Sunday, May 15, 2011

Day Two - Vatican Museums - Octagonal Courtyard

Il Cortile Ottagonale, inner court of the Belvedere Palace, was given its current shape in 1773. This is the starting point of the tour of the Vatican Museums and houses some terrific classical statuary, including some of the most famous statues of antiquity.

[Remember, you can click on the photos to see detail. These are memory-intensive pictures.]

An amazing sarcophagus with a battle scene

Scholar or philosopher, I'm not sure

Alas, poor horse

I think it's Hermes but I'm not sure

Isn't she lovely?

You may recall that December 25 in ancient Rome was the feast of Sol Invictus, the Unconquered Sun, corresponding to the winter solstice a long time ago. The sun, with rays, is in the upper left and Mithras slays the bull in the center. Mithraism centered in Rome and was a popular religion among Roman soldiers. When in northern England I saw the ruins of a Mithraeum, or temple of Mithras near Hadrian's Wall.

Here is the famous statue of Laocoon and his sons attacked by sea serpents. Ah, so much to say. Laocoon was a priest in Troy. When the Trojan Horse was brought up to Troy and left as a "gift" to appease the goddess Athena, Laocoon objected to taking it into the city. According to Vergil's Aeneid he said: Quidquid id est timeo Danaos et dona ferentes (Whatever it is I fear Greeks even bearing gifts). This is where we get the maxim to beware Greeks bearing gifts, a reference to the Trojan Horse, its belly full of Greek soldiers waiting to be taken within Troy so they could open the gates and attack.

Fearing lest her darling Greeks lose, Athena sent two sea serpents to attack Laocoon and his sons, slaying them. This was interpreted as divine judgment on his impiety. In fact, it was a divine act to shut him up lest he foil the plot. He was a priest of Poseidon, god of the sea, and the sea serpents were misinterpreted as sent by his own deity.

This awesome statue is not only technically beautiful and artfully composed, it captures a death struggle. Copies do not do it justice. It is also one of those illustrations from art history that young, closeted gay men could find in encyclopedias and swoon over. Well, at least one did. That muscled, manly body is - stone or no stone - H. O. T.

You need to click and enlarge these to appreciate them.

A river god

Ladies messing with a bull

Celebrating another military victory, no doubt

Apollo Belvedere
[It really is stunning.]

Yours truly. These ancient pieces make one feel young.

And that, my friends, is the first installment. I took hundreds of photos that Monday.

--the BB


Fran said...

Lovely - wonderful - great photos. Especially that last one, which I have previously gushed over!

Grandmère Mimi said...

Gorgeous photos of splendid sculptures, Paul. What a feast for the eyes. Apollo and the lovely lady are my favorites.

Paul said...

She must be Venus, Mimi. With her son, Cupid (the winged boy).

There are many statues to come!

Grandmère Mimi said...

The reclining river god and the bas-relief in three sections with the Corinthian columns are wonderful, too.

And the guy in the last picture ain't bad either.

Paul said...

Southern belles are such coquettes.

Lindy said...

Really great, Paul. I like the ladies with the bull too. One of them, the one on the right, looks a little butch, and she seems to really know what to do with a bull too. And thanks for the explanations. Those were great.