Thursday, August 14, 2014

Visit to a Worldly Vatican

While our writhing, dripping scorched flesh trip through the Vatican Museum this week may have presaged Michelangelo’s vision of hell on the wall of the Sistine Chapel, it did nothing to prepare me for the almost complete lack of Biblical references in the rest of Museum’s collection. 

It’s fascinating.  Most of pre 20th century western European museum collections are devoted to Christian art—I can’t count the wonderful paintings, tapestries, frescoes and triptychs I’ve seen representing the crucifixion, the beheading of John the Baptist, the expulsion of the merchants from the Temple and the Annunciation.

Yet, here you might think rather than the heart of Christendom, you were visiting the palace of an atheistic monarch—the collection displays vast troves of Egyptian statues, pagan Gods, detailed wall-sized maps including an incredible assemblage of contemporary art. 

Even in the few gorgeous Raphael-created walls of the Papal apartments just before you finally enter the Sistine Chapel, the floor to ceiling art depicts battles, political scenes, and particularly telling, important moments in papal history.  My favorite? The creation of the concept of “Immaculate Conception.”  I don’t know if anyone but me finds this fascinating:  in the privacy of their home, the popes appear less interested in the birth of the son of God than they are in the birth of their story about the birth of the mother of the son of God—tell-ing (did you know that, by the way?  Most people assume that the Immaculate Conception was the conception of Jesus but it's actually the conception of Mary so that Mary can be without sin).

So there it is.  

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