After the Hall of Muses, we passed into the Round Hall. It was quite crowded, so I didn't get a good picture of the whole hall, but you can see a picture here. The most famous sculpture in the room is the Braschi Antinous, of which I didn't get a picture. The room itself is indeed round; it's actually an homage to the Pantheon and was finished in 1779 by Michelangelo Simonetti. There is a striking basin, made of red porphyry, in the center of the room. The most remarkable thing is the floor, however. While the floor as it exists is entirely eighteenth century, it is pieced together out of 3rd century mosaics that were discovered in various parts of Italy.
Here is a detail of one of the horse's heads:
From the Round Hall we moved to the Greek Cross Hall, also designed in the 18th century by the architect Michelangelo Simonetti; it happened at the time to be the entrance to the Pio-Clementine Museum. It was also quite crowded. On each side of the hall is a massive red porphyry sarcophagus. Here is the one that is thought to have been the sarcophagus for St. Helena:
The other sarcophagus is that of one of the Emperor Constantine's daughters, probably Constantia.
Through all of this we were heading slowly to the Sistine Chapel; but as you get closer and closer to the Sistine Chapel, the crowds get thicker. Outside, it's quite noisy, while inside you're not allowed to talk more than a bare minimum. So our guide had us duck briefly into the Gregorian Etruscan Museum to talk about the Sistine Chapel. The Etruscan Museum was largely empty. Poor Etruscans! The archeological museum in Florence, which was, like the Gregorian, mostly focused on Egyptian and Etruscan exhibits, was also sparsely visited. Nobody goes sightseeing for Etruscan artifacts, apparently.
The Gregorian Etruscan Museum was founded by Pope Gregory XVI in 1837; there had begun to be a bit of a resurgence in excavation for ancient remains, and a large number of Etruscan artifacts had come into the Vatican and Lateran collections, largely from ancient Etruria (modern-day Latium), which was part of the Papal States. With the destruction of the Papal States in 1870 that flow more or less stopped, except for occasional donations and purchases. We never went further than Room I, which is concerned with the remnants of early Etruscan history (6th century BC and before). But there was a very nice piece that showed that even at that period the Etruscans could do serious artwork:
The little knobs on the bottom part are actually rows of tiny birds; they are so finely done that I could not get a good picture of them, because the camera had a difficult time focusing on them. But I did get some detail of the top part:
Having had some prior discussion of the Chapel, we then headed down that way. But as this was the Vatican, even walking in the direction of the Sistine Chapel was quite scenic. We saw some interesting ceiling paintings; there were two that were Thomas Aquinas-themed. Here is St. Thomas presenting his theological works to the Virgin Mary:
And here (my favorite) is a painting of St. Thomas's Summa Contra Gentiles, Summa Theologiae, and commentaries on Scripture defeating the philosophers of the world:
The physical representation of philosophical refutation is priceless; it almost looks at first glance like the angels have been hitting the philosophers upside the head with the books. The theme of the Triumph of St. Thomas over philosophers and heretics is a fairly common theme in paintings of the Common Doctor, but this one is interesting because it doesn't actually depict St. Thomas; it is the books themselves that are subjugating the philosophers.
We then passed by a long series of beautiful tapestries. The detail work on some of these tapestries was truly incredible, and confirms my view that tapestry should be considered one of the great fine arts:
The second of the two is almost indistinguishable from a painting if you are just glancing at it. And a very good painting, for that matter. You walk by it, and Christ's eyes follow you. What is more, wherever you are standing, no matter the angle from which you view the tapestry, Christ seems to be coming directly toward you.
After the tapestries, we came to the Gallery of Maps:
The maps along the hall show by parts the entire peninsula of Italy, with special focus on the Papal States as they existed in the sixteenth century. They should seem somewhat familiar; they were painted by Ignazio Danti, O.P., and we've come across his work before -- it was he who painted the maps in the Stanza delle Mappe geografiche in the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. The Palazzo Vecchio maps were painted in the very early 1570s, while the Vatican maps were painted in the early 1580s. Danti had left Florence to become a professor of mathematics at the University of Bologna; Pope Gregory XIII invited him to Rome to serve on the commission for calendar reform and making him the pontifical mathematician, and while he was serving in that capacity, he painted the maps.
And so we came to the Sistine Chapel itself.
to be continued