Trip to Italy 2017: Vatican City – Vatican Museums

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I hope you enjoyed my first post on my trip to Italy 2017!

One of my most anticipated destinations in Italy was Vatican City. To make my trip perfect, I made all the arrangements in advance: reserving group tour, tickets to General Audience to see Pope Francis, and the directions from the centre of Rome to the Vatican.

I thought a lot about how to visit the famous spots in the Vatican City (Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel, and, St. Peter’s Basilica)  on a single day. I originally planned to visit them on my own, but I finally opted for a group tour which offered several benefits, such as access to exclusive passageways and early admission time.

The figures on the top of the gate to Vatican Museums (now only used as an exit) are two of the greatest Renaissance masters: Michelangelo and Raphael. They have the honour of adorning one of the historic buildings in Vatican City not only for their unparalleled genius but also for their devout Catholic faith.  As a natural-born sculptor, Michelangelo (left) is holding a chisel, while Raphael (right) is grabbing a palette and brush as a dedicated painter.

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The hallways in the Museums were so crowded that I almost felt my feet off the ground… But I couldn’t take my eyes off from any corner of these magnificent rooms! Every inch of the walls, floors and and ceiling was a masterpiece.

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In the Museo Pio-Clementino, I had the pleasure of laying my eyes on some of the finest marble works from classical antiquity, depicting beloved mythical figures.

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The Apollo Belvedere was the first sculpture I saw in the Museo Pio-Clementio. He is supposed to be holding a bow in his left hand, but the symbolic weapon has been lost due to its thinness. I learned from my tour guide that the column supporting the god’s right arm was erected to balance the whole weight of the marble figure. His slender limbs look somewhat feminine, with no strong muscles like Michelangelo’s works.  I stood there for a long time, admiring how a male body could be so beautiful.

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The statue of Laocoön and His Sons, also called the Laocoön Group, is the highlight of the Museo Pio-Clementio. The reason for its fame is its sheer expression of extreme human emotion which is absent in other classical statues like the Apollo Belvedere above.  In front of this masterpiece, I was overwhelmed by my sympathy for these young and innocent figures losing their lives in such a painful way. It stirred strong emotion in me to the point of wondering: what was worth about depicting such a terrible and heartbreaking scene? Maybe we feel ourselves more human at the moments of pain and suffering than those of happiness and joy.

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Now we were in the most celebrated rooms in Vatican Museums: Raphael Rooms. They were so crowded so that I didn’t know whether I missed anything.  Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed my opportunity to behold some of Raphael’s grandest works in the symbolic Apostolic Palace. Now Raphael has become my favourite Renaissance master.

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I’d always imagined the original School of Athens in an exquisite picture frame. Imagine my amazement at this fresco covering the entire wall! The painting looked so alive as if painted only yesterday.  How could they be able to preserve the paintings in such a good condition?

While I was marveling at this masterpiece, I wondered how the work’s Humanistic theme came together with the Christian spirit of the Apostolic Palace. These two themes would not be as antithetic as they seem, but the contrast between the two has been a topic for my contemplation. Raphael and the pope adorned the papal apartment not only with biblical figures such as Adam, John, or Peter but also with classical and pagan figures such as Plato, Aristotle, Homer and Apollo as if signifying the reconciliation between Christianity, philosophy, and antiquity, which is the spirit of the Renaissance.

I was happy to be aided by the knowledgeable guide, and I recommend signing up for a group tour for first visitors to the Vatican Museums. One of the downsides of group tour was having to follow the guide’s pre-determined route, allowing me no freedom to roam the Museums. In the end, I missed many artworks that I expected to see. I promised myself to return to the Vatican Museums someday on my own for a fuller experience.

In the following posts, I will tell you about my visit to St. Peter’s Basilica and St. Peter’s Square to see Pope Francis!

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