Let me preface this post with a confession. I shouldn’t be writing this post. Our final review is on Thursday morning and there’s quite a bit of drawing to finish. Sometimes it’s nice, though, to take a break and stretch one’s mind in a different way. I’ve been staring at Bristol for so long, I’d rather watch words fill up my computer screen if only for a short while. That isn’t the only reason I shouldn’t be writing this post. What I (and to be fair, some of my colleagues) did wasn’t exactly permissible. What we did wasn’t morally wrong by any means, simply against certain rules. I’ll proudly admit it: We touched the work of the masters. We touched Raphael’s walls. We touched Bernini’s marble. We even drank from Il Cavaliere’s cup.
After spending hours learning about the masters like Michelangelo, Raphael, and Bernini, we got the chance to actually go into the field and see their works for ourselves. That’s one of the greatest opportunities we have on this trip. The Sistine Chapel isn’t looking at us from a projector; it’s actually there, meters above our heads. Bernini’s beautiful sculpture of David isn’t staring at us from the pages of a book, it’s at our fingertips. You reach a whole new level of understanding when you can see the delicate little details for yourself. It’s the ultimate form of pilgrimage for art and architecture students and we’ve been to plenty “holy” sites for the profession. Would you be content with merely looking, though?
On our trip to the Galleria Borghese we saw some of the most beautiful sculptures by Bernini: Hades and Persephone, David, and Apollo and Daphne. The craftsmanship of Il Cavaliere is impeccable and the way he turns stone to flesh is something you can only truly experience in person. I found myself reverently enamored by these masterpieces, spending quite some time looking at all of the intricate details in these sculptures. I kept my distance though. That is, until I saw the busts of Scipione Borghese on the upper floor. I was with Riley at the time and we peered into the eyes of the twin busts. Suddenly it hit me that these were touched by Bernini himself. An odd thought, right? It somehow clicked that these were not merely beautiful examples of sculpture, but that the genius hand of Bernini touched these, labored over these. I don’t know what possessed me to do it, perhaps it was a familiar voice (with a faint Canadian accent) or just my own need to take my pilgrimage even further. I touched the sculpture. My hand touched the same marble that Il Cavaliere himself touched. I didn’t feel as if I had taken a portion of Bernini’s spirit with me. Riley didn’t suddenly inherit the ability to turn stone into flesh either, but we were different. We had still physically interacted with these masterpieces and that was enough. I proceeded to touch Apollo and Daphne as well as Bernini’s David, but the Rape of Porsepina was too far behind ropes and hung just out of reach. I had still felt the smooth marble of David’s leg and the grooves in Daphne’s transformed feet. I had still interacted with history and, in a way, with Il Cavaliere himself.
It was no different in Raphael’s rooms in the Vatican Museum. After Paolo’s lecture, I had a whole new respect for the rooms. I had to touch them too. I had to complete that pilgrimage. I didn’t get a chance to touch the actual frescos as they were too high up and reaching my hand up would be too conspicuous, but I still touched a lower portion of the wall. It still felt marvelous. When we went to Villa d’Este and confronted Bernini’s fountain, I knew I must touch it as well. A similar voice urged me to lick it, so I did. I even kissed this beautiful fountain that came from the mind of Bernini. Looking up at the goblet-shaped portion of the fountain, I knew I had one more task. I had to drink from Bernini’s cup. So, as you can see, I leaned over the rails and did just that. Never has a sip of water tasted so good.