I’m a bit embarrassed to remember it now, but whatever I drew wouldn’t come off—even if I wanted it to. I probably knew it was something I shouldn’t do even as a child, but there I was bored and having to wait for adults, and other kids had written all kinds of things on the wall… so I just went ahead and started drawing. When my mom found it, she said, “Oh no! We don’t write on walls!” at which point I dimly realized that yes, I definitely did something that wasn’t right. The experience was a powerful one for me. Later, every time I would pass by that wall, I’d see my scribbles out of the corner of my eye and feel uncomfortable—like the scribbles were staring me in the face.
But I’m not going to talk about graffiti in Milan this time. The graffiti you see there is actually an interesting subject that I’d like to cover sometime, but I’ll save it for later.
In this post, I want to talk about the Vatican Museums, which I visited the other day.
And… I saw graffiti there!!
The Vatican museums are among the world’s largest art museums. If you don’t do some research in advance and pick out what you want to see before you go, you’ll only get partway through before they close—or else get so overwhelmed by the quality and amount of art there that you’ll have no memory at all of what you saw.
This last time was the second time I’d been to the Vatican Museums, and I got a special opportunity to go inside once the general public left at closing time. As a result, I was able to breeze through when everything was quiet on an hour-and-a-half tour led by a guide.
And the thing that caught my attention (or delighted? I guess that’s the right word…) the most on this last visit a work by the great master Raphael.
After seeing some of his early works, I arrived at the rooms they call the Raphael Rooms. There, spectacular murals flooded my field of vision as if they had been waiting for me all along.
My favorite part about the tour was learning that Raphael had hidden himself within the painting. I may be simple-minded, but I interpreted that as him having a mischievous side to him. When the tour guide explained that Raphael was the only figure from a different time period hidden in these murals with Christian and philosophical themes—and the only one looking straight out at the viewer—I for some reason remembered my scribbles as a child…
But in trying to find some point of commonality between this mural masterpiece by one of the century’s greatest artists and my childhood scribbles (which really turned me off), I somehow came to the forced conclusion that Raphael must have scribbled on walls when he was young as well.
Even people who are not that interested in paintings focus on the Raphael’s when they come to visit and can see the differences between his early and later works. Even just looking at them and trying to find the hidden Raphael is fun.
With the School of Athens mural, which has many figures we learned about in school (Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, and so on), it can even be fun to try to pick out and name everyone.
If you study more about Raphael, you’ll find that he lived quite an interesting life. When I learned that he was a genius that loved sex and died young, as a musician I couldn’t help but liken him to Mozart.
Michelangelo, who was seven years older than Raphael, and Leonardo da Vinci, who was 30 years older, are still thought of as the three great master painters today. No doubt they were tormented in their creative work by a rivalry among them that generated feelings of jealousy, hatred, and impatience.
Once I had seen the Raphael Rooms and came to the end of the Vatican Museums, I headed to the Sistine Chapel. There was Michelangelo’s masterpiece, which everyone cannot wait to see.
I was simply moved beyond words. You must go and see it sometime.