Friday, October 12, 2012

Michelangelo in the Morning

The morning cleared after a rainy night. From the large window of the apartment where we were  staying on the Via Baccina, sunlight streamed in and created long shadows across the narrow Monti street. Voices  of passersby could be heard, the sweet sing-song voices of Italian children on their way to school, mothers with strollers, and the clicking sound of heels on the cobbles all established a feel of neighborhood here. More on the Monti neighborhood soon.

In Italy, James and I get an early start on the day. Stepping out the door onto the shaded Via Baccina we walked toward the sun filled Piazza della Madonna dei Monti. We passed a a man sweeping and two woman standing in a doorway smoking, while at the corner a colorful delivery of flowers was made from the back of a tiny pickup truck  People in business attire on mobile phones, always on mobile phones, threaded in and out of parked and moving cars,vespas and bicycles with confidence and grace.

The day starts with a cappuccino at a bar. Our food saavy "landlord" Elizabeth suggested two bars, for coffee, we went to the one on the Via Serpente, Antica Caffe' Brasilia, where we found the cappuccino to be heavenly, and of course, we each had a cornetto to fortify ourselves for the day! It was there, standing at the bar drinking cappuccini that we would plan our day. James recalled something about a Michelangelo being in this neighborhood, I remember him saying something to the effect,  "Hmmmmmmmmm,
 I think there's a Michelangelo around here.... somewhere."

Our trusty Rough Guide map showed us a church, San Pietro in Vincolo, across the Via Cavour. This sounded familiar. Our cups emptied we began our hunt for Michelangelo. 
We passed a familiar Sicilian pastry shop, and resisted the temptation of those wonderfully colorful pastries that fill the cases. We were on a quest, and  anyway, we already had cornetti. We turned and climbed stairs that landed us on the Via Cavour. The map indicted that we must cross the  Via Cavour  and for this busy street, a cross walk was necessary.  Once across, it was only a short distance when the sign for San Pietro in Vincolo pointed us to the right and to a really long stair case.

Is everything in Rome at the top of a hill or long flight of stairs?

Well, the morning cappuccini  gave us the boost we needed to follow these stairs to the top to find San
Pietro in Vincolo, which I later learned means Saint Peter in Chains.
But, was there a Michelangelo here?
There were no crowds or lines, but there was a 'begger' on the steps, which indicted this to be a place people  regularly visit.

Indeed, here inside the church we found a Michelangelo.
Not just any Michelangelo, but THE Michelangelo, the project he longed to do his entire life, the Tomb of Pope Julius II.

The story of  Michelangelo and the tomb for Julius II goes something like this......
It was 1503, Julius II is elected Pope when shortly after ,in the original St. Peter's, he sets his eyes on a sculpture, a work of art that sweeps him off his feet, Michelangelo's Pieta. He summons Michelangelo from his hometown of Florence, where he has just completed the David to raves.
Julius II, thinks big, modesty was not a word to be associated with this Della Rovere pope, the nephew of Pope Sixtus IV, to whom we owe the building of the Sistine Chapel. Well, Julius had it in his mind to have Michelangelo sculpt a tomb for him, a grand tomb, a tomb for the ages. A thrilled Michelangelo designed a tomb for Julius that would be 35 feet  wide and 50 feet high containing 40 life size figures topped by a ten foot high sculpture of Julius in papal attire, along with niches, pillars, arches and  architectural adornments, and a seated Moses. WOW! It would have made a pharaoh envious. Michelangelo goes off to Carrara to select the white marble and within months he sent back 90 wagons filled with marble to Rome.

 Michelangelo returns to Rome to find that Julius has put his sights and money on building a 'new' St. Peter's Basilica and the tomb gets put on a back burner. Michelangelo is crushed that his project has been overshadowed by the building of a grand Basilica and that he is no longer the darling of the Pope, that role has been taken by Donato Bramante, the chief architect of Julius' new legacy, St. Peter's.
Michelangelo flees Rome but an angry Pope Julius call s him back to his service, not to work on the tomb, but this time Michelangelo, the sculptor, is charged with painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

It is 1505, Michelangelo is thirty three
 and his life's ambition is to carve the  grandiose tomb for Julius, instead he finds himself painting the frescos of the Sistine. No small project, mind you. It is glorious! ( but if you go, take a private tour).
 Michelangelo lived a long life 1475-1564, he was 89 when he died. Often reported to be a loner and a rather cranky fellow that rarely removed his boots ( which could could account in his being a loner!). He carried the burden of this unfinished  tomb for 30 years.

 It is said that Julius, on his death bed, asked  that his remains be placed into the tomb and that the tomb, upon completion, be installed in the Sistine Chapel, so that he could rest under two great Michelangelo's, the sculptural tomb and the masterpiece of the painted Sistine Chapel ceiling.
Neither happened.  After the death of  Pope Julius II, Pope Leo X ( a Medici pope) was elected and the plans for Julius' tomb were radically scaled down. Leo did allow Michelangelo time and funds to return to work on Julius' tomb, but he also put him to the task of creating a painting for above the altar of the Sistine Chapel. As for the tomb,Michelangelo completed the sculpture of Moses, which is powerful and splendid, along with a couple of other figures that he may have worked on with skilled assistants.

The tomb was not installed as Julius had wished in The Sistine Chapel or in St. Peter's Basilica, it stands in a different St. Peter's, the church of San Pietro in Vincolo. And, to make things worse, the remains of Julius II are not  even in this abbrevited tomb. After Julius died, with the tomb incomplete, the body of Julius was put next to the remains of his uncle, Sixtus IV in his tomb in St. Peter's Basilica.

It might have been something extraordinary if Michelangelo could have created the Tomb of Julius II the way he had envisioned. On the contrary, one can't help but consider that if Michelangelo had continued with the tomb would he have been commissioned to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
James and I stood, nearly alone in front of this Michelangelo in San Pietro in Vincolo for quite some time, looking and wondering.

James and I went back out to the sunny Rome morning and walked up to Quirinal Hill. This is an area of Rome that we had spent little time in and we heard that the view from here was particularly interesting.

Due to the fact that the Presidential Palace is here in the piazza at the top of the hill, the cars go from small European cars to large  European power cars, I'm talking big black Mercedes and Audi's fill the streets.
Here at the top of the hill James and I spent time drawing. The sketch I made (above) included roof tops and a dome. The dome is that of St. Peter's Basilica. Late in life Michelangelo, under protest, was appointed Chief Architect of St. Peter's. He redesigned much of the Basilica including the dome.
It was years later and after Michelangelo' s life was over that under Giacomo della Porta the Basilica was at last completed  and the dome, somewhat changed
from Michelangelo's design, was finally erected.

And so went our morning with Michelangelo.
Only in Rome.

Time for lunch!


Juniperhillfarm said...

What a fascinating story, Beth and James! And, what a treat to be exploring Rome, alternating between cappuccinos, cornettos, and Michelangelos! I am green with envy.-- Joe


Rome has it all.....great art, fountains, ancient ruins, lovely people, and beautiful gardens.......oh yeah...the food and wine aren't bad either!