Secrets of the Vatican

Wednesday 25 February 2009

Both photography and talking are prohibited in the Sistine Chapel. Unlike most churches which don’t allow photography, the Chapel has relatively few punters in it blithely flashing away at something fifty feet above their heads. The chatter, however, is almost impossible to control.
I was about to make a joke about the effrontery of being told to shut up by a bunch of Italians, but it isn’t necessary: the guards, when they weren’t shushing people, passed time by chatting to each other or yakking on their mobile phones. Besides the guards, the worst offenders were Spanish speakers, who seemed to be at pains to point out that their language is completely different from Italian and the two are mutually incomprehensible.

To get to the Sistine Chapel you have to schlep a long, convoluted path through most of the other Vatican Museums first, with the Chapel itself acting like the centre of a labyrinth. After several miles the senses become dulled, particularly during a series of rooms filled with mostly dull modern religious art. Then, secreted between a room of dodgy late de Chiricos and a room of godawful late Dalis, is a little room which you might overlook in your hurry to get to the Chapel before christmas: it has a dozen Morandis in it. Six paintings and six drawings.
Up until then I’d only seen three of Morandi’s paintings, and none of his drawings. Given how excited art lovers can get when they find more than one of his paintings in the same room, it seemed incredible that this bounty was casually plonked off a passageway with so little fanfare, surrounded by so much vulgarity.
His drawing method is as fascinating as his brushwork, rendering all shade, contrast and depth in a careful layering of meticulous crosshatching.

One last piece of advice: don’t ask the cashier in the cafeteria how much the bananas cost. It will only cause you grief and anxiety and you won’t want a banana in any case.