Bon giorno di Roma! Our group of fearless students has arrived safe and sound in this great city of Italy! After 24 hours of waiting, planes, and subway travel, we collapsed into our cozy rooms at Casa Valdense to rest and relax. Some explorations of our first day included purchasing subway tickets, finding the hotel, and then finding suitable food and drink for our tired bodies and souls. By good fortune we were successful in all ventures,
The food has been wonderful, and the wine better. We enjoy breakfast and dinner at our hotel (breakfast includes a selection of cereals, croissants, breads, cheeses, jellies, fruit, and hardboiled eggs, along with coffee, espresso, milk, and juice; dinner is a pasta appetizer a meat/vegetable main course, and a delectable dessert), and we get to explore for lunch.
Day 2 had us up bright and early to break our fasts before heading off for the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel. A subway ride and short walk away, we found ourselves at the entrance to the impressive (and somewhat foreboding) stone structure. The museum included frescoes, paintings, and sculptures spanning centuries, as well as beautiful rooms and courtyards. We were focused on the Sistine Chapel, and were not disappointed upon reaching it. After taking our fill of the beautiful works of Michaelangelo and others, we ate a quick lunch in the cafeteria before moving on the Pinacoteca art galleries to view altar pieces from the 14th century up to the works of Raphael and later artists on up to the 17th century.
In the afternoon, upon finishing our time at the Pinacoteca, we split up into smaller groups, some of whom chose to head back to the hotel and rest and some who continued to explore the St. Peter Basilica and the streets of Rome. Dinner found us sharing our experiences and telling stories of our past trips, over wine, pasta, chicken and peas. Below are some (almost) word for word answers and discussion to the question:
What is one thing you took back from the Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel, and Pinacoteca?
Linda: I did not really realize the vastness of the art. I thought it was a regular museum (with only art pieces) but did not realize that they had the collections from antiquity. I was overwhelmed with the amount of the artwork. In the Sistine chapel, I was trying to sketch two women, but could not make the arms muscular the way they looked in the painting. My left brain kicked in and tried to make the arms smaller, less muscular, the way a woman’s arms would be.
Manassess: You really see a past where the church was so powerful and magnificent where they were like kings, like the feudal times when the kingdoms were fragmented, no state as we understand it, the pope had the kind of glamour and wealth as a head of state. One thing surprising from reading in the 20th century was the homoerotic nature of the art, and the artist. The men were all idealized, with muscular arms, women are even like men with breasts, and the paintings weren’t treating them (women) very nicely. Particularly striking for me was that all of the prophets were very muscular and one of the paintings even exposed God’s rear end.
Joanie: I was surprised to learn that they (the popes/the church) held the artists to contract, and if they didn’t finish in a certain time, they didn’t get paid. It was kind of like, rather than pure artistic enjoyment, it was a real job, part of the infrastructure. Seeing the work makes you appreciate more the real work that this took, that a man on his back, can do that, with all these different figures and postions.
Kathy: I was put off by the wall around the Vatican. To me it was not an inclusive, welcoming environment. Even in the St. Peter basilica, the Swiss guard were not helpful, you really had to make an effort to get there. I was not expecting to not feel welcomed.
Jieun: I loved the Sistine Chapel, but was surprised that we could not take pictures. It was fun to see all the details and make the questions, reading the information about the book. Many of the pictures I was able to recognize, like the big pictures, telling stories from Jesus life, and the Old Testament (Moses). I was trying to match up the symmetrical meanings, but they are all from different painters with different motifs, different figures, postures, etc. The story makes me think.
Johanna: I was grateful to be sketching and not taking pictures. I had not realized that the paintings of Moses and Jesus are the original paintings from the chapel, and Michaelangelos ceiling was a later addition to, covering up the original ceiling of stars and night sky. They are older, and I found it fascinating. I looked better at those side paintings because it was unclear what some of the scenes were, like the temptation of Christ was in the background of a painting, but the foreground of that painting was more unclear, a general healing of a leper maybe. (from sketching) Really looking at the detail was fabulous. Sketching was really great, and made me look differently at the stuff I saw. Another interesting thing was that he mixed in the sybils (people (women) from antiquity) with people from the bible.
Sarah: I was intrigued in the Sistine Chapel, that I wanted to know the stories of everything, and I wondered why did I want to know everything. It may be that how dramatic it was or the theatrics of some of the images. Usually when I look at art I look at the beauty of it or the artistry, so it was interesting that I wanted to know the stories on this time.
Amy: My senses were overwhelmed by everything we saw. The context for all of these pieces and the people who saw them while they were worshiping every week and how they affected their understanding. I would guess that a person would worship in the same couple of churches in heir lifetime, so they might have encountered the same magnificent picture for a great part of their life. We were there for six hours and saw pieces across centuries, but what would it be like to experience worship with just one or two of these images for your whole life and how that would impact you. I had some emotional reactions today that I was not expecting, in the Sistine Chapel especially. It was not a pleasant reaction. I felt unwelcomed, out of place, and small in a way that was very uncomfortable for me. It wasn’t inspiring, like I am so small in a picture of god and all of creatinn. It felt very patriarchal, which it was; being in that space, in the Vatican, was overwhelming emotionally, which I was not expecting.
Don: certainly a lot of what I have experience has been shared. I was really perplexed by the Mary and baby Jesus paintings. In that, in almost all of them, Baby Jesus is tending to look away from Mary, and he is a small adult, mini adult. Kathy and I talked about this; the artist new what babies looked like, and they could have done that, but they didn’t, and that must have been a theological choice. So there is almost a theology of separating Jesus from Mary at work in which in my mind its almost a discounting Mary’s role in the birth of Jesus and the male theology of the church, discouraging the role of women in creating Christ that saves humanity. We saw one painting of Mary and Baby Jesus in which Mary was attractive and Jesus was paying attention to her, and there were other infants also in the room. (from one of the later century rooms)
(johanna) Yeah, there seemed to be two forms, two icons, either Mary as Queen Mother of God or Mary Holy Mother. All the models are idealized, may have used models, but all idealized women, for good or for ill. It does put women into the picture as a believer, but in a very idealized way. I thought the impact of the paintings was bigger outside the Sistine Chapel.
Erin: I did not feel the sense of awe and wonder that I was expecting to have (in the Sistine Chapel). before we got to the Chapel, I almost didn’t see anything, because I was so focused on getting there, also many of the paintings in the earlier rooms looked the same to me. But when I got in there, it was pretty, etc, but I wasn’t as overwhelmed with awe that I expected. The wall mural of the last judgment I could appreciate intellectually, but emotionally I was repelled by. To me, the Jesus pulling away from and being repulsed by the humans circling around him (from death into heaven and then being cast into hell) is not the same Jesus portrayed in other paintings of the Sermon on the Mount and the blessing of children. In the later rooms, I was captured by the early paintings of nursing and pregnant Mary, as well as the painting, part of a set with other scenes from the passion, of Mary and others laying the adult, crucified Jesus in the tomb. Mary looked truly sad and mourning as she cradled Jesus’ head and laid him on the stone slab. (Amy) It is interesting, in the baby Jesus paintings there is often little to no emotion between Mary and Jesus, but in the crucifixion paintings, the emotional connection between them is much more prominent.
Our discussion continued into the evening, talking about symbols we encountered in some of the paintings, our later explorations, and the delectable food desert was sugar sweetened fruit, (grapes, kiwi, pineapple, and apples). And now, it is time for bed, as tomorrow we explore the Priscilla catacombs and see what more Roma has to offer!
View of the dome from the first courtyard in the Vatican Museum
Altarpiece from the 13 or 14th century