Close your eyes and let your imagination run riot and you might hear the concerted roar of the crowd as muscled gladiators face off in mortal combat in the Colosseum in Rome; the clatter of Caesar’s chariot rumbling down the cobblestone street of the Roman Forum. In fact, the sheer abundance of artistic treasures assaults one’s senses even on agenda-less strolls through its cities.
Rome, for instance, is an open-air museum. The sculpture of the Greek sea-god Oceanus riding a chariot drawn by seahorses at Trevi Fountain at Piazza dei Crociferi is an arresting sight; the fountain of four rivers— the Nile, Ganges, Danube and Plata—is a showstopper in Piazza Navona while nearby, young modern-day portrait artists sketch a tourist’s likeness on paper.
However, all roads in Rome eventually lead to the Vatican City or Holy See where the Vatican Museum brims with some of the finest masterpieces in the world—paintings, tapestries, ancient Greek sculptures, old manuscripts… even a moon rock. The two jewels in these artistic vaults are Michelangelo’s stirring vision of Creation and the Final Judgment on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and The Pieta, the sculpture of Mary with the lifeless body of Christ draped across her lap in a side altar of St Peter’s Basilica.
The air and temperature-controlled museum located in what was once the refectory of the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan has just one exhibit: the mural of Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper. One has to book a time slot in advance to enter the vaulted chamber, but it is well worth the trouble to gaze upon the original masterpiece that is not only deemed to be one of the world’s most recognised works of art but one that has spawned endless reproductions.
Romantic Venice is a living museum; a vibrant canvas that has a unique art treasure tucked away in one of its most celebrated monuments. The vaults and ceilings of St Mark’s Basilica are covered with glittering gold glass mosaic images that dip into the scriptures for inspiration, across an area of around 86,000 sq ft (the size of a large football field). Did you know that Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man is at the Gallerie dell’Accademia?
Ultimately, the smallest towns and cities in Italy showcase the country’s artistic sensibility and heritage as much in a forgotten church as in a renowned museum.
In contrast to Michelangelo’s The Pieta which is poignant with pathos, Benvenuto Cellini’s bronze statue of Perseus flaunting the severed head of Medusa and Giambologna’s Abduction of the Sabine Women at Piazza della Signoria, in Florence, bristle with raw energy. Also gracing the square is a replica of Michelangelo’s 17-ft tall (5.17m) David which stands where the original (moved to Galleria dell’ Accademia in 1873) once stood. Another replica of David looks down from Piazzale Michelangelo, a broad open terrace, which affords splendid views and a sea of pink- tiled roofs glowing in the rays of a dying sun. Not to be missed is the Uffizi Gallery, home to the world’s greatest collection of Italian and Florentine art.
DID YOU KNOW?
The Museum and Crypt of the Capuchin Friars in Rome (in the church of Santa Maria della Concezione) is not for the faint-hearted. In a series of tomb-like spaces, the bones of 4,000 deceased friars (who died between 1528 and 1870) are displayed on the walls as a vivid reminder to the ones alive that life is transient. A plaque in the crypt reads—“What you are now, we once were; what we are now, you shall be.” There is a crypt of skulls, a crypt of bones and even one of pelvises!