by Genna Rivieccio
At the end of 2014, I had the distinct and rare privilege to go to the Vatican for the first time in my life. Uncertain of whether or not I would be permitted entrance without lightning striking upon me, I wasn’t really prepared to be met with such awe-inspiring artworks. From floating heads (or busts, as they’re called) to sculptures of emperors and mythological gods, my senses were almost as overwhelmed as when I took a bite out of [insert name of any Italian food here].
In many respects, people look on religious-themed artwork as somehow “lesser than” or perhaps lacking in imagination. However, what you’ll find at the Vatican is a veritable collage of all the ways in which art has proven that in spite of the infinite wars and hatred it has caused among various factions, the sculptural and painterly output produced as a result of it has maybe–just maybe–made it all worthwhile.
Among the famed works of art, apart from the consistently celebrated and revered Sistine Chapel, are the Raphael Rooms or Stanze di Raffaello, Laocoön and His Sons (a behemoth of a marble sculpture depicting the tragedy of Laocoön and his sons being killed after trying to reveal the fraud of the Trojan Horse), Giotto’s Stefaneschi Triptych, Caravaggio’s The Entombment of Christ and Raphael’s Transfiguration.
In spite of the numerous and varied paintings adorning the total of fifty-four galleries comprising the structure, the most common theme, you will notice, is the Madonna and Child. As one of the most significant moments in Bible history, it’s understandable that artists would gravitate toward depicting this particular scene as though they could bring something new to the table with each new rendering.
And while maybe the first one hundred times a Madonna and Child was painted something innovative was achieved, after the next thousand times or so, the novelty quickly wore off. That’s why the next time I make it to Rome to gander at the collections in the Vatican Museums (one would have to go every day for his entire life in order to truly see everything), I plan to bring a clandestine flask with me in order to partake of a little drinking game called “Take A Shot Every Time You See A Madonna & Child.” This way, I’ll be nice and amenable to absorbing the unfathomable greatness of every work there.