May 26th, 2009
We started out a tad late having to pack our bags and stow it with the hotel reception to be picked later in the day.
We walked 10 minutes to the Republican metro station and took the rather crowded train. We crossed the Tiber and pulled into Ottaviano 5 stops, 12 minutes and €3 later. Rhea rode free. We grabbed a standup breakfast and walked at a clip to the Musei Vaticani not wanting to miss our 10:00 AM entrance.
The tickets we had booked online allowed us to bypass the line completely. The security is thick with airport style bag and metal scanners. I was asked to leave my backpack in the cloakroom and later missed my guidebook and the tripod (especially in the Sistine chapel that justifiably does not allow flash). No guidebook mentioned this and I hate surprises.
We met our tour guide and were given headphones so we could hear her without needing to huddle. While walking to the Vatican, Rhea has complained of chest pain. Almost as soon as the tour started the reason surfaced. She needed to use the restroom. By the time, we tried to merge back, the entourage had disappeared.
Then we stumbled upon the magnificent Laocoon.
In January of 1506, farmers in a vineyard near Santa Maria Maggiore found this sculpture buried and intact. Julius II, the residing pope and lover of all art forms, sent Michelangelo to investigate and guide the excavation from the Sette Sale of the Domus Aurea. The statue shows Laocoon (a priest who warned fellow to no avail of the dangers of accepting the wooden horse from the Greeks) being punished by Greek Goddess Athena who sent snakes to drag him and his sons to a watery death.
A delighted Julius II bought the sculpture and put it in the Belvedere Courtyard to allow contemporary artists to study it.
In recent years, some scholars have suggested that Laocoon is indeed a Michelangelo forgery. The statue has been described vividly in Pliny’s Roman history from first century ACE and had been lost for over a thousand years. Researchers believe that Michelangelo carved it from a great block of Carrara marble and buried it to be found later. If this is true, then he successfully managed to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds.
The next two hours were a daze. Corridors leading to corridors leading to huge rooms. Huge rooms with huge vaulted ceilings, detailed in rich golden, blues, reds – very expensive colors at the time. Hundreds and hundreds of frescoes, mosaics, painted glass, canvas, tapestry.
The Borgia apartment with Pinturicchio’s complex iconography. The brilliantly conceived and executed Stanze of Raphael, an explosion of paint and emotion that Julius II liked so much he chose to use as his personal apartment.
I liked how Raphael pays sincere homage to his competition number 1, Michelangelo, to whom he lost the Sistine Chapel commission.
Raphael is said to have spent many an evening in the Sistine Chapel after Michelangelo was done for the day. Raphael’s sheer respect for Michelangelo is reflected in the premium spot he gets in the painting. He is slouching on the stairs, in a thinkers pose, a wee bit morose. The leather boots, Michelangelo’s trademark are visible and thrust towards the audience, almost like a signature.
After Raphael, I only had eyes for the Sistine Chapel. There was not much in me for anything else. In Vatican, anyways, all corridors lead to the Sistine Chapel.
(Read on. Next, we are headed to the Sistine Chapel)