A Day of Art History – Vatican

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For both my Baroque and High Renaissance class, we were assigned to go to the Vatican Museums on our own.
I decided to kill two birds with one stone and go see everything.

The day really started when I bought a kilo of prickly pear cactus fruit from Sicily at the market this morning.  It is the season for cactus fruit on the island, and they are everywhere in the market.  They are called “Fichi di India” which means “figs from India”.  I really didn’t know what they would be like, so I bought a bunch.  Well, they have tiny microscopic spikes on the outside skin that embedded themselves in my fingers.  The inside is filled with hundreds of hard seeds that are not chew-able.  The flesh of the fruit is on the outside of the seeds and right under the skin.  I had reserved a ticket to the Vatican Museums online to avoid lines. After I printed the ticket out at school I started walking there while unsuccessfully eating my cactus fruit, pocketknife in hand to remove the spiky skin.  It turns out, these cactus are native to Mexico but grow perfectly in the climate of southern Italy:  http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opuntia_ficus-indica .

The Vatican is a very different place than how I imagined it.  Vatican City is not really a city.  Only the Pope and a few other Vatican officials live inside the city walls.  Mostly, it is a church and museum complex.  The gift shop system was extensive, with stands all through the museum selling rosaries, medals, postcards, books, and Pope John Paul II related objects.  He was a very popular pope, his image dominates the merchandise.

The Vatican Museums are huge, and only cover a portion of all the opulence the Vatican has.  I couldn’t see everything despite the fact that I was there for hours.  Halls and rooms are filled with frescoes, tapestries, gold ornamentation, busts, papal clothing, marble statues, oil paintings, icons, manuscripts and more.

I think my favorite part was the Vatican’s collection of ancient Roman and Greek statues.  The art collections of the Vatican were a status symbol, and during the renaissance, it became very popular to collect ancient marble sculptures.    The Vatican has the largest collection of sculptures from Greek and Roman antiquity in the world.

I liked the time of day I was at the Vatican, and would love to go back there sometime soon.  I couldn’t photograph in the Sistine Chapel, but it was a disorienting experience.  The ceiling and walls are covered with paintings of people and bodies.  Michelangelo’s Last Judgment is a sea of writhing chaotic humans.  Then on top of that, the ground floor where you walk is likewise, a sea of chaotic humans.  I couldn’t really look at the ceiling easily because my attention was drawn immediately back down to eye level where I was bumping up against tourists from all over the world.  I want to go back and get a chance to really spend time with some of the pieces of artwork that I didn’t get a chance to see for long, such as Raphael’s School of Athens painting.  It was a great experience.

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