For April’s RadioChumps art installment, we are digressing from our usual Pittsburgh artist feature to visit an art mecca from another part of the world. Keeping in line with recent events, this month we will be showcasing some of the beautifully moving art and architecture of Vatican City. As Catholics welcome their new Pope, I wanted to take a minute and share some images from my blessed visit inside the Vatican walls.
Considered the smallest country in the world, the Vatican is its own governing body, and consists of only about one city block and 700 inhabitants. I was surprised by the positioning of the churches and squares which have an impressive presence, large and surreal even as they fit inside the small space like puzzle pieces.
While you cannot photograph everything in the Vatican, there are many places that you can capture, including the contents of the Vatican museum. Full of ancient sculpture, tapestry, paintings, and candelabras the Vatican has a fantastic and extensive collection.
The most arresting space was St. Peter’s Basilica. Photos and words can do little to describe the interior of this massive cathedral and how it makes you feel. Even the most unreligious might be silenced by amazement. The high ceilings and endless altars are difficult to understand, even when seen in person. As you enter, the right side of the church holds Michelangelo’s Pieta, a remarkable piece of sculpture and religious iconography. Michelangelo completed may commissions for the Vatican, including the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and Last Judgment, which remain as iconic imagery of this religious epicenter. Despite the demand for his work, and the steadfastness of his pieces as artistic representations of the Vatican, he often included hidden personal statements on science, religion, and his not-always flattering opinions of church officials, including his depiction of a contemporary Cardinal in Hell of the Last Judgment.
Beyond the Pieta, St. Peter’s is full of various sculptures of Saints, which stand tall and larger than life on the church walls. There is a coffin which holds the body of Pope Innocent XI. The coffin is glass, and you are able to view the body of the Pope, forever preserved naturally due to his canonized status as a man who reached Sainthood.
Commanding the center of the basilica is the bronze canopy of the famous sculptor Bernini. The dark sculpture detailed in gold is positioned directly beneath the large dome which characterizes the exterior of St. Peters. Designed again by Michelangelo, the dome can be seen for miles.
Designed and constructed in the 1620s, Bernini’s canopy, Baldacchino, reaches nearly as tall as an eight story building and frames the center altar, also designed by Bernini. As you enter the basilica, there are many sights to catch your eye, but the canopy draws you to the center of the church; commanding your attention and inspiring spiritual thought.
Outside St. Peter’s Basillica, you enter the main piazza. The square is surrounded by a huge colonnade, much like large arm protrusions extending from St. Peter’s. It is this square that the Pope addresses from his window.
Designed by Bernini, the colonnade wraps around the square, as though hugging the inhabitants of the square. Also wrapping around the square, the line to the Vatican Museum for which you wait for hours. While I stood in the square, the church bells tolled, adding confirmation to the experience and allowing me to feel the immensity of this place, in size and significance.
The Vatican is an experience worth having, for Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Grounded in religious history, supported by awe-inspiring architecture, and complete with artistic masterpieces that tell stories of times past, the Vatican is important to note for its artistic abundance and the strong spiritually-inspiring quality of the art within.
All photos by: C. Duncan