departure. The lines at the Vatican are legendary and the 27th of December was no exception. Around the block and down the road they stretched almost as far as the eye could see. The line at the adjacent entrance for those with reservations, however, was completely non existent so for no extra cost we were able to stroll casually through the door to join the security shuffle.
It was a bit hard to know exactly where to go to get into where the museum actually started. In the end we just followed what seemed like the majority of people up the stairs through the 'Bookshop' where we were able to swipe our tickets on an entry turnstile and proclaim successful entry.
The Vatican Museums are physically huge and almost every surface is decorated. I took just as many pictures of the tile and mosiac floor as I did the beautiful ceiling frescos.
The advice was to work out which of the 14km of galleries you wanted to see and stick to the plan. There are supposedly signs at the beginning showing you where to go for the 2 hour, 3 hour and 5 hour self guided tours, thereby cutting out the bits you weren't as interested in, but we didn't see them. You can of course get yourself onto a guided tour, for a price, but with a Deafie in our midst we have found that often proves more trouble than it's worth as someone has to 'translate' all the time, so he gets some benefit out of it too, which means inevitably the 'translator' and B miss sometimes more than they 'hear'. You can also download audio tours off the internet or rent tours and headsets near the bookshop at the beginning.
Having finally found some direction we moved quickly through the first gallery of pilfered Egyptian antiquities, including more than one mummy, and into a set of rooms called 'Museo Pio-Clementino', a collection of ancient Greek and Roman sculpture that was the original core of the Vatican's collection. Gathered by the Popes Julius II, Leo X, Clement VII and Paul III during the fourteenth century but then lost, as the bulk of it was gifted away. What you see now was painstakingly recollected by the Popes Clement XIV and Pius VI.
There are ceiling frescoes and mosaic images on the floor to look at too.
Yep, that was on the floor under ours and the winter boots of literally thousands of others.
There are 11 named rooms, that make up the Pio-Clementino collection, all full of worldly treasures and significant eye candy. One, the Sala Rotonda, built by Simonetti, was based on the Pantheon which we planned to see the next day.
The tapestry room is impressive and not just for the huge carpet size hangings with the tiniest wool, silk and silver stitches I think have ever seen.
Every inch of the barrel shaped ceiling in the 120 meter Gallery of Maps is ornately decorated with incredible delicate paintings, gold gilded embellishments and pale naked ladies.
The maps, commissioned in the late 1500s by Pope Gregory XIII, are incredibly detailed and, considering they were painted well before GPS, amazingly accurate.
A priceless collection of early printed books and manuscripts are not the only extraordinary things in the Vatican library. Every surface is covered with scenes of early religious and Papal life.
Again remembering to look both up
...and down so nothing is missed.
You could certainly spend an entire day in the museum except feet eventually get tired on the hard tile floor, eyes get sore and brains get so full everything begins to look similar. I am an art and a religion buff and after three hours or so I was fatigued and we still hadn't found the famous Sistine chapel although we were following the signs swept along in the river of humanity that washes the Vatican halls and galleries everyday.
And then we were there.
The Cappella Sistina. Now I've really run dry of superlatives.
Compared to what we had already seen of the Vatican's treasures the chapel seemed more quiet, less busy, despite the intermittent barked instructions from the guards. 'No photos please!', 'Move down please', 'SSSHHHH!!' Even surrounded by bent necks and furtively captured pictures it was possible to feel reverence for the work, for the artist, for the place.
That Michelangelo, a sculpter not a painter, composed the legendary work under duress is astounding considering how intricate the illustration is and how time consuming the art of fresco is. Because Frescos are painted on wet plaster a new section of plaster had to be laid fresh each day. He used a broad wash technique, applying colour to larger areas of the wet plaster returning after the section had dried a bit to add detail and outlines. The height of the ceiling does nothing to diminish the impact and clarity of the 'Last Judgement'. We stood and gazed and we resisted....
....which is why I dont have any photos to show you....
After the Sistine Chapel it was hard not to feel finished. We made our way through the rest of the galleries and on the to the Vatican Post Office...
...where we bought and wrote a postcard to Grammy and Pop and to Nana then exited using the spectacular spiral staircase designed, by Giuseppe Momo, in 1932. The spiral double helix, like the DNA, suggests life.