Perhaps you’re looking in the wrong place? (Musei Vaticani Pt II)

In my last post I hinted that the Sistine Chapel is the pot of gold at the rainbow’s end for many of the Vatican Museums visitors, much as the Mona Lisa is in the Louvre, or the Elgin Marbles in the British Museum. It is spectacular in composition, colour and scope, and I’d happily bypass it.

There are two reasons for this. One is that photography is not permitted; not just flash photography, where the light may fade the pigments, any photography, but worse still you can’t really look at it. Even in December the number of visitors vastly exceeds the number of seats around the perimeter of the chapel, and woe betide anyone who seeks to sit on the floor or steps to be able to spend the time required to take in Michelangelo’s masterwork. The stewards elsewhere within the museum are gentle and scholarly. Here they are young, muscular and assertive as they actively patrol the room. Even if you find a seat, it will only afford a view of some of the room and there’ll be a long wait for one opposite!

But no matter. Accept that it will be an anti-climax. That way you can enjoy some of the other pleasures of this palace of excessive power and influence.

Some of them are obvious; Pomodoro’s Sfera con Sfera (one of a number of these golden globes around the world), the ceiling of the Gallery of the Maps, the great head of Augustus and the Momo Staircase, so often incorrectly referred to as the Bramante Staircase even though it wasn’t built until 400 years after the death of Donatello Bramante, the architect whose work elsewhere inspired both this structure and indeed Michelangelo’s dome of St Peter’s.

But look more closely and there is artistry everywhere; in the carvings on doorways and window shutters, in the marbles of the flooring and yet more spectacular ceilings created over centuries.

There are also some of the individual works from antiquity to modern day, by artists notorious and long forgotten.

And if you’re really looking for superstar artistry, where you can take as long as you like to enjoy the details, and so long as you don’t use flash take as many pictures as you like, then you can’t go wrong with the Stanze di Raffaelo, a series of rooms clothed in frescoes by another Renaissance great.  When Sir Kenneth Clark published his book to accompany the TV series 50 years ago, Civilisation did not feature the Sistine Chapel on its front cover.  Instead it featured a detail from one of these rooms and the image known as The School of Athens in which Euclid explains a geometrical theorem to a group of students.  Of course Raphael had no idea what Euclid looked like so he turned to someone he did know to supply the face of the mathematician.  Donatello Bramante.

The School of Athens, Raphael, Musei Vaticani  (Euclid in red, bottom right)

How do you solve a problem like Maria?


The Airshow is over and the clean-up is underway, but not before I share my favourite image from those I took yesterday.  The Breitling wing-walkers may not share the speed of the Red Arrows, but the girls strapped to the top must love the wind in their hair!

Which brings me to today; still warm and sunny but a strong wind is blowing from the SW, a warm wind, but a strong one all the same.  But how do you photograph wind effectively?  Like the metaphors in the chorus of the song from the Sound of Music you can’t, for it is an invisible phenomenon.  All you can do is photograph its effects.

The most obvious method is to find a flag, or even a windsock, but unless you have lots of them in the shot, I personally think they lack impact.

There are kites of course, but this is only marginally less clichéd.Perhaps the sand swirling on the beach and the crests of wavelets dissolving into spray?

Now we’re making progress, how about an image that combines these effects with a lifeguard whose clothing has been moulded to him by the movement of the air?

(Yes ladies it will enlarge if you click the image!)

For me though the answer was to get down into the detail.  At first sight this look like nothing more than a piece of bladder-wrack that has been semi submerged by the drifting silica.  But look more closely (enlarge if you need to) and you can see the individual grains that are airborne around it.  What’s more some of those grains have blurred into tiny hyphens of light and shade – which is going some when the image was captured at 1/2000 of a second.  Now that proves there was some wind blowing!Today’s portrait subject had his hat firmly screwed down because it didn’t budge an inch in this turbulence.  His name is Raphael and he’s one of the kitchen team at Little Italy.

His English seemed to be no better than my Italian, but this was one occasion where grazie, prego and ciao seemed to do very nicely!