Nov. 4th: Vatican Museums

Today was a real treat. After 8 weeks into the term, we finally went to the Vatican Museums as a group!

But before entering the Vatican, we learned about the Mausoleum of Hadrian, now known as Castel Sant’Angelo. Brett explained how the external, cylindrical shape and the interior plan were similar to those of the Mausoleum of Augustus. Apparently, there was no more room for imperial tombs in the Mausoleum of Augustus, so Hadrian began this project shortly before his death in 138 BC. Professor Ulrich enlightened our understanding of drum-shaped structures by drawing the connection between the cylindrical imperial mausolea and the round layout of early Christian baptistries and martyria.

We then entered the Vatican, where certain members of our group were dismayed (while others were utterly delighted) to find out that there was a dress code for entering the museum. But that’s nothing a cute, polka-dot jacket can’t fix! Right, Eman?

Our first stop was at the wing of early Christian art. We saw a cast of the famous sarcophagus of Junius Bassus. We saw a free-standing statue of Christ as the good Shepherd and images of scenes from the Old Testament and the New Testament.

We had special permission to enter the gallery with the Cancelleria Reliefs and funerary reliefs of the Haterii. There were plenty of other sculptures and reliefs, which we tried to admire and photograph as quickly as possible in fear of getting kicked out by the guards.

After a lunch break in the caffeteria, which was surprisingly reasonably priced, we came to a courtyard with people crowding around one particular statue: Laocoon and His Sons. The facial expressions, the detail of the body, the sculpting of Laocoon’s muscles… it is a spectacular statue.

Once formal class ended, we had free time to look around the museum and visit the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica. Another glorious day on the Rome FSP.

Yours sincerely,


Photos alla Eman:

Piazza Navona on a bright November morning.
Castel Sant’Angelo, formerly the Mausoleum of Hadrian. The whole building is basically a prime example of spolia.
Angels and souvenir stands. Typical modern Roman cityscape.
Searching for foundations.

Teddy contemplates the miracles of Christ on (a copy of) the sarcophagus of Junius Bassus.

Raising of Lazarus on a sarcophagus fragment.

Mosaics from the Baths of Caracalla. Look at those muscles!

Christ as the Good Shepherd. Can you spot the Classical influences?

Adoration of the Magi. Possible Christmas card?

Ancient pine cone and peacocks. You don’t see that every day.

Exploring the Roman portrait gallery, where objects are often not very clearly labelled.

Remains of yesterday’s dinner. Done in mosaic. Interesting design choice…

The group takes advantage of our time in the Museo Gregoriano Profano to examine the Cancelleria reliefs.

Cancelleria Relief B: profectio scene. Fun fact: the face of Domitian was reworked to represent that of Nerva. Oh the consequences of damnatio memoriae.

Funerary relief of the Hetarii family. A particular favorite of Professor Ulrich’s that often makes an appearance in his ancient technology class.

The dome of St. Peter’s makes a guest appearance.

The Laocoon group. Please feel free to drool.

Claudius as Jupiter (yes, some of this is reconstructed).

Painting of a grain ship from Ostia Antica. A surprise find in the collections of the museums.

St. Peter’s at dusk.


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