May 26th, 2009
We descended from the Cupola into the cool chamber of the Chapel. Everything inside the Chapel is build to a grand scale. Under Pope Julius II, the chapel has enjoyed the crème-de-la-crème of the talent available in Italy at that time. Bramante, Raphael, da Sangolla, Peruzzi, Maderno, Bernini and of course, Michelangelo.
While the eyes seem to want to take everything in simultaneously, the feet automatically turned to the Pieta. It is placed in a glass case on the right and near the entry. It shows a grieving Mary cradling her dead son. Sad yet serene. This is one of Michelangelo’s early work, commissioned by Pope Julius II, carved from a great block of marble mined in Carrara.
A story goes, Michelangelo overheard the Pieta being attributed to another contemporary artist. It made him jealous enough to pick up a chisel and across the Virgin’s scarf he carved in Latin, “Michelangelo Buonarroti, the Florentine, made this”. Part pride, part fear, it is the only piece of work he ever signed – or needed to.
To a keen observant eyes, the proportions of the Pieta are obviously out of whack. Mary obviously looks too young. She is too tall. If this Mary were to stand up, she would tower over Jesus. Michelangelo lengthened the lower torso and the legs to create a wider base to stabilize the weight. Yet, he cleverly uses the folds of the cloth to disguise the irregularity. Michelangelo’s skill, if not apparent by now, can be judged by how the human eye can discern the texture of Mary’s bosom through the cloth.
Jesus looks frail, dead – and alive. It is said Mary’s grief really is Michelangelo’s own. He used this work to channel his despair after losing his mom at the age of 6 year.
That leaves a memorable walk towards the other hotpot in the Chapel. Bernini’s Baldachino.
Only Bernini – Micelangelo’s stylistic heir apparent, could have build something so humongous and beautiful without taking away from the majestic dome above it.
Four twisting columns in bronze, a Baroque statement, culminating into a canopy shielding the altar of St. Peter’s without blocking a view to Michelangelo’s dome.
All the bronze that could be found in Italy – including some stripped from the Pantheon – and the nine best years of his life is all Bernini needed to immortalize himself. The twisted columns akin to what King Soloman’s temples were fabled to have, supporting a cloth like canopy, seen fluttering heavenwards. The lanky, spidery legs seem to be ready to walk off with the canopy.
We rested out tired legs, drank cool water at the omnipresent Roman fountains built 500 years ago, and bid Vatican an adieu.
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We went back to our hotel in the historic district and took a cab to the airport to pick up our rental car.
We got a minor fright at the airport when we realized that we were holding a coupon from a touring group without the name of a rental company. We enquired at every counter there until AutoEurope claimed us. The lady at the counter told us that they did not have the Volvo they had promised us. Instead they gave is an Alpha Romeo (pronounced Ro-may-oh). The 159 was promised to us as a sporty, fast car.
We managed to get our bags in and hurtled towards Volterra, a three hours drive away.
(Read on: We are driving down to Volterra)