Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Vatican Museums

It seems that every visitor to Rome, be they traveling on their own, or part of a large group, wants to visit the Vatican Museums, and Bill and I are no exception. At 9 a.m. yesterday morning, we joined an already very long line-up. Two hours later, thoroughly baked by the sun, we entered the museum.
The layout of the museum is unfortunate, in that the vast hordes of visitors are all funneled through the same chambers with little chance to fan out into less crowded areas.
On the plus side, this makes for some pretty entertaining people-watching.
And occasionally one gets an unobstructed view of some of the sensational antiquities in their collection. Here is a rather unusual dog-headed Egyptian god in a Roman toga. I'm sorry but we didn't get his name. We usually try to. [Note added September 2010: Steven Shubert from the Toronto Reference Library set us straight. He writes: "Yes I know that statue.  It is actually a jackal head and represents the ancient Egyptian god Anubis who is involved with mummification and leading the deceased into the underworld.  The caduceus is really the staff of Hermes or Mercury who serves as a guide in Graeco-Roman mythology.  In the Roman Period the worship of Isis spread throughout the Mediterranean and they used all sorts of Egyptian elements.  Anubis as a god of the dead was one of the most popular."] Thank you, Steven!
We were pleased to find ourselves more or less alone in the Etruscan wing. What a relief! Note that this museum is no exception to the "aerobic museum-workout syndrome" of Roman collections.
We loved this little lion face on an Etruscan bronze shield -- so charming!
The windows in hallways and rooms often gave us glimpses of Rome or into the Pope's private gardens -- here's a glimpse of his gardens and the Basilica's dome. Romantic, eh?
But eventually, all visitors are all sucked into the final funnel; a seemingly endless hallway that leads to the holy grail of any Vatican visit, Michelangelo's masterpiece, the Sistine Chapel ceiling.
If you are one of those visitors, you will be led down a very long dark corridor hung with dark tapestries, then to another dark corridor hung with dark maps. You will not be able to make out any details of any of these works of art, but that's OK, because you won't want to. By that time you will just want to reach your goal. The Raphael rooms provide a breath of relief but at some point you will have to take the plunge. A helpful sign will remind you to try not to descend the stairs on your tailbone.
When we finally arrived at the Chapel every square inch of the floor was packed with our fellow visitors .We couldn't help wondering what the effect of the humidity from our mass of bodies will have on the paintings above. It is a waking nightmare of art appreciation. Here, Bill catches me in front of the Last Judgment, straining to gaze upward, like the rest of the damned in hell, for a glimpse of Paradise.
And it is indeed a glimpse of Paradise. Here I managed to snap a picture of my favourite detail, the Erythrean Sibyl . Bill and I think this ceiling is the greatest painting in Western art, and that its relatively, recent cleaning has been a triumph. It is very hard to tell from reproductions, but when you are standing under it, the painting resolves itself into three dimensions. It is gorgeous. The colours sing. Was it worth the agony to reach it? Yes, oh, yes!
But after taking in its glory, you will want to fly, fly, out of the building, as fast as you can go. And so down the gorgeous Vatican staircase we went, back out into the fallen world, to have lunch, which restoreth both the body and the spirit.


  1. Some lovely shots here. I particularly love the one of the vacitan with the trees in front. Gorgeous angle. As well as the last shot of the winding staircase. Stunning!

  2. Grazie, Lisa!
    Glad you liked my Vatican shots. Rome is nothing if not photogenic! We're having lots of fun sharing this trip with family and friends.
    kisses to one and all!
    Uncle Bill

  3. If you want to visit the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel for free on September 27 it'll be free entrance.