Theatre and book reviews by Janice Dempsey
A quick post from Rome, where we have been depending on an Internet cafe. The Vatican yesterday afternoon - what can I say? Opulent, splendid, elaborate, grandiose, intimidating, overwhelming, packed, hostile, all these words spring to mind. The guards in particular inspire the epithets "hostile" and "intimidating", to which I would add "authoritarian" - even more than in most other museums. We couldn't miss going to the papacy's private hoard but the atmosphere of mistrust and hostility did not make me want to return there.
Having said all that, we did see very beautiful sculpture in the long ornate corridors leading up to the Sistine Chapel. The Greek statuary, in particular, with delicate marble drapery in fine pleats and folds over the marble limbs, is unbelievably skilled and graceful. There's a whole room of animal sculptures, guarded by two enormous marble dogs. The riches went on and on until we could take no more - even Donall closed his camera lens, sated!
The Sistine Chapel was almost an anticlimax after about half a mile, I believe, of wall-to-wall masterpieces in all traditional media and from 500BC up to the eighteenth century AD. We entered the chapel in company with the swirling crowd of tourists, students, school children and teachers of all nationalities, who had accompanied us thus far. Our guide, Jill, a charming American girl from Philadelphia, was not allowed to give us her talk about the frescos actually in the chapel and had delivered her account of the history and iconography of Michelangelo's masterwork in the Piazza of the Pineapple, half a mile earlier.
Now we were expected to view the famous frescos in silence, what seemed like a thousand or more of us standing shoulder to shoulder craning our heads up to look at this iconic sight. Of course it wasn't happening and there was a subdued murmur. The guardians, uniformed in black with dark glasses and walkie-talkies, were shouting, "Silence" and clapping their hands loudly at intervals. It didn't make for either a respectful, a religious or an aesthetically pleasing atmosphere.
We were relieved to leave the Vatican, after a rather perfunctory viewing of St Peter's Basilica. We limped back to reality suffering from a bad case of museum foot and and a severe overdose of evidence of the conspicuous consumption of world culture by the Papacy.