Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Pieta and a Lizard in Rome

All do-it-yourselfers should read The Agony and the Ecstasy, a book about Michelangelo and his art (his painting, sculpture and architecture), sure, but also a book about craft, stubbornness and pride.

It's been years since I read the book, but I vividly remember the section on the Pieta, which now sits in the St. Peters in Rome and which I finally got to see last week. Jesus is down from the cross, held by his mother who appears to be a very large person and very young (and cute) looking for someone with a 33-year-old son. But this is for deliberate effect, a subject matter for art historians and sensitive people. No, what I remember from the book was Michelangelo's chisel work.

Long after the statue was in its final form, he worked hours and hours and hours doing the fine detail work, days and weeks and months of tap, tap, tap with his hammer, sharpening chisels (that he made at a forge), sharper and finer until the Madonna's forehead was as smooth as glass. Michelangelo was 23 years old at the time, a real do-it-yourselfer.

Of course, the Sistine Chapel ceiling is also described in the book, and I was no less excited to see it. We took a long walk through the Vatican museums to reach the chapel, with tourists pushing in all on sides, and we were surprised to find the big chapel crowded with people, sardine-packed with people, many of whom had frightened looks (which will remain as my memory of the place, instead of the ceiling) as a big policeman screamed "Silenzio!" every few seconds from his perch on a table, like we were in some bizarre Italian horror movie in which a large lizard eats all the tourists.

Even with my glasses, the ceiling was too far away; the "Creation" was little more than a postage stamp. And Cheryl has an aversion to crowds, so we pushed our way through and out the door before the lizard got us.

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