To say that I had a high expectations for the Sistine Chapel is a more than an understatement. It is universally praised and considered a work of extraordinary genius and effort. So, when we set foot that morning for the Vatican Museum, I was fully prepared to be underwhelmed. Afterall, I'd seen the images all my life. How exciting could it be?
It was a thirty-five minute walk over cobblestone and through traffic. Fortunately, we crossed the Tiber early, walked past St. Peter's Square and stood huddled outside the walls of Vatican City that chilly morning alongside visitors from every corner of the globe. Fortunately, it was late November, the off season, and we waited only 20 min. to get into the Vatican Museum. We headed right for the paintings, hoping to save the Sistine Chapel for later. Masterpiece after masterpiece we encountered. Let's just say, Raphael's Transfiguration was huge, powerful, and amazing. To think that Raphael died at 37 is all the more remarkable.
When we got in the line for the Sistine Chapel, it seems that everyone else had the same idea. It's a rather convoluted trek, turn here, turn there, through amazing hallways painted with extraordinary scenes, past remarkable statues, paintings and craftsmanship. Before long we found ourselves cramped in a smallish square, domed room: the Stanza Stella Signatura. The walls and ceilings are painted with the most extraordinary works of Raphael including the School of Athens and the Disputation of the Holy Sacrament. This room alone is worth the trip to Rome, but it is too crowded to stay in very long. Besides, it's just the appetizer.
From there, the line narrows and heads down a long hallway past some thirty mini-galleries of modern Christian art. I don't know whether it is done on purpose, or simply an unfortunate fact of history, but the 20th century pieces in my estimation seemed almost crude and garish compared to the splendor of the High Renaissance. Fortunately it is not my decision, history will be the judge of the good and the great.
Then, low and behold, one is in a rather vast room, positively filled with with visitors, all rather astonished, and all looking up. And there it is, there they are, in all their majesty--the works of the outrageously-talented Michelangelo. They are big, they are bold, they are amazing. As many times as I have seen the images, they have always been interpreted, truncated through the medium of an art book or a computer screen. To witness them live, to drink them in, to see them in their immensity and power, is--for this artist--an experience I will never forget. I was struck with with his artistic range, the movement, the originality, the power. I hope to reflect a tincture of that in my own work.
As one is not permitted to take pictures in the Sistine Chapel, here are a few images from the internet to whet your appetite.