Thursday, 23 August 2012

City of god

10 and a half hours at the Louvre has become the yardstick by which all museums are now measured.

The rooms leading to the Sistine Chapel are amazing, and worthy of your entire attention without the Sistine Chapel hovering over you in the background.

They were all sumptuously decorated either in the heavy renaissance style or in the lighter more delicate but just as highly coloured style that presumably finds root in the decorations of Roman villas. And there was marble of all shades punctuating the paintings and gilding everywhere.

One of my favourite rooms was en route. It was only a small room divided by the main corridor, but stocked full of the most delightful marble depictions of Noah’s ark. Some were more than a little brutal, but then the papacy is notoriously blood-thirsty even in their choice of artwork.

One has only to look at the forms of torture and method of execution inflicted upon their favourite saints without even touching on the representations of blood sports they took obvious pleasure in. However ignoring that for a moment, there were others that were a delight to behold simply because despite their age and lifeless marble form they still realistically depicted the nature of the animal. There was a beautiful inquisitive wild boar sitting back on its hunches, a heron devouring a frog whilst keeping a tight grip on the second course, and an eagle eyeing the rabbit writhing within its talons.

I do pity the underdogs on these sculpture as I’ve heard many a squeal of a terrorised frog or been myself under the beady eye of a hungry sharp taloned, kookaburra: one never quite know what's going on behind those shiny black spheres and in particular whether you should be guarding your sandwich with your life.


These rooms really were incredible to the extent that the Sistine chapel was an anticlimax as a result.
It is so hyped up that too much is expected and it has become WAY too touristy. Signs on the way in say silence please and please be dressed appropriately as this is a holy place. But firstly, they are not treating it as a holy place, just as a room with paintings, what with them reaping in the cash from all the 'pilgrims' who go to gawp at the ceiling and tick it off their list. Secondly, the lapsed catholic I was travelling with said that it wasn't a holy place as there was no sacrament. And yet still the guards were shouting 'No Foto, No Video' or saying 'Ssh' as loudly as possible. One delighted me as he was doing this whilst looking dapper and strutting around with his hands on his hips trying to look important. It was such a delightful parody of authority. Why they refused to let you take photos though when they were doing a deplorable job of policing it and when you could take photos in every other room, I don't know.

Still I did get one delightful thing out of that room. sitting cross-legged on the floor before us was a father with his two daughters on his knees and he was lovingly introducing them to the splendour of the ceiling and sharing in their delight. They were so engrossed in their own little world that they appeared oblivious to the chaos around.

As an afterthought, I think I really will disappoint my Grandfather for today has removed any last trace of his hope that I would ever be baptised and embrace the doctrine of his Catholic church . I have read too much on alternative religions and on the history of the Catholic church and its delightful corruption and power games during the middle ages to have any desire to join its ranks. But we’re discussing today’s actions. Well, it was a decidedly anti-Catholic and anti-tour-guide day despite our continued pilgrimage (we keep being referred to as Pilgrims (of art and architecture)) of the Vatican City. Of St Peter’s, I saw a statue of a bejewelled Pope kneeling in prayer and it jarred with me that as an overarching symbol of the Catholic Church he could conscientiously display such wealth, over-indulgence, pomposity, smugness and insincerity in his worship. Everything about him seemed to be hypocritical to the teachings on which the church is based and at odds with the beauty of the natural world in which we find ourselves. I will have my rant, I just hope I haven't offended any religious sensibilities.

Of the anti-tour-guide part, I think my tour-guide in Greece dramatically increased my expectations so I am a little impatient with other tour-guides now; after yesterday as well, this hopefully won't become a trend. Today I was standing looking at a marble plaque inlaid into the floor and a tour-guide came and stopped with her gaggle directly on top of what I was looking at. As I could no longer view the plaque in its entirety I was forced to inform her of this fact and that I had been there first clearly implying that she was being selfish and inconsiderate of other people enjoying the basilica and needed to mend her ways, particularly if she was representative of a tour company or of St Peter’s itself. I think the lapsed Catholic was a little embarrassed but even she admitted that the tour guide had been in the wrong.

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