The Coloseum at Night
The Coloseum during the day
View looking down from the top of St. Peter's Basilica
View from my Sienna window
View at night from walk near my Sienna window
Even the Vatican was a big museum. I thought they allow you to go to the Vatican and see the offices and library. They didn’t. Or maybe they do, and I didn’t understand how to access it. Instead I saw the Vatican museum that did include former offices and housing of the popes. And yes, it includes the Sistine Chapel with Michaelangelo’s famous ceiling painting including the “Finger of God.” I thought it might be over-hyped, but it was very impressive. I wish we could have gotten closer to the ceiling but it was still impressive just looking up. Michaelangelo was commissioned to paint this ceiling by Pope Julius II who had promised a commission of 40 statues for his tomb and Michaelangelo thought that Pope Julius II might finally stop stalling if he did this. What is amazing about it that Michaelangelo considered himself a sculptor and preferred working with stone rather than paint. Michaelangelo had to learn the difficult and masterful technique of buon fresco in order to do the ceiling. On top of that, he had to learn perspective techniques that would allow him to paint on curved surfaces and still have the figures look correct from 60 feet below. All in all, I was quite amazed. With over 5,000 feet of frescos, it took over 4 years. Though it should have taken less (there were some initial mistakes learning the new techniques but the bulk of lost time was due to Pope Julius II being ill near death or out waging war) it is a marvel to look at visually and historically.
The art pieces in Italy are a bit like that. There is the piece, but then there is the history behind the piece, the work and sweat that comes through the piece, and the beauty embedded deep within the piece. Sometimes you can visit a piece, like the Mona Lisa in the Louvre, and you say to yourself “Is that it? Is this what all the hype is about?” It’s small and not particularly conspicuous. I think it may be more famous because of the question over the identity of the model. However, there are critics who say it has to do with the ambiguity of the expression, the forms, its monumentality, and the atmospheric illusionism. However when you are in Florence and go to see Michaelangelo’s David, it’s staggering, I mean really. Yes, anatomically, it’s pretty good (though Michaelangelo is criticized for being over-muscly at times, it’s common for artists to sacrifice anatomy and nature for art), but the sheer size of it is overwhelming. You can see intricacies like veins. I can talk about the fusion of Greek art with Renaissance sensibilities but I won’t; it’s just nice to admire. As an engineer, what touched me the most was that the University of Bologna’s Civil and Environmental Engineering department had a machine set up and connected to the base of the statue from the back. They were studying and monitoring crack propagation through the statue. I thought that that was an amazing project for the engineers to involve themselves. I always remember people who studied crack propagation in my department. I never thought that some people would have the chance to apply it to the statue of David.
Most stunningly is that the city of Rome is a piece of art. Both Rome and Florence are set in the basin of seven hills. And as you walk the streets of Rome, all the buildings have the style of structure you associate with Spain like the Spanish tile roofs. You leisurely stroll on cobblestone paths through narrow passageways lit by a single lamp between burnt-Sienna brick walls with the smell of pesto and tomato sauce wafting in the air. You see a small restaurant with 3 tables in the street
and people taking in the lovely night air as they smile at you and stare. An accordion is playing in the street, and as you pass by you hear the accordionist say “Buona Sera” to which you say “Buona Sera.” As you walk past, the accordion music fades into the background as the rush of water grows in intensity and the narrow passageway opens into a beautiful piazza (think plaza or square) with a fountain in the middle in which water is gushing out of a beautiful statue of Triton and his mermaids. People mill about it making wishes, taking pictures, eating food. All around the square and fountain are open-air restaurants, music playing, and people watching
people. To one side you find an old, dark grey,
austere building with amazingly tall dark stone columns, still preserved, but with pieces missing and chunks of stone gone. The building is capped by dome with a hole in the center that takes in the last vestiges of dying light from a sunset that refuses to die quietly. You go inside and the light of the sunset shines through the whole in the top at a diagonal angle and rests on you as you survey the embellished, Renaissance-style architecture of the walls in near obscurity. You try to take photos but you can never quite capture what your eyes see, what your ears hear, what your skin feels . . . what your nose smells, what your taste buds crave, and what your tummy wants. Food.