Friday, March 6, 2009

Happy Birthday Michelangelo!

Today is Michelangelo's birthday; he was born in 1475 in the Tuscany region. His works are found all over the world, but at the age of 21 he came to Rome and that is where some of his most famous pieces/architecture resides. So what did I do to celebrate this occasion? After a breakfast of banana pancakes, I headed into the city to check out some of the pieces Michelangelo is known for in Rome.

I've seen St. Peter's Basilica already, (and La Pieta inside) but that is perhaps the most famous of Michelangelo's architecture, especially the cupola. I've also been to Palazzo Farnese, home of the French embassy, and the Capitoline Hill (though that one I visited again--it was on my way during my wanderings this morning).

My first stop was Santa Maria sopra Minerva, located just behind the Pantheon. From the outside it doesn't look like much, but don't let that fool you. Santa Maria is gorgeous inside, with high ceilings painted a deep blue and marble everywhere. Numerous side altars lead up to the high altar and to the left there is a statue of Christ Carrying the Cross. It's also known as Christ the Redeemer or Christo della Minerva and was carved by Michelangelo in 1521. The figure was originally nude, but during the Baroque period a covering was added. The first thing I noticed was how calm and ready Christ looked, even though he is holding the things that will kill him. The statue is supposed to show his willingness to die for us.

After a few extra minutes walking around the church in awe of its greatness, I started for my next stop: Basilica dei Santi Apostoli. None of Michelangelo's works are found here, but this is the church that housed his tomb for a while before it was moved to Santa Croce. Anyways, it was worth going to if only to see the fresco above the sanctuary, the Fall of Lucifer and Rebel Angels. It's an illusionist painting so it looks like the angels are falling out of the painting, out of the ceiling, and into the church.

Next I made my way through the Piazza del Campidoglio, designed by Michelangelo between 1536-1546. Instead of having the square face the Roman Forum, Michelangelo turned it around to face Papal Rome and the stairs leading up to it are meant to show the link between the new and old Rome. Because of the odd shape of the square, Michelangelo had to be creative in order to make it feel as though the buildings were symmetrical and that a person standing in the square felt like they were on top of the world. It's actually egg-shaped and the slope is off, but of course Michelangelo pulled it off.

After a quick walk past the Roman gladiator who always asks for a photo outside the Forum and up Via Cavour, I found myself at my last stop of the day, San Pietro in Vincoli (St. Peter in Chains). This church houses the relic of the chains said to have bound St. Peter when he was imprisoned in Jerusalem. They keep these chains in a shrine under the altar. When I was at this church, so were a few Italian school tours, so I had to weave through them to get pictures of the reason most of us were there: Michelangelo's statue of Moses. The statue is flanked by slightly smaller statues of Leah and Rachel. The entire work was supposed to be much larger and was for the tomb of Pope Julius II but the pope interrupted Michelangelo's work for unknown reasons and it was gradually scaled down to what we see today. It is still quite impressive, with Moses looking fierce holding the tablets with the commandments, his beard down to his chest and horns on his head. (The horns have something to do with the biblical story--Moses having rays of light coming from his face. I guess the horns were meant to show that, and were easier to carve than a ray of light would be.)

The trees on our street are starting to bud and the weather has been gorgeous (besides the lingering rain)...hopefully spring comes to Wisconsin soon as well!

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