Today, Jonathan and I headed over to the Vatican. In order to accomplish this, we had to wake up at seven in the morning, grab a quick expresso, and battle the rain and the Italian metro system to make it to the international border. Fortunately, we made it to the Vatican walls in one piece (albeit a little damper than when we started) and embarked on a tour with Alex, our guide from yesterday. Before I begin describing the painting, architecture, sculpture and mosaics that we saw, I want to preface by saying that I am by no means a religious person. I do not regularly attend mass and, to be frank, do not find myself speaking with the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit very often. That being said, my journey to Vatican City was a very religious experience. Best described, it was not a sensation directed at God, Allah, Yahweh, or any other specific deity, but a general respect and piety that I have rarely felt.
After waiting in line for an hour and fifteen minutes (that was the express, group line), we finally made it into Il Musei Vaticano. At first, everything was hectic as hoardes of tourists, myself included, tried to get their bearings and orient themselves. Once underway, however, everything, for a time, settled down and we were able to enjoy the art. The first thing that we saw was a replica of Michelangelo’s Pieta (the original is in Saint Peter’s Basilica and shielded from the public by a glass wall and a lot of distance). The word pieta refers to the image of Christ held by Mary immediately after he was removed from the cross. Alex explained that at first glance, the sculpture appeared to have been done incorrectly: Mary is much larger in proportion to Jesus, she appears to be the same age, and she is not supporting his legs and thus not preventing them from sliding off her lap. The Pope who commissioned Michelangelo to make this piece described this moment as the worst in Mary’s life. This inspired Michelangelo to recall the story behind Jesus’ birth, when it was revealed to Mary what would happen to her newborn son. Consequently, Michelangelo captured this moment in his Pieta, the moment when her son’s fate was first shown to Mary. That is why Mary appears bigger than she should in relation to Jesus, that is why she looks young, and that is why Jesus’ legs aren’t supported - it is the representation of Mary’s vision while she holds her newborn son.
Next, we sped through the first wing of the Vatican Museum, stopping only to see a few vital pieces of art that were central to Michelangelo’s life. This included the Laocoön, one of my favorite sculptures of all time. While not done by Michelangelo, it is a Roman marble copy of a Greek copper statue. It marks the beginning of a new era in ancient Roman art, with anatomically correct bodies and emotive faces. It depicts Laocoön and his two sons being attacked by snakes, and their anguish is evident as they futilely try and fight back. The emotion displayed by the figures astonishes me, intrigues me, and frightens me.
I wish I knew more about all the other amazing sculptures we saw, but our guide did not have time to explain everything to us, nor did we have time to see everything. If one looked at every piece of art in the Vatican Museum for one minute, they would be there for two and a half years straight. That’s a lot of art! The next big thing on our tour, however, was the famous Sistine Chapel. Stepping into the Chapel gave me chills, right away. It was literally breathtaking. It was more impressive than any picture or description could reveal. It is honestly the definition, in my mind at least, of art in its purest and most beautiful form. Michelangelo painted nine panels - three depicting the creation, three depicting the fall of man, and three depicting the great flood - that lead the eye to the Last Judgment, a massive fresco that takes up the entire back wall of the Chapel. Every figure looks three dimensional and lifelike, every pose and muscle is perfectly painted, and every detail is carefully thought out. I could talk about the Chapel for a long time, but there are really no words that can capture what I want to say. There were also no pictures allowed, but I tried to sneak one anyway. Sorry Vatican!
Eventually, unfortunately, we had to leave the Chapel. That concluded our official tour, and left Jonathan and I the opportunity to explore on our own. We went into Saint Peter’s Basilica, and once again I was impacted with the unexplainable goosebumps that I can only attribute to some sort of religious sentiment. The basilica was enormous and grandiose in every single way. It houses dozens of gargantuan statues, tombs of Popes, the original Pieta, and even Apostle Peter’s crypt. It is the papa of cathedrals, churches, and basilicas. Its scale is immense. From the bottom of il duomo (the dome) and looking up, it looks like you’re looking directly into the clouds, permeated with sunlight. From one end of the nave to the other is two football fields long and illuminated by the most beautiful stained glass and crowned by an enormous, golden altarpiece.
To end out time in the Vatican, we stepped outside and admired Saint Peter’s Square. I found particularly interesting the contrast between the gigantic Saint Peter’s Basilica backdropped to a spiring Egyptian obelisk. Other than that, it looked just like it did in all the movies. I would love to see the Pope there, emerging from the top of the basilica and giving mass to a crowd of devoted Catholics.
After our amazing day in the Vatican, we made our way back to Via Leonina (our hood), where we relaxed and checked up on our missed emails, Facebook notifications, and fantasy football outcomes. After some rest, we went to the Colosseum, which was beautifully lit up. Of everything we’ve seen so far, the Colosseum is one of my favorites and one of the most awe-inspiring sites in Rome, especially lit up against the dark sky at night.
We ended the day eating kabob rolls and sandwich, watching Rachel Maddow and planning tomorrow. Well, we actually ended the day getting gelato, again. Here, they have NUTELLA gelato, which is amazing. Not a bad way to end an amazing day! Buona sera!!