There is art … and then there are Michelangelo and Raphael

Today started off as any other day here in Rome. I woke up, got dressed, ate a bowl of cereal and went to class. The only difference is that today’s class was held at the Vatican Museum. That’s right, THE VATICAN MUSEUM!

Though we did go through almost the entire Vatican Museum, our professor’s lecture focused on two main things: Raphael’s “Stanze” and the Sistine Chapel. And yes, Raphael as in THE world-famous Raphael! Raphael is a world-renowned artist and architect who is considered to be one of the greatest artists of the Renaissance. Today we saw three distinct rooms that were painted by Raphael with a little help from his students. As dull as that might sound, these rooms were actually some of his greatest life works as you can see by the pictures.

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Raphael’s ‘The Fire in the Borgo,’ 1514  (credit: Esteban Martinez)
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Raphael’s ‘The Repulse of Attilla,’ 1513-14 (credit: Esteban Martinez)
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Raphael’s ‘The Release of St. Peter,’ 1513-14 (credit: Esteban Martinez)

Every single person, every single color, every single detail was well thought out much before any actual painting occurred. Besides being well thought out, every painting in the rooms actually has a really interesting story behind it. Some depict biblical events, while others depict historical events such as the Borgo Fire or Pope Leo the Great repelling Attila the Hun from Rome. It is actually really hard to believe that these rooms were once used as common rooms fit for everyday for audiences or a private library for the pope.

The Sistine Chapel … It is rather difficult to take in such beautiful artwork! Pictures do not do it justice in any way! Not-so-fun fact: People are not permitted to take pictures inside the Sistine Chapel. In fact, eight guards walk and make sure that all cameras, phones, tablets and anything that has a camera is put away. When I asked a guard why we weren’t allowed to take photos, I was told simply not to do it; moments later, a woman told me that it was a copyright infringement to the tune of about 800 euros. So, word of advice: When they tell you not to take pictures, don’t take pictures! I asked my professor if I could take a quick picture for educational purposes, and she said that in the past students have been escorted out by guards and urged me to reconsider whether I really needed a picture for “educational purposes.”

The Sistine Chapel was painted in three phases. During one of those phases was when the great Michelangelo Buonarroti, the famous sculptor, painter, architect and engineer, left his mark on the ceiling of the chapel. On the ceiling, he painted scenes from bible stories from creation to the great floods and even Jesus’ forefathers. It took Michelangelo so long to finish painting the ceiling that he actually developed a back problem from being on his back for so long.

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The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel (credit: Esteban Martinez)

Walking through the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel is not an easy experience to describe. No words or pictures can truly define what you feel when gazing upon such amazing artwork. Whether you are looking at the paintings, sculptures or the architecture, there is no way someone can really explain the emotions that run through you when seeing the masterpieces. Turn left, turn right, look up, look down: In any direction you look, you will see incredible artwork.

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