Masterpieces of Light and Space: St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome, Italy – Part IV: The Art

So there’s probably close to a billion historically significant works of art in St. Peter’s Basilica, mostly by Italian renaissance artists who later lent their names to a ragtag group of martial arts knowing turtles. The former (unqualified) art history professor in me wants to show you some of the highlights, but I don’t really know in most cases who made what, nor do I feel like looking it all up on wikipedia and pretending I knew all along.

Unlike my previous posts, my comments about the art will appear above the photo. As if we’re on a tour and I’m speaking before you get a chance to look.

Here’s perhaps the most famous piece, Pieta by one Michaelangelo Buonarroti.

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The Baldachino by Bernini…

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One of the Apostles, who appears to have just hurled something at you.

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Followed by another Apostle, who perhaps caught what the first had hurled.

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Another Apostle (I’m crossing my fingers now hoping I photographed all four…)

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Myriad statues popping their heads out and looking around. It’s like a whole city of the biblically famous frozen in marble…

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Throne of St. Peter:

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I guess I didn’t get a photo of the fourth apostle at the dome, so we will have to travel back to Rome one day. However, upon exiting St. Peter’s you run headlong into Swiss Guard with their Halberds. Their uniforms are artful AF, aren’t they?

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So this will conclude my 4 part series on St. Peter’s Basilica. I think that anyone regardless of faith would enjoy a walk around in this church. There’s literally so much to see. If you attend a mainline Christian church, you will appreciate it from a heritage viewpoint. If not, there are all sorts of curiosities to indulge your brain. Plus the scale is just overwhelming altogether. I’d say St. Peter’s Basilica is not to be missed.

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Masterpieces of Light and Space: St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome, Italy – Interior

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If you feel small standing in St. Peter’s Square, you’re only going to feel smaller as you get closer to the entrance of the basilica itself. As you get close to the many, many doors, you notice that the relief carvings on the doors themselves are as big as you are. Maybe bigger.

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Once you’ve used half of your camera’s memory card on the door frames, you step inside and immediately start clearing space so that you have plenty of pictures remaining. I think perhaps this building is 4 dimensional, in the sense that it certainly seems like it is bigger on the inside than on the outside. My favorite view is this one, looking straight up the Nave towards the transept, with the many domes and windows gushing in light.

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Once your glasses change from dark to clear (OMG I’m SUCH a dad!) you notice the myriad details. Saints and apostles leaning out from the wall to speak with you. Frescoes so high they might as well be actual images of heaven. Beautiful Latin text that you kinda understand but not totally lining the walls in gold. Windows and trimmings as far as the eye can see.

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Clearly when the interior designer was consulted on St. Peter’s, they didn’t go for a minimalist look.

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Frescoes from renaissance masters are overhead throughout the Basilica. I would imagine the density of art works from famous artists in St. Peter’s would rival the population density of Kowloon Walled City in the middle of the 20th century.

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The baldachin doesn’t actually have the high chancel of the church in it, because that is farther back at the end of the longitudinal axis of the cross on the throne of St. Peter. Apparently the baldachin, directly under the dome (not like the Stephen King story) sits atop the burial place of St. Peter himself.

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I think St. Peter is in that gold box!

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The main dome is massive. Much bigger than the Duomo in Florence. I believe you can donate a few Euros to climb up, but we didn’t do it. It was the end of the day and stairs probably weren’t happening.

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St. Peter’s “Throne” – where the high chancel of the church is. Totally looks like the Iron Throne from Game of Thrones to me. Quite an amazing piece of sculpture.

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I love this view of the transept – it gives you some idea of the scale of St. Peter’s Basilica. I’m pretty sure you could take off, circle, and land a small plane in this amount of space. This is one reason I titled this blog series “Masterpieces of Light and Space.” Sometimes the negative space where nothing hangs but air (and the holy spirit) is the most powerful part of a church’s design.

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Those frescoes, tho.

My goal with this post was to capture the size and general effect of the inside of St. Peter’s Basilica. I hope the images I’ve chosen have done that to some degree for you. In future posts I will explore the art and the relics that I encountered on my visit to St. Peter’s, and if you didn’t read the first part of my St. Peter’s story, you can see my thoughts on the exterior here.

Masterpieces of Light and Space: St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome, Italy – Part I – Exterior

Rome, Italy

Some landmarks simply seem too big to write about. I mean does anyone really have the words to describe the Grand Canyon or Mount Everest? That’s how I feel about St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. It’s the biggest church on earth, filled with incredible Renaissance art from the likes of Rafael, Bernini, Michaelangelo, and so on and so forth. It sits within a stone’s throw of arguably the greatest art collection on earth, the Vatican Museum, and it’s built on a scale that totally bends the mind.

