The Vatican Museum – I Musei Vaticani

Introduction

The Vatican museums house an huge collection of art that has been collected over many centuries by the catholic church. The collection ranges from ancient Roman statues to contemporary pieces by Salvador Dalì. The collection is immense, and a visit to the museum leaves you with a sense that probably there is a lot more to show but that is not on display.

The Stanze di Raffaello refers to a set of four reception rooms that were originally commissioned as the living quarters for Pope Julius II. Each one of the four rooms is decorated in frescos done by Raffaello, which is where they get their name from – The Rafel rooms. Probably the best known of these frescos is that of the School of Athens in the Room of the Signatura.

But without a doubt, the absolute show stopper of any visit to the Vatican museums is the Sistine Chapel that was painted by Michelangelo. Perhaps the best piece of advice to give anybody visiting the Vatican museums to make sure they keep looking up, because the decorations on the ceiling are truly amazing, and this is even more the case in the Sistine Chapel: in the centre of the ceiling is The Creation of Adam. And this, I must admit, left me completely speechless. Again, it’s one thing to know about these famous pieces of art and reading about them in books. But to see them for real is quite humbling. Not just because of the artistry and craftsmanship that when into their creation, but also because one cannot deny just how much these unique works of art have shaped Western civilisation and culture as we know it, irrepsective of whether or not one approves of the catholic church.

Practicalities

Tickets for a visit to the Vatican museum can be booked online. From what I’ve heard and read on the web, in usual circumstances tickets sell out fairly quickly. So it’s normally best to book as far in advance as possible. However, I visited in July 2021, when Italy was only just starting to recover from the Covid pandemic. There were quite a few visitors on the day I visited, but the facilities are obviously used to coping with significantly larger crowds. There were no queues for security and I was actually allowed in thirty minutes ahead of the scheduled slot I had registered for. Upon entering museum, you first need to exchange your online ticket for a paper ticket, simply to let you through the turnstile to enter the exhibition.

Photography, as well as video or audio recordings are not permitted in the Sistine Chapel. The photos below are all from the actual musem and not the chapel.

St. Peter’s Basilica

Introduction

Michelangelo’s Pietà is a marble statue of Mary holding the body of Jesus after the crucifixion. It is, undoubtedly, one of the most important sculptures from the Renaissance period. Upon entering the Basilica of St. Peter in the Vatican, the Pietà is located immediately to the far right of the edifice.

Without a doubt, most of us have already seen pictures of the sculpture in films or photos. I consider myself fortunate enough to know, now that I have seen it with my own eyes, that none of the pictures even come close to doing it justice.

I am not at all a religious person, must I must admit I was moved by the sculpture, and found it difficult to walk away from it. It’s not just the realisation that you are standing in the presence of such an important piece of art, nor inconceivable talent of Michelangelo’s craftsmanship, or the amazing accuarcy and detail of the sculpture that leave you speechless. I think, what moved me was the immense look of despair on the face of Jesus, and the solemn, despondent sadness in Mary’s. She sits there, with her murdered son in her lap. Her left arm is slightly raised, with the the palm of her hand facing up, in a gesture that suggests the silent question that all of us ask ourselves when we need to come to terms with the loss of a loved one: why does it have to be this way?

The Basilica

Visitors are free to enter the Basilica without a ticket, as it is still an official place of worship. However, visitors are expected to behave with the necessary decorum befitting such a place. Short shorts, sleeveless tops and a big cleavage are nor permitted – on men or women – and guests will need to cover up before they enter.

Apart from the previously mentioned Pietà and the oppulence of the decorations inside, it is the sheer size of the Basilica that impresses the most. To begin with, you’re not even fully aware of it, until you find your bearings and see just how much the people in the Basilica are dwarfed by the height of the ceiling.