Returning to the Vatican with a Different Eye

By: Vittoria L.

I was holding my gelato in one hand and my mom's hand in the other. As the gelato melted faster than I could finish it, my mom asked me to throw it out and cleaned me up as best as possible before we entered the Vatican Museums. I was five. I remember being hot and sweaty, having blisters on my feet, and my hands being sticky. All I wanted to do was take my shoes off and sit down. It was too hot for me, and I did not like how many people there were. I really wanted to just go home! Was that too much to ask?

These are the little snippets I remember from my first visit to the Vatican Museums.  The main parts I recall are the stunning artwork barely peeking through the crowds of tourists and the Sistine Chapel. Even at a young age, I was attracted to the colors and the people that were painted to perfection.  As we stepped into the Sistine Chapel, I gawked at the beauty, but my lack of awareness prevented me from fully understanding the immensity and the meaning behind all of it. Sure, it was pretty, but I would have rather been  at home playing with my toys.

Ten years later, after studying the Renaissance and classical history at school and marveling at the beauty of the Vatican in photos, I finally had the opportunity to come back. Again I came in with gelato in one hand and my camera slung over my neck. I tried not to focus on how tired I was or how my feet hurt from walking. I wanted to redeem myself from my last experience. Walking quietly through the rooms reflecting on our studies, I was able to appreciate every single ounce of the beauty, and I felt present. As we got closer and closer to the Sistine Chapel, my stomach twirled with anticipation. Every painting spoke to me in a different way, some vibrant and others solemn. Looking at these paintings made me want to pick up a paintbrush and paint for hours.  

As we walked down the stairs closer to the pièce de résistance I grew more anxious and excited.

Finally, the moment I had been waiting for came. Following the crowd into the room I looked up and around. I was in shock. The colors everywhere were speaking to me. Everything blended together right before my eyes, the noise faded away, and I was suddenly transported into a different reality. The paintings glowed vibrantly in the soft light of the winter sun. The walls whispered the tales of a million souls past. I could stay here forever, I thought. I was alone, just these paintings and me. I allowed the masterpieces to take me with them and tell me their stories. They sung out to me, cried, laughed, and gave me everything they had to offer. I was brought back to reality when my classmate Sarah tapped my shoulder, telling me how much she loved the Sistine Chapel. I looked around at the tourists, and like moths attracted to light, they shuffled towards the Creation of Adam, contemplating Michelangelo’s genius. I followed, unable to resist the loving and raw look on God’s face and the innocence shown in Adam’s eyes. This image of God is a far cry from the imperial images of him that had been created before Michelangelo. Here God is depicted as a muscular man with greying hair and a long, flowing beard that cascades forward as he flies towards Adam. This portrait is a more intimate portrayal of God, as he is pictured in a state that is not remote or untouchable from man. Adam’s long, muscular arms stretch in a response to God’s imminent touch, a touch giving life to Adam, and all mankind.

Gazing at this scene, I felt like one of the angels in the painting watching the birth of the human race. I was overwhelmed, but in a good way. I stared at the ceiling for so long that my neck started to hurt, but I couldn't break my gaze, fearing I would look up again and all the artwork would be gone. I could return to this place so many times and not tire of the different textures or the way the frescoes glow like gold. If only I were able to lie down and just look at everything for hours. As we walked out, I tried to savor that moment forever. I am so thankful to have been able to see this masterpiece twice.