Saturday, October 11, 2008

Vatican Museum and San Pietro

After our morning tour the of the Vatican Gardens, we went to lunch at a place recommended by our tour guide around the corner from St. Peter's Square. I had a delicious pizza (the first few days we spent in Rome I found the food to be mostly bad, but the longer we stayed, the better it got! I think we were just finding the good places to eat, honestly) and the couple we went to lunch with from our tour picked up the tab. Score!

That afternoon we toured the Vatican Museums and St. Peter's Basilica. This was actually my favorite thing that we did the entire time that we were in Rome. Not that I didn't enjoy the other things, but visiting the Vatican was just damn cool. And I'm not even Catholic, as you all know. Although my Dad's side of the family is. But anyway...

Below, I've posted some of my pictures from the Vatican Museum, along with a description of the relevant art.

The Pine-Cone Courtyard: it was built in 1816. Under the Nicchione built by Pirro Ligorio, you can find the colossal pine-cone which gives the courtyard its name: the bronze pine-cone which was found in the baths of Agrippa, and a was fountain which dripped water with spectacular effects. During the Middle Ages it was located in the hall of the ancient Basilica.

The statue of Laocoön and His Sons, also called the Laocoön Group, is a monumental marble sculpture. The statue is attributed to three sculptors from the island of Rhodes. It shows the Trojan priest Laocoön and his sons Antiphantes and Thymbraeus being strangled by sea serpents.

Laocoön was killed after attempting to expose the ruse of the Trojan Horse by striking it with a spear. The snakes were sent either by Apollo or Poseidon, and were interpreted by the Trojans as proof that the horse was a sacred object.

Various dates have been suggested for the statue, ranging from about 160 to about 20 BC. Inscriptions found in Rhodes date Agesander and Athenedoros to a period after 42 BC, making the years 42 to 20 the most likely date for the Laocoön statue's creation.

The statue, which was probably originally commissioned for the home of a wealthy Roman, was unearthed in 1506 near the site of the Golden House of the Emperor Nero (who reigned from 54 to 68 AD), and it is possible that the statue belonged to Nero himself. It was acquired by Pope Julius II, an enthusiastic classicist, soon after its discovery and was placed in the Belvedere Garden at the Vatican, now part of the Vatican Museums.

This was a bust of one of the past Popes in front of a window looking out on Rome. I just thought it was a cool angle.

The Museum houses many mosaics dating from antiquity. Interestingly, the mosaics were moved to the Museum by disassembling them and then putting them back together for display. Meaning each and every tile was moved and then reassembled like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. I do not have the patience for that kind of work.

The School of Athens is one of Raphael's most famous paintings, painted between 1510 and 1511. I remember studying this painting during my sophomore year of high school, as an example of Renaissance art and the importance it placed on reason and science. Seeing it in person was a really amazing experience. from wiki:

Commentators have suggested that nearly every great Greek philosopher can be found within the painting, but determining which are depicted is difficult, since Raphael made no designations outside possible likenesses, and no contemporary documents explain the painting. Compounding the problem, Raphael had to invent a system of iconography to allude to various philosophers for whom there were no traditional visual types. For example, while the Socrates figure is immediately recognizable from Classical busts, the alleged Epicurus is far removed from the standard type for that philosopher. Nevertheless, there is widespread agreement on the identity of certain figures within the painting. Aside from the identities of the philosophers shown, many aspects of the fresco have been interpreted, but few such interpretations are generally accepted among scholars. The popular idea that the rhetorical gestures of Plato and Aristotle are kinds of pointing (to the heavens, and down to earth) is a likely reading. However Plato’s Timaeus--which is the book Raphael places in his hand--was a sophisticated treatment of space, time and change, including the Earth, which guided mathematical sciences for over a millennium. Aristotle, with his four elements theory, held that all change on Earth was owing to the motions of the heavens. In the painting Aristotle carries his Ethics, which he denied could be a scientific study.

Me again: our tour guide told us that while Raphael was painting The School of Athens, Michelangelo was busy working in the Sistine Chapel. The two artists had a famous rivalry, but after sneaking in and checking out the chapel's ceiling, Raphael had to admit that Michelangelo was a master, and added him to his painting. He's the guy sitting in the middle foreground of the painting, leaning with one arm on a chunk of marble.

Our next stop in the Museum was the Sistine Chapel. Photography is not allowed, but I snagged some copies from the web. My reaction to the chapel was...surprising. I pretty much started crying as soon as I saw it. Not bawling, but tears were definitely running down my face. It was just so beautiful, and the space felt so was very moving. To think that one man had painted all of it, it really speaks to the power of art and mankind. I know, blah blah over-emotional much, Mags? But still, it was amazing.

Here's a link to the wiki entry, I really recommend you read it and learn about the different stories told in the ceiling of the chapel. It's amazing. The famous "creation of Adam" with God and Adam reaching out to touch hands is the third tableau from the left, middle section.

The Last Judgment is a mural by Michelangelo on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel. It took eight years to complete. Michelangelo began working on it three decades after finishing the ceiling of the chapel. I really recommend checking out this wiki entry too. There are some great stories there!

After exiting the Sistine Chapel, you are at the top of a large staircase and standing in front of a huge wooden door. Behind that door are the private apartments of the Pope. And, of course, the Swiss Guard. Who can, as you remember, can kill you with 500 common objects. I would not recommend knocking on the Pope's door.

After walking down the large staircase, you end up exiting right in front of St. Peter's Basilica. The northernmost door is the "Holy Door" which, by tradition, is opened only for great celebrations such as Jubilee Years. The present door is bronze and was designed by Vico Consorit in 1950. It was last opened in 2000.

Here is a view of St. Peter's Square from right in front of the entrance to the Basilica.

And here is me, Chris, and Kent, in front of the Square. Our tour ended at 5:00 in the evening, so it was starting to get dark, and the Basilica closed at 6, and we needed to get moving with seeing the interior of the Basilica!

....which you will have to wait until tomorrow to see because I am wiped out! Always keep your fans wanting more, right?

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