For the past two months, I’ve been reporting and writing about South Asian migrants in Italy. The project has taken me to three different cities: Udine (a small town in the northeastern Friuli Venezia Giulia region marked by a distinct Austrian flavor), Milan, and Rome. I spent the majority of my time in the Italian capital this summer, strategically avoiding the Vatican area; July is high tourist season.
It was only until my sister arrived at the end of my trip that I decided to finally venture out of Trastevere, the neighborhood I was staying in, just by the Tiber River. No visit to Rome is complete without a visit to the Vatican Museum, and despite my initial reservations about not being able to fully experience the artwork housed in its galleries due to the crowds at this time of year, I relished every second of our tour.
In the Pinacoteca, the Vatican Art Gallery which houses works from the 12th-15th centuries, one of my favorite pieces was a 1635 oil on canvas portrait by Bernini, entitled Head of a Young Man. Bernini’s paintings, including similar self-portraits, are also housed in Rome’s Galleria Borghese.
Another notable work was a tempera on wood panel by Giovanni. Circular, with a rectangular base, the panel displayed multiple illustrations of the Final Judgment: Christ with seraphim and angels, or standing before an altar in the second register. St. Paul, the Virgin Mary, and St. Stephen feature in the third register, while the fourth presents the Resurrection of the Dead.
Before reaching the Collection of Contemporary Art, we passed through the Belvedere Courtyard, into the Gallery of Maps, which had the most spectacular ceiling. It was painted by the Mannerist artists Girolamo Muziano (1532-1592), born in Acquafredda and Cesare Nebbia (1536-1614), who studied under the former. The fresco scenes depict saints, apostles, and other Christian figures connected to the particular regions in Italy that are displayed on the maps lining the walls.
With regard to more recent art, an untitled 1979 painting by Tano Festa (1938-1988), a visual artist known for his pop art renditions of Renaissance paintings, caught my eye. A riff off Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam, Festa’s work captures the essence of the original fresco (which I would later view), in more modern tones.
By the end, out of breath, and a tad dehydrated, we were ushered down a staircase by security guards charged with controlling the crowds. They also made sure that our cameras were put away. Inside the Sistine Chapel, I was struck by the overwhelming solemnity of the place, mere seconds away from the other galleries buzzing with tour guides and their groups. It was as if everyone had come under a trance, speaking only in hushed, awed whispers. Then I finally looked up at the ceiling, and realized why.