Visitors to the Vatican Museums have the option of purchasing a self-guided audio tour, but that’s for suckers who don’t know art history like I do.
1. St. Shadowman
One of innumerable statues in St. Peter’s basilica, St. Shadowman is noteworthy for its use of light and shadow as he looks heavenward for salvation, probably.
2. Forearms-Guy with Baby
One of hundreds of sculptures in what I’m gonna call “the hall of sculptures”, Forearms-Guy with Baby is amazingly executed. His legs look a lot like mine (having just hiked 15 days across the Alps) but the vasculature of his arms and hands is amazingly lifelike.
3. Three Babies vs the Alligator
There are a lot of baby sculptures, probably because babies take less marble = cheaper. Neither the babies nor the alligator appear to be giving 100% to this battle. They have the numbers advantage, but I don’t think the babies understand the gravity of their situation.
4. A Head that’s Seen Some Shit
5. Old Babies Slacking at their Desk Jobs
Babies’ heads are proportionally bigger than those of adults. This is a detail that took many centuries for sculptors to notice.
6. Summa contra Gentiles
Going off the text the angel’s holding, I’m guessing this ceiling mural depicts the Liber de veritate catholicae fidei contra errores infidelium, or Book on the truth of the Catholic faith against the errors of the unbelievers.” Maybe it was written by St. Thomas Aquinas to help missionaries explain Christianity and defend it against dissenting points of doctrine in Islam and Judaism.((I overheard a Spanish tour group for this one and checked Wikipedia later.))
7. The Map Hall
This hallway gives MIT’s “infinite corridor” a run for its money– literally, since the value of the ceiling murals could endow a comparable university. The real treasures are the maps, though. As anyone who’s played Risk, Diplomacy, or Crusader Kings II knows, rulers spend all their time looking at maps, and the pope would need a way to visualize all Christendom. These maps are so accurate I used them to plan the next leg of my trip to Sicily.
8. Resurrection Tapestry
How do you make a rug this big and intricate? This must’ve really blown peoples’ minds 500 years ago when it was made. It depicts Jesus coming out of his tomb and blowing the Romans’ minds.
9. Papal hammer and cake slicer
The ultimate carrot/stick combo, popes have used these holy implements to offer delicious cake to the faithful, or break the kneecaps of heretics.
10. The School of Athens
I immediately recognized Raphael’s famous fresco from my 10th grade European history textbook. Here’s Plato and Aristotle reaching new heights of enlightened thought while everyone else and I lay around on the steps growing our beards.
11. The Pope’s Bathtub
I overheard a tour guide say the bathtub, carved from a single piece of red marble, was so big they had to build the room around it. For that sort of effort, the pope really ought to have gone all out for the hot tub.
12. The Pope
An all-white wardrobe is an incredibly bold choice (especially in a country filled with red pasta sauce) but the Pope’s fashion sense here is infallible.
13. Underwhelming Drawing of a Church
We turn a corner and enter the contemporary art wing of the Vatican collection. Not every generation has a da Vinci, but this does not hold up well at all next to the old masters. Can you imagine some feudal lord in the 1100s sending this in for an indulgence? Wouldn’t even buy forgiveness for wasting the pope’s time. Recent popes have been too soft, and Europe’s leaders’ have been slacking in their tribute accordingly.
All that said, I really hope this wasn’t sent in by some sick child praying for a miracle healing.
14. 80s metal album cover: Skeleton Horde vs. The Rainbow Bird
I assume this is from a Danish black metal band called Revelation and their album Skeleton Horde vs. The Rainbow Bird. It depicts the track “Last Flight of the Quetzal” in which the old gods of the heathen world return to fight in the apocalypse.
15. Soft monster in angelic landscape
Salvador Dali. Oil on canvas, 1980. Gift of King Juan Carlos of Spain. Would definitely tape a poster of this to my dorm.
16. Minimalist Mary with Child
Now we come to the Mary statues. I really like this sculpture! The smooth, minimalist lines recall Manship and the previous generation’s art deco. I could also see such an abstract piece being kept in a place where Christianity is persecuted- its significance apparent only to those who know what to see. Not nearly as gaudy as the neoclassical pieces, I could absolutely see this in my apartment. I can also see the Space Pope of 2358 keeping this in his personal quarters aboard his space battleship as he scours the stars for heathen aliens.
17. Mary the Rusted Metal Robo-Virgin
Maybe I don’t know how to appreciate modern art, or maybe modern art is too new to have gone through the filtering process of centuries that has only preserved the very best of the older works. I’m just not feeling this Mary.
18. Rock-Mary the Earth-Virgin
The time of the Return, the Desolation, is near at hand. We must prepare. You will have forgotten much, following the destruction of the times past. Thomas will teach you to cast bronze, if you have forgotten this. Your stone tools will not serve against what is to come. Bartholomew can train your surgeons, and Peter . . . he will teach you leadership. So much is lost between Returns . . . I will train your soldiers. We should have time.
19 Low Polygon-Count Jesus
Despite the graphics limitations of the Play Station 1, the artist’s stylistic choices create a cool aesthetic. It wasn’t ready to compete with the high-res tapestry tech of the previous gen media, though.
20. Gelato Dipped in a Chocolate Shell
There was also the Sistine Chapel. It’s a wonder of the world, but they don’t allow photos in there.
Instead, check out how they dipped this amaretto gelato into melted chocolate so the chocolate cools and hardens into a shell. A delight for the senses after a long day looking at non-edible art. I forget the name of the gelateria, but wander between the Spanish Steps and Parthenon and you’ll find it- it’s the one with the line.