Rome – Day 7

Vatican Museum
Sistine Chapel
Perilli in Proti
Today’s Pictures

We went to the Vatican for the “basic” tour today — wow! All of five hours long…phew!

It starts out, oddly enough, with Egyptian stuff. The popes were omnivorous collectors, the impression you’re left with at the end of the day. Nothing escaped their clutches. There’s a mummy on partical display — head, hands, and feet carefully on view. Yet another argument for cremation – ugh!

Of interest was the collection of sumerian writing. It’s fascinating to see clay used as “paper” and how obviously proficient the scribes (clayists?) were. Plus the rolling seals they made: to get the designs done backwards and wrapped around the rolls so that they come out right when you roll them across the clay is truly astonishing.

After this, there’s a long corridtor of greek and roman copies of greek statuary starting off in an octagonal courtyard with Apollo Belvedere, considered the “most perfect work of art in the world” during the Renaissance (I think he needs a new ‘do, myself).

Next to that is a bearded roman river god lounging around who seems to have been the inspiration for Michaelangelo’s equally loungy Adam.

Next was the Laocoon, the high priest of Troy who tried to warn about greek gives and horses and such but who was crushed by snakes sent by the gods who had already decided on the outcome of that little episode. The statue has a curious story, it was lost and then found in Michaelangelo’s day and carted off to be exhibited. But there’s speculation that Michaelangelo himself may have forged it. (See this article)

Out of the courtyard and going inside is the “Torso”, all that remains of Hercules seated on a lion skin. All strong muscles, this was another of M’s inspirations (and is probably the model for Jesus’ body in the Last Judgement).

Next up is a round room with a huge basin? birdbath? of porphyry (basically, extremely expensive purple marble that’s also hard as hell). This stuff can only be carved with metal alloy tools, a secret lost between the 4th and 16th centuries. Around this were different statues, a Roman conception of a greek building on a much larger scale. Here’s the Artemis I’m standing next to. Following this are two porphyry sarcophagus. Ordered by Constantine’s mother & sister but were never used after all. Guess the rich could afford to change their minds?

From here we popped up to the Etruscan exhibits. Some of these pieces were quite interesting, such as the bowl showing a husband peeing into the chamberpot while his wife plays the flute (!). Another was a bronz statue that was buried after it was struck by lightening. Most of these pieces came from Etruscan burial sites (which were plentiful and extensive) and include al kinds of jewelry, household items, etc.

Then you hit a quarter mile long (I am not making this up) corridor of sculptures, tapestries and maps. The sculptures were almost like some kind of jumble sale of all kinds of stuff packed in to these rooms. Some interesting ones here, such as Diana the huntress, Bacchus carrying a child and a woman with a dog begging at her feet. Oh, and plaster fig leaves added everywhere. Why they haven’t been removed yet in the name of historical accuracy and restoration is lost on me!

After this were the tapestry rooms, but I generally don’t care for tapestries. They fade badly , you can’t restore the colors, and they always smell musty so I sneeze my way through them. Which is a pity because there’s obviously a great deal of labor and craftmanship poured into each one. Still it’s just not an art medium for the ages. Use it, love it, and throw it out…

Following this is the map gallery which is just fabulous. There’s detailed paintings of each region/province in Italy and such. It’s also a cultural and political glimpse into the past. Also the windows in this gallery have the best views of the vatican city and of St. Peter’s Dome (probably how M intended for it to look before Bernini’s facade was dropped in front of it).

After this corridor was a real treat, some of Raphael’s best known frescoes… The Constantine Room shows Constantine dreaming he’ll win if he uses the cross in his banners the next day (he does and then he does); the battle itself (funnily enough on Oct 27th, 0312), then being baptized and finally crowned a christian emperor. On the cieling is a very surreal painting showing a broken roman statue in front of a cross.

The next room shows the liberation of St. Peter, but it’s being worked on, so part of it was screened off. The wall frescoes show St. Peter in chains, the chains being cast off, and then Peter being led to safety. The ceiling is decorated with Old Testament scens: Jacob’s ladder, Compact with Noah, Issac’s Sacrifice, and Moses with Burning Bush. They’ve been restored, and the colors and everything just pop out at you.

The next room is a real treat: The School of Athens, with Plato pointing up because truth is from pure reason and math, and Aristotle pointing down for truth through hands on study of the world. Socrates on one side counting off arguments on his fingers (heh). Michaelangelo even makes an appearance, brooding over a chunk of marble.

Opposite this is The Dispute where Christ and the saints watch the mortals below debate the Eucharist.

The next room has the “Fire in the Borgo” which illustrates the fire that burned part of the building and stopping when the pope blessed it, or signed the cross or whatever. Raphael starts imitating big beefy muscly men here, after seeing M’s stuff.

Finally the Sistine Chapel! I had always pictured this as more of a round dome, I suppose from St. Peter’s Dome, but the Sistine is a long rectangular building devoid of any columns at all. All the biblical scenes along the top are bright and clear and knock your socks off (and bring a pair of binoculars). The frescos below them (not done by M) look earlier, static, even though they are beautiful works of art in their own right. The Last Judgement on the one wall is completely different from the ceiling and well worth sitting down on the seats and taking it in. It’s difficult to believe one person painted all this.

Mysteriously, there are two rather vapid looking frescoes on the wall opposite the Judgement that are not described in the tour books or tagged on the walls. It’s a mystery — good enough to be in the Sistine Chapel, but not good enough to be identified? Too old to be summarily removed and replaced with some high quality stuff?

After this is a longish corridor containing stuff that’s been given to the Pope in later years. (“Look, ma, we got new stuff, too”). One interesting item is the map of the known world in 1529. It’s difficult to even decide approximately where Los Angeles should be!

We popped by the Pinocoteca to see Raphael’s Transfiguration, his last work, actually finished by his students (tho much of his stuff was finished by his students anyway, he’d lay it out, do the important stuff, and move on. Efficient). Then there’s an unfinished da Vinci of St. Jerome. Somehow at one point the head was cut out and used as a seat cover in a shoemaker’s shop – I would love to know more about that story! Also a Caravaggio of the Deposition is here. His stuff’s always good. We finally exited around 4pm after having started out in line around 9:30 am — wow!

We hoofed it over to Franchi just east of the Risorgimento. This specialty store contains all kinds of cheeses, meats, wines, and cooked items — the olive bar looked fabulous! Then back to the flat for a pit stop and a quick foot rest before dinner —

— which was delicious! Perilli in Proti, just up the street a bit on 9 via Otranto. I had a wonderful past (like fettuccini but called something else) with tomatoes, olives, capers, garlic and oil. I had a stuffed olive appetizer, but Mom won with an appetizer of four different kinds of bruschetta: tomato, tapenade, artichokes and roasted pepper. Desert was tirimisu which was delicious, and tasted NOTHING like that I’ve had at home!

And tomorrow….Firenza!!

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