Monday, October 13, 2008

The Vatican Museum

After three visits to Rome in two years and living here for six months, I finally made it to the Vatican Museum. I visited St. Peter’s Basilica during my first trip to Rome. I live within walking distance of the Vatican but after hearing how overwhelming the Museum was and crowded it could be, I kept putting it off. It was worth the wait.

I went on a Context tour. These tours are pricey but as with most things in life, you get what you pay for. There were two older married American couples in my group. That’s it; just five of us and a kick butt docent from England named Hilary.

To be honest I would rather stick hot knifes in my eyes than be on a tour with a large group of people. You can’t hear the guide and you're shoved quickly one space to another.

However, going on a small tour to see something specific can be rewarding. I know I would not have enjoyed the Vatican Museum as much if I had done it on my own. We could ask questions and our guide was very knowledgeable and entertaining. After the tour I wanted to return to school and study the Reformation and the Counter Reformation again. As someone who tells stories for a living, I loved hearing about, Nero, the Sack of Rome, some of the outrageous Popes, the lives (and deaths) of Caravaggio and Raphael, Greek mythology, etc.

The tour was three hours and it felt like we were in there for only 30 minutes. It was gorgeous outside on Saturday and the museum wasn’t too crowded. The tour started at 2:30 so maybe we lucked out with our timing. Once we ended up in the Sistine Chapel it was packed (I could write several posts about Chapel.) I think a lot of people skip major parts of the museum and just head to the Chapel. It’s a shame because the grounds are beautiful and there are some incredible paintings in the Pinacoteca Gallery.

Hilary had a binder with her and showed us close ups of several works of art while we sat outside in a courtyard. She explained the different panels of the Sistine Chapel.

I’ve seen Michelangelo's Pieta. It’s behind bulletproof glass after a mentally disturbed man attacked the statue in the 70s. You can’t get close to the statue and see the details of Michelangelo’s work. It’s the only work he signed (look on the sash) because no one believed he did it.

As Hilary showed us the close up photographs, she said this is what Michelangelo was put on earth to do. I can’t believe he was only 23. To have that kind of talent at any age really staggers me.

I’ve mentioned before I do have some issues with organized religion (again, I'm happy my parents don’t have zee Internets) and struggle with questions of faith. I stood there and looking at the Pieta and felt moved. Where does that kind of talent come from? I feel the same way when I hear some of my favorite composers and singers. You can’t teach someone to sing, paint, or sculpt like that. They have to have some talent to begin with; maybe a teacher can help bring out the best in them.

I’m not a mother but when Hilary (who has two sons) was describing how Mary looks at her son, I seriously almost broke out in tears. The only thing that saved me from being completely embarrassed was everyone our group was in awe of this work. It’s just strange to me that something created from a block of stone can convey emotion. Freaking amazing.

When my family and friends come to Rome I will suggest this or another one of Context's tour. One of the husbands said the tours they went on in Florence were amazing and worth every penny. The professor who did the screenwriting workshop I went to a few weeks ago was raving about them as well

Here is the Context website.

The Map Room was one of my favorites.

Raphael's Transfiguration. Photos without flash are allowed in the Museum. However no photos are allowed in the Sistine Chapel. Of course people kept trying to take photos and ignored the guards asking them not to. I thought that was beyond rude. It was dark so not sure how their photos were going to turn out any way.


KC said...

Don't be embarrassed about crying before art that moves you. It means that you are open enough to experience something that many people think of in purely intellectual terms in a real, visceral way. (At least that's what I tell myself I do it.)

joanne at frutto della passione said...

Have you seen Michealangelo's Moses yet? Legend says that when he completed it, he hit it and said *Why don't you speak?* It is my favourite.

michelle of bleeding espresso said...

Hey will you be my tour guide when I come to see the Vatican Museum? You'd give a great tour :)

I've had emotional experiences looking at sculptures in particular; Rodin has some amazing pieces that speak to my romantic side, but I can recall tearing up in front of many a religious painting/work of art, and like you, have issues with organized religion. The fact that we can still feel those connections makes faith an even more complex subject methinks.

Thanks so much for sharing this.

missexpatria said...

The first time I ever walked into the Basilica, I cried. I didn't even know why I was crying, but I was. It was indeed embarrassing, but I've never been so overwhelmed.

Oh, and you should read "Basilica" by R. A. Scotti. Awesome, very fun, very gossipy and well-researched.

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

Your post touched me beyond words. My father was an art historian and we had many wonderful hours touring museums together while he told me stories about what we were seeing.

I adored the Vatican Museum when I saw it many, many years ago.

It sounds like you had a wonderful time.

Italianissima said...

I am so glad that you shared your visit to the Vatican Museums with us. I have been there so many times I have lost count but my most memerable time was when I was a Jr in high school and took an archeology course for college credit. We spent 2 weeks in Italy (one in Rome) and our professor, Dr. Bender, was so incredibly knowledgeable about every work of art in the really brought home the meaning and importance of what I was seeing. I am glad that you had a similar experience...these days it is rare to find someone that actually is moved by these astounding works...most people just don't get how amazing they are!

I also really enjoyed the tour I took of the Borghese Museums a few years back. I decided to do the guided tour in Italian and I am so glad that I did. Our guide was probably one of the most well versed art students I have come across in a long time. So worth every penny.

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

kc - I'm glad to hear I'm not the only person who gets chocked up about art.

joanne - Yes I have seen it. I went to see again yesterday. That is a great story.

michelle - ha. I don't think I would be the best guide. Thanks for the compliment. I really do love sculpture. That medium really speaks to me. re: faith, since moving to Rome it's something I've been thinking about a lot.

missexpatria - Thanks for the suggestion. The David made me choke up too, along with several works of Bernini.

jen - I had a great time. I really learned a lot and it was fun.

italianissima - I adore the Borghese Gallery. I went there during my first visit to Rome. It's a museum I always recommend. I like how they only allow a certain amount of people in at a time. The art is just incredible.

glamah16 said...

That was a great post. I hate large tours as well, but this sounds perfect. I consider mtself relgious but at odds with the whole organized religon thing, so I get you. But when you see masterpieces like these or nature in all its glory you have to ponder where dit really come from.

Off topic. Is Bill Mahers Relgious out in Rome? Was skeptical at first and thoought I would got to hell watching it , but it's a good movie.

sdg1844 said...

I had an opportunity to visit the museum as well and was very moved by the Pieta. Michaelangelo was blessed. There is no other word for his gifts.

BigCNYC said...

Beautifully written. my experience in the vatican was the complete opposite. I wanted to run out of there because of the commercialism and crowds. Next time I'll check with context group.

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

glamah16 - grazie. the movie isn't out here yet. I'm curious about it.

sdg1844 - yes he was.

bigcnyc - Thank you. I understand what you mean. I felt that way about the Uffizzi in Florence. It was so crowded I felt like I couldn't breathe.

wordtryst said...

You've told this so well you just fired up my determination again to visit that place. I am so sending this post to my sis.

I need to rev up those prayers. And that Basilica book is going on my wish list!

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

wordtryst - thank you. I'm looking forward to reading Basilica as well.