Capella Sistini e Vaticano

DATE: Wednesday 12 July, 1995



REMARKS: Another civilized start to the day with a nice breakfast. Then out of the Hotel, climb the steps across the road, and there opposite us is the 'Entrata' to the 'Musei Vaticani' and 'Cappella Sistini'.

Crowds already at 0930 (shades of Disneyland without the traffic engineering). A long spiral climb and queue at the ticket-office and already the heat is getting to us.

Then into the galleries. They are almost overdone: vast numbers of illustrations large and small on the walls and ceilings. All richly coloured and patterned - almost as though the Italians are scared of blank spaces.

The tapestries are eye-catching: not only are they large, but the detail achieved (e.g. on muscles with their rippling shades) is staggering. And the galleries stretch on and on.

The Sistini Chapel is jam-packed. Lots of people, knowledgeable or wishing to appear so. What strikes me is the apparent delight in perspective - figures seeming to fall from the roof heightening an already tall room - and the use of empty space. In contrast with most of the other chapels and galleries, the Last Judgment uses 'space' /empty sky to separate its various set pieces. Other pictures are framed with decoration which, to my eye, makes the whole too busy to deal with easily. Being a heathen I also do not find reading the allegorical paintings easy. Their symbolism does not 'speak' to me; and I wonder just how many of the other tourists find themselves in the same position. Desiree however is in her element, relishing her background of Catholicism, literature and classical art.

The modern galleries are more of the same - same imagery and symbolism in a different and sparser medium.

Most amazing and breathtaking of all are the illustrated manuscripts in the Biblioteca (or scriptorium). Glorious, sumptuous colours (blues, reds, golds), painstaking detail, and delightful flourishes are magnificent: decoration for its own sake and free from the didacticism of the formal art works. If there is a souvenir I wanted and didn't get, it was a replica/facsimile of one of these books.

After lunch, on to St Peters. Here is public space on a grand, monumental scale, not dared to be considered in New Zealand.

The Basilica itself strikes me as drab, in a colour sense, after the riot of colours of the galleries in the morning - all browns and grey stone. Even the gold appears dim. The proportions and scale are stunning, and the decoration appropriate, but the calm, coolness and colour are what remain with me.

Charlotte and I wander a full circuit; Desiree and the other two vanish in the crowd - tomb-bound it turns out; we take our turn later. While down in the tombs we pause to listen to a group of schoolgirls burst into song at one tomb. A glorious echoey venue for an impromptu concert; one only hopes the spontaneity is genuine and not contrived or engineered.

The other notable feature is the 'cult of personality' and the plethora of memorials to specific Popes. I find the emphasis on temporal beings disturbing in a house dedicated to the worship of God. He is almost notable by his absence. What is proclaimed is the (self-promoted?) sanctity of the men dubbed Pope.

Given the way at least some achieved office, one wonders at the validity of the centrality given to them.

The two cathedrals of St Peter's and St Paul's provide an interesting contrast to an imperial past: were the vicars of Rome really the monarchs of a spiritual empire?

A nap, a wander, and dinner aIfresco again before a (relatively) early night.

Charlotte's distress returns - poor kid. When will it break?




Musei Vaticani

Sistine Chapel

St Peters

All the photos in one place!


Musei Vaticani

Sistine Chapel

St Peters

Hotel Alimandi

Maps & Aerial Photos

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