Then the Sistine Chapel. Such is the forced direction that one enters on the wall with Michelangelo’s Last Judgement; it is the way the priests entered under Jonah, a prototype of Christ. We, the lay visitors, should have entered at the other end, to meet under those touching index fingers of God and Adam.
The seething again. Everyone looking upwards, ignoring the Florentine artists of the 1480s, Vasari’s Second Period, on the lower walls, some of them masterpieces. ‘Silence! No flash!’ were useless calls from the custodians. Fortunately Michelangelo depicted the Creation and subsequent Old Testament events too far above us to be affected by flash, unlike poor Raphael. We turned back to look at his anguished Last Judgement, completed about 40 years later in a completely different style. More contorted forms, less clarity of shape or colour – Mannerism that followed the culmination of the High Renaissance, as Vasari saw it. The mood had changed, and the means to express it. Sarah reminded us that we could compare the three paintings we had seen of the Last Judgement: the one from the late 14th century in the Tuscania church of S. Maria Maggiore; Signorelli’s powerful depiction in the Chapel of S. Brizio in Orvieto Cathedral to Michelangelo’s in the Sistine Chapel.
On the trek to the exit I thought about my many experiences at the Uffizi, of the interminable queues until an efficient timed ticketing system was installed ensuring that the great works of art were not damaged by too great an influx of people. The Uffizi doesn’t look worn out like the Vatican Museum. It is part of a 2-hour visit on the one-day tour of Rome provided for tourists on the skyscraper liners that dock up coast at Civitavecchia and pour oceans of money into the Vatican coffers. Individuals visiting the Uffizi can join the short queue and get a timed ticket, not just groups. No seething there. I hear that it is not now enough for study groups to request entry to closed galleries in the Vatican Museum; they have to pay. The entrance ticket is now only covers the one-way stream of people along corridors to designated works that one can hardly pause to see, still less to ponder. On, on to the Sistine Chapel. We met a young man from Bradford who had paid a huge sum to get a ‘private visit’ to the Sistine Chapel so he could pray there. Even at a price, it was seething… I suppose Pope Francis has too many pressing problems to deal with, but would he support treating the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel as a way to make the most money possible and damaging the works of art – and the experience – in the process?
Mission accomplished, we left. The coach was ready waiting and our return journey was only slightly delayed by a football crowd.
At our farewell dinner in a popular local restaurant we were surrounded by Italians and enjoyed a varied menu from local produce. Apart from our day in the Vatican, we had met no crowds, except in the May Day flower festival in Viterbo, and that crowd didn’t seethe but wandered around in a festive mood. All our journeys had been short; we were often the only visitors, and where we shared a site, it was with Italians exploring their own country. An unspoilt region indeed. In the feedback we’ve had, many want to return to Viterbo and the intriguing and unique layers of history found in this unknown part of Italy.