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I guess I must start by talking briefly about St. Peter’s Square. If you want to visit the basilica, you’ll be going through the square to get through security. The scale is massive. There are two enormous colonnades extending from either side of the basilica, and perched on top are larger than life statues of all the saints. Each saint is holding the implement used to kill them. Very artistic. Kinda dark.

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From a little bit closer, the scale becomes a bit more clear. The facade of the basilica is so tall that you can’t even see the cupola on top. You can see the cupola from anywhere in Rome, except for right in front of the church. Like most major basilicas, St. Peter’s is built in the shape of a cross, and the cupola sits over the transept. It is so far back from the foot of the cross, where you enter, that you can’t even see it. And it’s like 400′ tall, so it’s not easy to miss.

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That’s not to say that the entry way is in any way less than major. Freaking Charlemagne was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in the doorway. Charlemagne. Does that speak to how old this building is, or what?

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The exterior of St. Peter’s gets its own post because it’s SO BIG. Another couple of topics will be the interior (general), the art, and the relics. I can’t think of another church that has so much to cover, but then again I can’t think of another church that is widely considered the epicenter of western Christianity. Also, those Swiss Guard dudes were intimidating AF.

Ciao.

Masterpieces of Light and Space: Basilica of Notre Dame de la Garde, Marseille, France

Marseille, FranceNotre Dame de la Garde sits atop the highest hill overlooking old Marseille

High on a hilltop above Marseille lies a beautiful church. That sentence is so ridiculous that I’m leaving it in the blog post. Ha! Anyhow, it’s true, Notre Dame de la Garde sits high above Marseille on a hilltop. Specifically it sits high above the Vieux Port of Marseille, the ancient port. Given the decorative motif and the maritime history of the city, one has to wonder if the same hilltop played host to a temple of Poseidon in the Greek times, or perhaps Neptune in the Roman. I think you’ll see why in just a moment or two. First, though, let’s talk about getting there.

Marseille, FranceThe key direction is UP

Finding Notre Dame is pretty easy from the old city of Marseille. Start at the Citadel or Abbey of St. Victor and walk up the hill. Keep walking. and walking. and walking. and walking. It’s farther than it looks from the port, but you get to walk through fields of beautiful Provençal flowers and you’ll also get a stunning view of the port and Chateau d’If floating out there in the Mediterranean.

Marseille, FranceWait…there’s more climbing involved?!?

After the long trek up the hill, we didn’t really think there was a better place to start our visit at Notre Dame de la Garde but the bottom. Yeah. We started in the crypt.

Marseille, FranceThose candles put off a lot of heat. A different take on fire-and-brimstone.

The crypt was crowded, fairly compact for a church of this size, and full of the living. I thought the heat was being put off by the candles, but it could have also been the accumulation of body heat from the visitors. Certainly not the body heat of the residents I would imagine (yeah, I just said that.)

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The chancel from the crypt’s exit

After moving up from the crypt to the main level, it becomes obvious very quickly that this basilica is thematic. Thematic in the sense that all of the decoration seems to be nautical. Nautical in the sense that this is a place where sailors and fishermen would worship before heading out to sea. The colors and patterns are not that different from Marseille Cathedral or San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome, but the ships, airplanes, anchors, octopi, and everything else nautical certainly sets it apart.
Marseille, FranceShips, planes, anything that could move cargo

The church itself is beautiful, and the ships and airplanes and basically all of the artwork are beautifully done, if a bit morbid. There is an entire wall of paintings of maritime and other transportation disasters. Kids getting run over by horse-drawn carts, sinking ships, plane crashes, etc. That’s a bit dark and contrasts in a strong and beautiful way against the otherwise ethereal surroundings.

Marseille, FranceSee, I told you. Transportation disasters.

According to Atlas Obscura, the miniatures and paintings are examples of “ex-voto” or rather, appreciations for the help of Notre Dame de la Garde in recovery from accidents, acts of war, or whatever might be depicted in the particular item. In addition to these crafted pieces are also life rings from boats, bandages, crutches, and other items. The site is a pilgrimage destination every Assumption Day (August 15) and people will leave ex-voto items to thank Le Bonne Mere for her assistance in the pilgrimage.
Marseille, FranceLe Bonne Mere herself

Between the nearly Arabesque gold leaf and repetitive patterns of the decoration, the marble from Florence laid in striated patterns, and its nautical ex-voto, the Basilica of Notre Dame de la Garde is one of the most interesting churches I have ever visited. It’s definitely a treasure that we should all be glad was restored after it’s damage during the French liberation in 1944, and dare I say if I were a sailor in Marseille, this would be a regular stop for peace of mind.