‘If you can’t find it, it’s probably in the Vatican’. That’s what they jokingly say in Rome, and walking through those seemingly endless corridors all stuffed with priceless treasures you can pretty well believe it.
It’s like being buried alive in a giant layer cake, with bright cherries and ornate glazing in brilliant primary colours pressing in on you from all sides. After queuing outside for hours in the glare of the sun it’s just a relief to get into the shade, and you soon get over being herded along like a sheep because your eyes are constantly riveted on one stunning sight after another and there’s simply no time to be irritated. It’s like being on another planet, not one shared by the founder of the faith I suspect, as nothing at all has been given up here and hoarding is definitely the order of the day.
The Sistine Chapel felt like an exercise yard in a maximum security prison, guards with truncheons and walkie-talkies shouting instructions not to linger and to keep moving. And no photography of course! I managed to get a few for the album in any case, proof of my visit. It’s one of those things you feel obliged to do when in Rome, though at the same time sneering at yourself for being so touristy. So I sacrificed an afternoon to it. Been there and done that, thank god. Hypocrisy and sheer avarice on such a mind-bending scale is difficult to comprehend unless you’ve had your nose rubbed in it. It’s like Smaug’s hoard in The Hobbit, and flogging off the contents of just a couple of rooms could probably pay off the Greek national debt.
On the other hand, if you think of the Vatican not as a church but as an art gallery it becomes a lot more palatable. But one of the problems is that no single masterpiece here can be properly appreciated on its own merits because they’re all crowded round with others, all of them competing for attention. Only a few, such as the Laocoon, Michelangelo’s ceiling and the paintings in the Matisse Room, are instantly recognisable by the ignorant layman such as myself, and the overwhelming effect is one of overkill.