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Thursday, November 02, 2006

"In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, and they had 500 years of democracy and peace. And what did that produce? The cuckoo clock" ~ The Third Man, 1949.

We have made it interesting for this Roman guide. Yesterday we spent three or four hours in the Vatican, again, that wonderful world of curiosities. We came very near expressing interest, sometimes--even admiration--it was very hard to keep from it. We succeeded though. Nobody else ever did, in the Vatican museums.

The guide was bewildered-- non-plussed. He walked his legs off, nearly, hunting up extraordinary things, and exhausted all his ingenuity on us, but it was a failure; we never showed any interest in any thing. He had reserved what he considered to be his greatest wonder till the last--a royal Egyptian mummy, the best preserved in the world, perhaps. He took us there. He felt so sure, this time, that some of his old enthusiasm came back to him:

"See, genteelmen!--Mummy! Mummy!"

The eye-glass came up as calmly, as deliberately as ever.
"Ah,--Ferguson--what did I understand you to say the gentleman's name was?"

"Name?--he got no name!--Mummy!--'Gyptian mummy!"

"Yes, yes. Born here?"

"No! 'Gyptian mummy!"

"Ah, just so. Frenchman, I presume?"

"No!--not Frenchman, not Roman!--born in Egypta!"

"Born in Egypta? Never heard of Egypta before. Foreign locality, likely. Mummy--mummy. How calm he is--how self-possessed. Is, ah--is he dead?"

"Oh, sacre bleu, been dead three thousan' year!"

The doctor turned on him savagely: "Here, now, what do you mean by such conduct as this! Playing us for Chinamen because we are strangers and trying to learn! Trying to impose your vile second-hand carcasses on us!--thunder and lightning, I've a notion to--to--if you've got a nice fresh corpse, fetch him out!--or by George we'll brain you!"

from Innocents Abroad, Mark Twain, 1869

One of the best days during our tour of Rome was the day we visited the Vatican Museums. The Museums celebrated their 500th anniversary in October 2006. We arrived early and waited over an hour to enter. So totally well worth it.

The Vatican Museums trace their beginning to one marble sculpture, purchased 500 years ago, the sculpture of Laocoön, the priest who, according to Greek mythology, tried to persuade the people of ancient Troy not to accept the Greeks' "gift" of a hollow horse. The statue was discovered January, 1506, in a vineyard near the basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore (my personal favorite) in Rome. Pope Julius II purchased the sculpture from the vineyard owner and put the sculpture of Laocoön and his sons in the grips of a sea serpent on public display at the Vatican exactly one month after its discovery. The popes were among the first sovereigns who opened the art collections of their palaces to the public thus promoting knowledge of art history and culture.

The museum has works of art by painters Michelangelo, Raphael and Fra Angelico, but my favorite part of the museums is the Gregorian Egyptian Museum.

Pope Gregory XVI founded the Gregorian Egyptian Museum in 1839. It houses monuments and artifacts of ancient Egypt. The Popes’ interest in Egypt was connected with the ‘fundamental role attributed to this country by the Sacred Scripture in the History of Salvation’. The Museum occupies nine rooms divided by a large semi-circle towards the terrace of the "Niche of the Fir Cone", in which there are numerous sculptures. The bronze pine-cone which was found in the baths of Agrippa, was a fountain which dripped water with spectacular effects. During the Middle Ages it was located in the hall of the ancient Basilica.

The Egyptian Museum contains objects and works of art from monuments and ancient collections located mainly in the area of Rome and its environment, Villa Adriana. Included are basalt statues of the priests of the seventeenth Dynasty and the big fragment of the seated statue of Ramses II, the Pharaoh who persecuted the Hebrews.

The mummies in their sarcophagi are the real attraction of the Museum, especially that of a princess of the 21st Dynasty, whose hair is dyed with red henné (see above). In the next room, characterized by the starry roof, the Serapeo, with its basalt Roman statues, which imitate the Egyptian ones, has been rebuilt in part. The scene represents the solar awakening of Osiride-Apis, who emerges from a lotus flower, in front of a canal which represents the Nile. Osiride’s face is that of Antinoo, the emperor’s favorite, who died in the Nile.

Other parts of the Vatican Museums and Collections include:

  • Near Eastern Antiquities

  • Alexandria and Palmyra

  • Antiquities from Palestine

  • Room of the Assyrian relief sculptures

  • Gregorian Etruscan Museum

  • Antiquarium romanum

  • Collection of vases

  • Classical Antiquities (Greek and Roman)

  • Pio Christian Museum (with the Christian and Hebrew Lapidary)

  • Pinacoteca (picture gallery)

  • Tapestries

  • Ceramics (18th-19th century)

  • Miniature mosaics

  • Collection of Modern Religious Art

  • Missionary-Ethnological Museum

  • Museo Sacro (formerly part of the Vatican Library)

  • Gregorian Profane Museum

  • Belvedere Palace

  • Upper Galleries (Gallery of the Candelabra; of Tapestries and of Maps)

  • Apartment of St. Pius V

  • Sala delle Dame

  • Room of the Immaculate Conception

  • Raphael Stanze

  • Room of the Chiaroscuri

  • Chapel of Nicholas V

  • Chapel of Urban VIII

  • Sistine Chapel

  • Borgia Apartment

  • Salone Sistino

  • Room of the Aldobrandini Wedding

  • Lower Galleries (Urban VIII, Alexandrine, Clementine)
Of course, you can't take pictures in the Sistine Chapel. Well, I guess you could, but it would be as risky as bringing cheese home in your suitcase. You could do it, but a uniformed guard might come to take you away. You can, however, take pictures in some of the other areas of the Museums. During my visit to the Vatican Egyptian Museum, it was mentioned, by a source that will go unnamed by me, The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in Cairo would like to have some of their antiquities 'returned'. Italian authorities are apparently 'making excuses and dragging their feet'. I've seen Romans make excuses AND drag their feet.
Getting their artifacts back may take the Egyptians quite some time.

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