I was in my first year of college when my teacher brought a wonderful art book to class featuring all the great works of unparalleled artists like Michelangelo, Raphael and Danti. I remember that I instantly fell under the charm of those masterpieces, specifically the Creation of Adam, one of the most famous scenes frescoed on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
That day, I promised myself a trip to the Vatican to discover these enchanting paintings and frescoes in their original form. It took me many years to honor my promise, but what is important is that I did honor it after all. So from my own experience, I can confidently advise you to keep faith and never lose hope if you have “pending” resolutions. When the time’s right, you will probably achieve that goal you set a long time ago…
After I received my audio set to listen to the tourist guide inside the Vatican Museums, I started moving forward impatiently because I knew that it would take a two-hour tour before reaching the Sistine Chapel. But soon I realized that I would regret rushing through all the various forms of art that were surrounding me and miss on any of them. Everything I set my eyes on was of great historical and artistic value. The guide made a first stop at the Octagonal Courtyard, the court that has been housing, for centuries, outstanding ancient statues and sarcophagi that have stood the test of time.
The Laocoön and His Sons
One very well-known sculpture group called The Laocoön and His Sons renders the agony of a Trojan priest and his sons when they were attacked by snakes as punishment. The legend has it that Laocoön warned the people of Troy about the Trojan Horse sent from the Greeks as a gift which made the goddess Athena so angry with him that she sent the snakes to kill him and his sons. I took a closer look at his facial expressions and body movements and I actually felt empathy for him and his sons, forgetting for a moment that I was staring at pure stone sculpted around 2050 years ago! Now that’s imperishable art!
I was fascinated by another famous sculpture, The Apollo Belvedere, depicting none other than the powerful Greek god, son of Zeus. What is interesting about this marble statue is that it contradicts the very essence of the expression “as still as a statue”. How, might you ask? Well, the sculptor wanted to demonstrate a movement made by Apollo so that anyone who looks at the sculpture gets the visual effect that the Greek god is almost in motion. By looking at Apollo’s posture, you can deduce that he had just shot an arrow from his bow…
The Tapestry Gallery
As I passed through the different rooms and hallways of the museums, I felt like I was walking in a three-dimensional art book. At each stop a different form of art was uncovered, one being tapestry! To be honest, I wasn’t expecting to be impressed by woven art, but truth be told I had never seen such extraordinary pieces of art. The Tapestry Gallery showcases tapestries perfectly woven in wool, silk, silver and gold threads, each a masterpiece by itself.
The ones covering the right wall portray parts of the life of Pope Urban VIII. As for the ones on the left side, they depict scenes from the life of Jesus Christ that were woven based on drawings by pupils of Raphael. The most interesting tapestry is undoubtedly the Resurrection of Christ in which the eyes of Jesus seem to follow you from any angle…
This is not the only optical illusion in this Gallery; the ceiling, which looks like a plaster ceiling with decorative moldings is actually flat, with no embossments.
Good to Know:
- Try to book an early guided tour to avoid being rushed and overwhelmed by the crowd in the Vatican Museums. Bookings should be made online to access the museums. Check the schedules on the Vatican Museums official page: m.museivaticani.va
- It is not allowed to take pictures in the Sistine Chapel.
- Keep in mind that the weather in Rome in July is so hot that it might dampen your enthusiasm. My family and I had to go twice a day to the hotel to shower, change and refresh in the airconditioned room before being able to move on to another location.
The Gallery of Maps
As we moved forward, I started to feel impatient. It was very hot and I was getting thirsty. But not every day I have the luxury to visit the Vatican Museums, so I ignored the bad vibes and kept on taking as many valuable photos as I could to create unforgettable memories of this exceptional journey.
The first thing that caught my attention (and everybody else’s) in the Gallery of Maps is the spectacular vaulted ceiling, covered with beautiful frescoes. As for the 120-meter-long hallway, it is dedicated to the enormous maps of regions of Italy as they were rendered in the 16th century. This project was assigned by Pope Gregory XIII to the mathematician and cosmographer Ignazio Danti and a team of painters. It resulted in a fusion between accuracy of cartography and pure genius of artwork. This work is brilliantly exhaustive in a way that the ceiling artwork is directly linked to the maps on the walls. In fact, each fresco illustrates a popular Christian event that took place in the exact region shown on the map just below it!
Yes, it was too much to take, but in a good way. If I were to tell you all about it, no amount of words would be enough to describe what I saw and the impression I had. But I added photos of the rooms that I didn’t mention, with explanatory captions.
Finally, I arrived at the entrance of the Sistine Chapel. I realized that I was going to actually lay my eyes on the authentic frescoes that I have been longing to see in their original form for so many years. It was not an aspiration anymore. It was real. And that feeling, on its own, was worth it. In that Chapel, I was reunited with my younger self, I remembered my teacher and the book he showed me, I looked up to the ceiling and let the marvels of Michelangelo enchant me.
The splendid frescoes illustrating nine biblical scenes from the Old Testament dominate the center of the ceiling. The Creation is depicted in three scenes: God separates light from darkness, creates the sun and moon and separates water from land. Three other scenes render God’s Creation of Adam, Creation of Eve and the Expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. Three more scenes demonstrate the Sacrifice made by Noah and his family, The Great Flood and Noah’s drunken state. As for the striking wall of the altar, it is entirely dedicated to one immense painting illustrating the Last Judgement, also carried out by Michelangelo. Other great paintings, drawn by renowned Renaissance artists before Michelangelo’s work on the ceiling, cover the rest of the walls of the Chapel.
Unfortunately, it is not allowed for tourists to take pictures inside the Sistine Chapel. So I added a photo of the “Creation of Adam” that I scanned from the travel guide book I used in Rome, “Eyewitness Travel Top 10 Rome 2019”.
Michelangelo, the renowned multitalented Renaissance artist left us a priceless legacy, one that brings about people from all the corners of the world under one roof. He left his artistic mark, loud and clear, like a wake-up call to humanity to show that art and peace beat everything else and outlive the hideous acts of war and the evil use of power.