Visiting the Vatican
Another one of those overwhelming sites, we took our guide Sonya Tavoletta along to the Vatican. You really have to either take a guide or do a ton of research before visiting the Vatican museum. Sonya tells us that her least favourite tours are with people who want to tick off seeing the Sistine Chapel and have little interest in the fabulous wealth of art the rest of the place holds. We began with a painted statue of Augustus at the entrance, of whom I forgot to take a picture. Suffice to say he looked very gaudy. Sonya told us that a group of German artists studied many antique statues and used the most modern analysis to discover the tiny pigment fragments on them. They then recreated the statues and painted them as they would have been originally. Apparently everyone hated it.
We saw the Apollo of Belvedere, used in the Renaissance as the highest example of an artistic male figure.
Imagine standing underneath that and trying not to fall over. Again, fairly unremarked because everyone is rushing to get to the Raphael room. Which is pretty fantastic. What I thought was interesting is that he painted the whole room, with a Christian scene on one side and an ancient philosophers scene on the other. I can see why the School of Athens is the one everyone knows about. I was so impressed with it I bought the shopping bag.
See, everyone is chatting, walking, drawing diagrams for each other, arguing. There’s a lot going on. Whereas in the far less remarked Christian scene everyone is just worshipping God, which, if you read the New Testament, is pretty much most of what you have to do to be a Christian. But it doesn’t make for a very exciting painting.
The next thing everyone rushes to after Raphael is the Sistine Chapel. Which means that they hurry through the many rooms of the modern artists. Not just anyone, there was a whole room of ignored Matisse. A couple of Francis Bacons. Look at the crowds in front of these three Salvador Dalis.
Admittedly the Sistine Chapel is incredible. I’ve been there once before, twenty five years ago. It was in the height of summer and also during the restoration works, so we could see some very dark bits of ceiling, a whole lot of scaffolding, some tiny bright bits that had been restored and we were pretty much shoved through like cattle. This time was different. Before we went in Sonya sat us down with a giant book she pulled from her small bag to take us through the individual paintings we would see when we went in. Do you associate Botticelli with the Sistine Chapel? Neither did I, but he did a whole lot of Old Testament scenes around the walls way before Michelangelo got in there. And very nice they are too. We were able to stay in there as long as we wanted, listening to the guards shouting “silencio!” and “no photo!”. It was pretty fantastically amazing, much better because we had been prepped. I did find that whole wall of Michelangelo’s Last Judgement a tad fleshy, even with the sad brown underwear added later, his male statues are fairly lithe but I find his painted nudes a bit on the meaty side. Sonya told us that he’d just been asked to paint the twelve apostles, but he liked painting nude males, and you just can’t paint the apostles nude. The apostles are there all right, but definitely not front and centre.
Sonya left us then, so we jammed in with the Japanese tourists for a spot of lunch, then zipped through our favourite bits again before heading straight for a climb up the dome of the Basilica of St Peter. I do recommend this as a first look at this amazing church. It’s really the only way to see a big chunk of it at once.
Here’s the Throne of St Peter.
It was my husband’s last church, he’s on his way home now to earn some money. He was very glad this one was at the end, not at the beginning of the tour. Which began a heated discussion amongst the kids on which church has been their favourite and why. Ah, the indoctrination is working.