Today we had our first lecture with Dr. Paolo Alei – a phenomenal art historian who teaches here in Rome. Sadly, we have limited time with Paolo – he’s teaching in 5 different classes, but booked some room in his schedule to connect with us this week and next. Today, he talked to us about the Vatican Palaces – in particular about Raphael’s Stanza della Segnatura. As is to be expected, the lecture was phenomenal, intersecting architecture, space, narrative, history, politics and of the idea of palimpsest as an evoked concept – not solely a physical dimension to the city. We learned of Rome as Jerusalem, as Antioch, as Athens, as Parnassus – of how Raphael collaborated with the papal librarian Tommaso Inghirami and the Renaissance humanist Giles of Viterbo in helping shape the narrative of the rooms he was painting at the Vatican – and how those paintings connect across time to ideas of philosophy, of theology, of the founding narrative of Rome, of the projection of Papal Rome as power and warning; how architecture is tied to painting, linking the top level of the Belvedere courtyard to Apollo’s Parnassas, to sculpture, to the wall of Poetry in the library of Julius II. We followed up a brilliant morning lecture with an afternoon visit to the Vatican, to take in as quickly as possible, the real thing in the context of Paolo’s descriptions and discussions, spending time in the grounds, in the museum, in Raphael’s stanza, in the Sistine Chapel. It was an intense day, filled to the brim with art and architecture, and one of the great benefits of this study abroad – an immediate linking of content to experience, of knowledge to encounter, of information to context; a busy day, but a great way to learn.
Also, if you time it just right, it’s possible to get much of the Vatican Museums to oneself.