Sistine Chapel: Turn Right, Then Left, Then Right, Then Left…


We had done our homework. My wife bought our Vatican Museum tickets for the last Friday of the month; the only night where it’s possible to visit and avoid the daytime throngs competing to view the Sistine Chapel. We also paid a premium for an appointment time online; this would ensure that we wouldn’t have to wait in line with a few hundred of the 4.5 million annual visitors. Lastly, we were armed with our Rick Steves podcast for the Sistine Chapel; this would allow us to save 28 Euros on the audio guides while listening to Rick’s folksy and sometimes corny humor. Perhaps all the advance preparation led to our heightened anticipation as we strolled right in without waiting on a Friday evening at 7:00 pm.

Our plan was to focus on the Sistine Chapel and save much of the other art for a future visit. If we saw something interesting along the way we would stop. Imagine passing by Raphael, Giotto, Bellini, Caravaggio and DaVinci because they didn’t make the cut. We started out and immediately saw a white Cappella Sistina sign instructing us to turn left. Was it just around the corner? We saw another sign with an arrow pointing right. We walked down a long hallway with male statues with their penises hacked off. Pope Pius IX decided that all those penises were too vulgar and he had them removed and in many cases covered with a fig leaf. We had been walking for fifteen minutes and we were still following the little white signs. The Vatican Museum has thousands of paintings in a complex that covers 5.5 hectares and we felt like we were passing by every one of them. We took another right, looked around the corner hopefully, and…it was the 16th century map gallery full of floor to ceiling frescoes of the world as it was known in the 1500’s. We walked down the long corridor, paused at some of the map frescoes and turned again. By now we had made dozens of turns, climbed stairs, gone back down stairs, passed through courtyards and still not reached the chapel.

Finally after about 40 minutes of walking, we arrived in the Sistine Chapel, which was smaller and darker than I expected. Perhaps all the twisting and turning along the way was to prepare you for the vertigo-inducing feeling of looking up at Michelangelo’s masterpiece. We looked up at the 800 square meter, barrel-vaulted ceiling along with the other 20 people in the chapel. We were fortunate; 30 years ago my wife remembers being one of 200 people vying for spot to view the ceiling. After a minute my neck was already hurting and I looked around to see if it was possible to lie on the ground and look up. Rick Steves, talking in my earphones, said that Michelangelo painted standing up, with his neck constantly in that position. As we continued gazing upward, Rick detailed for us the nine panels running down the middle of the ceiling, all from the book of Genesis and painted in reverse order. Rick also talked about Michelangelo’s reluctance to take the job from Pope Julius II and how his assistants plastered an area right before he painted it so that the fresco wouldn’t crack. On the front wall of the chapel was the Guidizio Universale (The Last Judgement), which depicted souls being dredged from their graves to face the judgment of God. Again Rick, at his informative best, talked into my ear about the 35 year gap between the painting of Genesis on the ceiling and the painting of The Last Judgement at the altar wall.

Leaving the chapel was very straightforward, especially considering how we entered it. There was no swirling, left-right, up-down maze as when following the many Cappella Sistina signs upon entering. The chapel was indeed spectacular and we headed out for a gelato, abuzz with excitement. Our mutual euphoria was matched only by the physical sensations of sore necks and the dizziness from heeding all the Cappella Sistina signs.


No comments:

Post a Comment