Hanging with popes at the Vatican
I once read that it would take ten years to view every item in the Vatican Museums. Even if I had 10 years to spare, I would not choose to spend them exploring ever inch of an art museum. So one day at the Vatican Museum it is. It was plenty. I probably spent more time exploring the architecture of St. Peter’s than the treasure troves of the Vatican Art Museum.
Catholic rules and things
I visited in early March. High temperatures reached a balmy 55F. Showing too much skin wasn’t a huge concern for me. However, keep this in mind if you decide to visit in the summer, this IS a religious site. Even if you aren’t Catholic or Christian, show respect. Additionally, the Vatican has a pretty strict dress cod. They also have the staff to enforce said rules in nearly every language under the sun. So no hats, shorts, bare knees, bare shoulders, ect.
So here’s the thing; I am Catholic, [not a shining example] but I am the only member of my family that is. I had a decidedly non-traditional childhood. The one thing my dad insisted on was that I ‘go to church’. So I picked the most exotic church I could find– Holy Spirit Catholic Church. It was [and still is] a tiny parish. I did not know a single soul that was Catholic. My dad refused to go in with me. And the parish had no idea what to do with a school aged child with no parents. But I regularly attended mass. While I didn’t have ‘parental permission’ to take the sacraments, I soldiered on. And while at my decidedly non-Catholic Christian College, I gave a big, double fingered fuck-you to my dad, and went and got baptized, confirmed, and confessed all at once. And just like that, I was an official Catholic.
So yeah…Vatican City, home to about 800 people including— yes, you guessed it—ole’ Benedict himself. As luck would have it, I was staying right outside the Vatican. Some people say stay in Central Rome; it’s where all the action is. To those people, I say staying near the Vatican is a much better idea. Less people, better gelato, and inn keepers who will get you tickets to the Wednesday papal address.
Anyway, back to Vatican art…
There’s a statue of some Greeks.
At first glance there is an angry energy to the statue. The father and his two sons writhe and twist in battle with two snakes. The agonized expression on the father’s face as he fights to save his children adds drama and pain to the scultpuree. And the quality of the work is breath-taking. The sculptor depicts the muscles and sinews of each of the three figures as they struggle with the serpents. I vaguely remember seeing a slide of this during art history. The Struggle. The Emotions. The Strength. And since I DO love history, I did a little digging on the history of this piece.
And what a history!
This statue linked to the founding of Rome, and to the renowned Latin writer Pliny the Elder. Who’s he? I’m glad you ask. Pliny was an amazing writer who died trying to escape the eruption of Mt Vesuvius that destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum. And that’s not all. The statue’s story also intertwines with Michealangelo, the birth of the Vatican Museum, Raphaeal, William Blake, and even Emperor Napoleon! Impressive, no? Next to naked David in Florence, it was one of my favorite scupltures.
The Sistine Chapel
The amazing Sistine Chapel ceiling almost didn’t get painted. Michelangelo wanted to be seen as a sculptor [he did create David after all] and not a painter. He didn’t want to accept the commission for doing it, but Pope Julius II wasn’t an easy man to refuse. Julius was nothing, if not impatient. During one confrontation Michelangelo, Julius threatened to have him thrown off his scaffolding if he didn’t complete the work more quickly. On one occasion, the story goes, Julius asked when it would be finished. “When I can,” said Michelangelo, whereupon His Holiness began beating him with a stick. [Ahhhh, Catholicism…]
At *only* 498 years old, the ceiling is by far not the oldest attraction in Rome, but it may be the most famous. It took me two days to paint 144 sq ft of ceiling in one color. It took Michelangelo four years to paint 12,000 sq ft of ceiling in several scenes and colors. He wins.
Let’s face it, other than knowing that I was looking at the Sistine Chapel ceiling, I didn’t have a clue as to what I was looking at. An art snob, I am not. But that staircase. That thing was awesome.
Intentional or not, the staircase leading to [and from] the Vatican museums is an amazing work of art and engineering.
Shout out to R.E.M.’s Losing my religion for helping to supply this post’s title.