Tuesday, February 2, 2010

People of the Year - #8

From Inside the Vatican

Each year for the past 10 years, Inside the Vatican has chosen 10 "People of the Year" -- men and women of courage, vision, learning and faith.

I find myself unable to write currently, and so in my desire to bring Freedom Through Truth, will be bringing to you things that I have seen and admire for their veracity.

Here is the eighth member of that illustrious group.

Professor Antonio Paolucci
Antonio Paolucci, 70 years old, Director of the Vatican Museums for the past two years, is in charge of the artistic patrimony of the Church, which is in some sense also the artistic patrimony of mankind.
Our choice of him among our “People of the Year” is also a choice of all those who work in the field of art, and believe that art can express man’s longing for God — sometimes more effectively than many homilies.
Paolucci is a whirlwind. Where­ver he passes, there is energy, movement, excitement. And he has begun to “shake up” the ancient routines of the Vatican museums.

An art historian and communicator, Paolucci has started to give the Vatican Museums a more “open” image, receiving praise and, of course, also some criticism.
Soon after the celebrations for the 500th anniversary of the Vatican collections, Paolucci began to try to open the Museums also for the citizens of Rome and not just for tourists. Last summer, he began to open the Museums late at night and to arrange public lectures. His idea is that the Vatican Museums are part of the city of Rome, and that they must belong to the citizens, as the Renaissance Popes wanted.

Each year the Museums are visited by about 4 million people, attracted by Michelangelo’s overcrowded Sistine Chapel, Raphael’s frescoed stanzas, the Greco-Roman classical sculptures, the Etruscan finds, the Ethnographic and Egyptian sections, and by the section of contemporary art created by Paul VI. But there is an imbalance.

“They all go directly to Michelangelo and then leave,” Paolucci complains. “Entire sections have been wiped out by the rigid time tables of the travel agencies.”

Paolucci wants to show also the rest. All of it.

“Already the many different materials make you curious, from the Egyptian papyri to modern acrylics, from the marble of the Roman sculpture to the Baroque goldsmith’s art, to wooden sculptures, paintings, frescoes,” he says.

The Vatican Museums are the oldest archetype of a museum, the model of all museums. Antonio Paolucci explains: “In the history of the Roman Catholic Church there are two constants. The first is the alliance with the arts in a risky confrontation with the representation of the visible truth. We would have had no modern artistic culture if the Church had not decided once and for all that the visible truth is no diabolic deceit but rather an epiphany of God, that is, something good. The second is what the Roman Catholic Church has given to the world, and this is demonstrated by the Museums, which are the cult of memory. The Museums were created in order to supply ‘pietas’ and memory of the generations of men who have lived in earlier centuries. This is what the museums have done in that part of the world which we call the West.”

But in order to appreciate certain masterpieces, it is necessary to regulate the stream of visitors and try to make them interested in all those parts of the Museums which are left out by the tour operators. “We must try to give life to the least seen parts of the museum, make them visited, and then also make the didactic services more efficient. Once the visitors came to see Laocoon or the Belvedere Apollo, and also Raphael is less appreciated than he used to be. Perhaps in a century’s time people will privilege Laocoon again, but today Michelangelo is the fatal attraction and of course we do not want to contest that. But I would at least like the visitors to get a glimpse of what richness the Museums have. I would simply like them to have a sensation of it. I am thinking, for example of the sarcophagi, or of the famous Gallery of Geographic Maps, which shows you all Italy, bell tower by bell tower.”
Few people know that Benedict XVI is familiar with art, artists and museums. Not only those in the Vatican. Sources inside the Vatican walls say that the young Joseph Ratzinger often visited the greatest museums and understood art and the importance of art history for mankind. He knows well the importance of culture for the image of the Holy See. Perhaps this is why he chose an art historian for his Museums.
“The museum is comforting and reassuring in front of the globalizing mediatic mush,” Professor Paolucci often repeats.
He used to contemplate the dome of Brunelleschi in Florence, but now Michelangelo’s dome in St. Peter’s has replaced it.
And it is not uncommon in the evening to meet Paolucci walking across St. Peter’s Square, or sitting on one of the marble benches in Via della Conciliazione watching the sunset with a cigar in his hand while he gazes upon the pink and blue shades which vanish behind the dome. —Angela Ambrogetti

No comments: