Thursday, August 28, 2008

Vatican City Part II - Museum fatigue (awed as well)

Vatican Museum

Besides being the home of the famous Sistine Chapel, the Vatican museum houses many of the world's renowned art treasures, and is an attraction massive enough to occupy an average visitor more than a few days (for a complete tour). To me, however, browsing the museum was an exercise of patience and endurance and I will explain it here.

1. Someone please enlighten me why a huge mammoth of a museum does not see a need to fully air condition all of its rooms? DON'T priceless works of art such as Raphael's and Michelangelo's frescoes deserve some TLC by air conditioning the rooms they are in??? I am no art scholar, so I have no idea how frescoes should be maintained. But I do think AC is a minimum, no? If AC's too costly, may I suggest better ventilation at least?

2. Queues to enter the museum are known to be snaking, even before it opens, and so the visitor numbers within the museum at any one time can be astounding. Let's just say, I can't swing my arms around me without accidentally socking someone in the gut. During summer, without AC, and with throngs of people around you, the problem of humidity, heat and lack of ventilation is exacerbated a 100 times.

3. Did I already mention that the museum is massive? Even a cursory visit of the key rooms within a day is not possible. I regret to say that the impressive collections weren't enough to alleviate that icky, sweaty feeling that lingered during my entire stay at the museum. Hence it was mostly a touch and go affair. Medieval art? Skip. Contemporary Art? Skip. Sistine Chapel. Straight on.

Fortunately, I did buy my first museum guide here, and it was somewhat useful in providing additional information even after leaving the place, despite not fully exploring the museum's many other worthwhile exhibits.

The Vatican museum and city guide
The illustrations on the cover were from the Sistine Chapel's wall frescoes.

Here are the pictures taken within the museum. Fortunately cameras were allowed here, unlike some other museums we visited. We were still diligent in taking photos. hah.

Shots from the Egyptian Museum: upper left, an Egyptian sculpture (don't know what it represents); upper right, Anubis, the escort of the dead, and above, mummified body of a woman. Being an avid movie buff of the Mummy movie trilogy, I was pleased to find familiarity in the exhibits - e.g., names of Egyptian gods (like Anubis, but no Scorpion King, sorry to disappoint) and the book of the Dead exhibit.

Clockwise from upper left: View of the courtyard known as the Cortille della Pigna; Mr Irish evidently NOT too pleased with the fig leaf; a trio of sculptures; the Laocoon and his sons.

I was most intrigued by the statue of Laocoon and his sons. Even before reading up about the statue's history, I was fascinated by how the figures intertwined each other, and the demonic torture they seemed to be enduring. According to Wiki, Laocoon, the old guy in the middle, is a Trojan priest and his sons Antiphantes and Thymbraeus were being strangled by sea serpents. Laocoon was killed after exposing the Trojan Horse farce, by spearing the Horse. Interestingly, his fellow Trojan kinsman do not regard him as a hero, but instead regarded the Horse as a sacred object.

I also recalled reading in Dan Brown's Angels and Demons, that some chaste Popes in the past, who probably took offense to the blatant displays of nudity by many artists, went on a censorship campaign, and ordered these *ahem* crown jewels to be either hacked off or covered with fig leaves.

Mr Irish's mirror image imitation gone awry. There wasn't time for me to correct the pose-sorry!

Strolling along this long hall will guarantee you a neck ache, if you plan on staring at the ceiling all the way.

Some close-ups of the wall frescoes.

The above 3 Catholic-themed pictures were taken by Mr Irish (who was the most trigger-happy during this visit), from the Gallery of Tapestries, one of the very rare air-conditioned rooms in this museum. Needless to say, we took our time here. And sped through most other rooms, including Gallery of the Maps, the Egyptian Museum (earlier mentioned), the Pio-Clementine Museum, Room of Immaculate Conception, until we reached Raphael's Stanze.

The School of Athens by Raphael

When we arrived at THE destination (Read: Sistine Chapel), all cameras had to be put away, much to our chagrin. So I can't show you pictures of Michelangelo's masterpiece, but I can certainly describe it.

The visitor is first greeted by the size and grandeur of the chapel. The ceiling and upper part of the walls were decorated with frescoes and wall hangings.

As we crane our necks to marvel at the works of arts, so did the throngs of tourists already inside the chapel crowding the centre of the chapel, as well as those occupying the benches lining the perimeter of the chapel. There were also a couple of "minders" to maintain the peace and quiet of the chapel, by shushing us all rather frequently.

The ceiling had 9 central panels, depicting events from the Genesis (interested parties, please read the bible). Though a non-Christian, I was able to understand most of the panels, not least with the help of the guide book and some explanation by the widely read Mr Irish.

Picture courtesy of Wikipedia

The most awesome scene on the wall, was "The Last Judgement", as above. Michelangelo's mature masterpiece. He began to work on it in his sixties and it took 450 days to complete. Michelangelo is said to have incorporated his self portrait in the fresco, and in another separate section, the features of another person, Biagio da Cesena, master of ceremonies of Paul III, who strongly criticised Michelangelo's work then. According to Wiki, when Cesena complained to the Pope, the pontiff responded that his jurisdiction did not extend to hell, so the portrait would have to remain. (Note: Cesena's features had been incorporated into Minos, the judge of the underworld). Who says the Pope doesn't have a sense of humour? So does Michelangelo. Lol.

Nicely taken by Ms Rehau, these spiral stairs depict our farewell to the Vatican museum

Feeling the beginnings of museum fatigue

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