After three visits to Rome in two years and living here for six months, I finally made it to the Vatican Museum. I visited St. Peter’s Basilica during my first trip to Rome. I live within walking distance of the Vatican but after hearing how overwhelming the Museum was and crowded it could be, I kept putting it off. It was worth the wait.
I went on a Context tour. These tours are pricey but as with most things in life, you get what you pay for. There were two older married American couples in my group. That’s it; just five of us and a kick butt docent from England named Hilary.
To be honest I would rather stick hot knifes in my eyes than be on a tour with a large group of people. You can’t hear the guide and you're shoved quickly one space to another.
However, going on a small tour to see something specific can be rewarding. I know I would not have enjoyed the Vatican Museum as much if I had done it on my own. We could ask questions and our guide was very knowledgeable and entertaining. After the tour I wanted to return to school and study the Reformation and the Counter Reformation again. As someone who tells stories for a living, I loved hearing about, Nero, the Sack of Rome, some of the outrageous Popes, the lives (and deaths) of Caravaggio and Raphael, Greek mythology, etc.
The tour was three hours and it felt like we were in there for only 30 minutes. It was gorgeous outside on Saturday and the museum wasn’t too crowded. The tour started at 2:30 so maybe we lucked out with our timing. Once we ended up in the Sistine Chapel it was packed (I could write several posts about Chapel.) I think a lot of people skip major parts of the museum and just head to the Chapel. It’s a shame because the grounds are beautiful and there are some incredible paintings in the Pinacoteca Gallery.
Hilary had a binder with her and showed us close ups of several works of art while we sat outside in a courtyard. She explained the different panels of the Sistine Chapel.
I’ve seen Michelangelo's Pieta. It’s behind bulletproof glass after a mentally disturbed man attacked the statue in the 70s. You can’t get close to the statue and see the details of Michelangelo’s work. It’s the only work he signed (look on the sash) because no one believed he did it.
As Hilary showed us the close up photographs, she said this is what Michelangelo was put on earth to do. I can’t believe he was only 23. To have that kind of talent at any age really staggers me.
I’ve mentioned before I do have some issues with organized religion (again, I'm happy my parents don’t have zee Internets) and struggle with questions of faith. I stood there and looking at the Pieta and felt moved. Where does that kind of talent come from? I feel the same way when I hear some of my favorite composers and singers. You can’t teach someone to sing, paint, or sculpt like that. They have to have some talent to begin with; maybe a teacher can help bring out the best in them.
I’m not a mother but when Hilary (who has two sons) was describing how Mary looks at her son, I seriously almost broke out in tears. The only thing that saved me from being completely embarrassed was everyone our group was in awe of this work. It’s just strange to me that something created from a block of stone can convey emotion. Freaking amazing.
When my family and friends come to Rome I will suggest this or another one of Context's tour. One of the husbands said the tours they went on in Florence were amazing and worth every penny. The professor who did the screenwriting workshop I went to a few weeks ago was raving about them as well
Here is the Context website.
The Map Room was one of my favorites.
Raphael's Transfiguration. Photos without flash are allowed in the Museum. However no photos are allowed in the Sistine Chapel. Of course people kept trying to take photos and ignored the guards asking them not to. I thought that was beyond rude. It was dark so not sure how their photos were going to turn out any way.