I never got around to typing up some bits of my trip, so will try and rectify that now, I went to Rome after Florence and before Vienna
I arrived in Rome on a Sunday. there is surely only one thing that one can do in the capital of Christendom on the sabbath. And thus I spent most of the day trying to find a laundrette open. The only actual sightseeing I did was to look around St Paul’s Square. Now size isn’t everything, but scale is pretty important and the proportions here are excellent. Big enough to impress, and to hold a sizable crowd (though at the end of the day when I got there it was almost deserted) but without being so big as to look like a parade ground. Most significantly its fit for its current purpose, not just a relic of Rome’s great past.
Next day I went to see the cathedral itself. On the train down from Florence I’d been reading Christopher Hitchens’ God Isn’t Great and I’d forgotten to take it out of my bag, only realising my mistake halfway through queuing. I started wondering what would be my fate – denied entry for blasphemy by the security guards or struck down by a localised thunderbolt. Fortunately neither happened and I was free to be blown away by the, well, greatness of the cathedral.
It doesn’t look all that amazing from the outside and even inside the component parts of the building are not individually stunning (though Michelangelo’s Pieta certainly is). It’s the overall imposing nature of the structure that really leaves you with little option but awe. Along the nave are markings showing how much longer St Peter’s is compared to other great cathedrals, but such a grandiloquent gesture is redundant. The grandeur speaks for itself. Roman Catholicism may have had to prostitute its ethics to fund the building of the basilica through sales of indulgences, prompting Lutheran heresy, schism in the church and decades of religious warfare across Europe but it was worth it. I went back twice in the few days I was in Rome.
Next up was the Vatican museum, which is colossal. I started off with the Egyptian relics, including some gorgeous sarcophagi. I can only hope that in a few centuries time someone will dig up my remains and marvel at how pretty my coffin was. The building is beautiful, always interesting even when the contents are not (the Etruscan museum for instance). The Greek vases are great, while the Maps gallery is lovely although the dimmed lights in the middle of the room gave some areas a striking resemblance to Mordor.
The Constantine Room is magnificent, particularly the top of the ceiling with a classical statue in ruins before a representation of Jesus on the cross. It’s also in the running for the, increasingly competitive, heavy-handed symbolism award.
In a school project when I was about 12 I wrote (probably under the influence of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) that “another good artist of the renaissance was Raphael.” My teacher crossed out “good” and substituted “great”. I was a little indignant at the time at having my subjective judgment so summarily dismissed (evidently indignant enough to remember 20 years later!) but having seen his frescos in the Stanza della Segnatura I’m now willing to concede the point.
Next up was the modern art section and people other unimpressed. This is not what they are here to see. Which way is it to the Sistine Chapel. They hurry past rooms devoted to Matisse and Chagall without a second look. Admittedly much of the paintings here are minor works, but Dali’s The Trinity is awesome. 90% of people don’t even see it. Philistines.
When I finally reach the chapel it is indeed very impressive, and the more you look at the ceiling the more its brilliance becomes apparent, in particular the way the characters seem to lean towards you. Apparently recent restorations have flattened some of the figures, so I can only assume they must have resembled a pup-up book before that. There is also mass civil disobedience over taking photos in there. Regular announcements prohibiting photos are made in about 12 different languages, but there’s always someone who’s come in to the room after an interdiction intelligible to them was made and snapping away, which prompts everyone else to start again. Anyway, to show my obedience to the rules, i’m not going to post any photos.
After the magnificence of the Sistine Chapel, the last few rooms of the museum seem largely mundane and I don’t linger in them – doubtless appearing just as uncultured to everyone else as they seemed to me in the modern art section.
That was the end of the Vatican part of the trip, next up was the rest of the city and in particular the classical remains.