The Vatican Museums – Ryan Golant ’20

In Rome, it seems like every corner upon every street is abounding with art. Enter one non-descript, unassuming building to find a cozy chapel with a set of Caravaggio masterpieces adorning the wall. Enter another, and come face-to-face with a brilliant Bernini sculpture—gold, marble, and all. Rome itself is a museum—one that I was lucky enough to visit the summer before freshman year.

I was only in Italy for a week—six days in Rome, one in Florence—but I made sure those few days counted. My itinerary was packed with art, history, and culture, in an attempt to absorb as much of these cities as possible in such a short time. I saw Michelangelo’s David in all his glory at the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence, and the artist’s horned Moses at San Pietro in Vincoli back in Rome; I saw the stunning artwork of the Ancient Romans in Trajan’s column and the architecture of the Forum; I saw the many gorgeous fountains of Rome, from the Trevi Fountain to the Fountain of the Four Rivers to the Triton Fountain. While all of these moments were remarkable on their own, my time in the Vatican Museums stood above the rest.

The Vatican Museums were unforgettable. Sure, the place was crowded, and sure, it was oppressively hot, but the whole experience more than made up for these transient discomforts. As I shuffled through the endless corridors of this enormous complex, I was confronted with centuries upon centuries—even millennia—of art; I was walking through history. Step into one courtyard to see the Laocoon Group and the Apollo Belvedere, the epitome of Ancient art, then traipse down a mile-long corridor with Renaissance frescoes covering nearly every inch of the walls and ceiling; branch off from this hallway to find a series of cramped, dark rooms holding the most famous works of Raphael. Keep going, and you’ll pass by material from Medieval times, the Romantic era, and even the 20th century. At the end of this vast expanse lies the crown jewel of these museums: the Sistine Chapel.

In this chapel—with The Last Judgement climbing up the wall and Biblical scenes and figures decorating the ceiling above—I realized the truly sublime nature of art. As Michelangelo’s figures towered over me, I realized the power of seeing art in person; I had seen images of these works numerous times in books and online, but never had these downsized copies come close to having the same effect on me. This fundamentally changed my views on the purpose of the museum and the potential of the work of art; the museum is an emotional experience, not simply a place to gaze at a bunch of pictures on the wall. My time in the Sistine Chapel was but a fleeting few minutes, but a fleeting few minutes that will remain with me for a while. Ultimately, I’d say that my trip to Italy was a successful one, and one that will surely not be my last.