When I think of paintings as works of art in a museum, what comes to mind is something in a frame. However, I expanded my horizons on this point when in Rome. Many fabulous works of art live on walls. Through the ages in Italy, fresco was the chosen medium for many wall murals, including the Gallery of Maps in the Vatican. Of all the stunning art in the Vatican, this was my favorite. As I walked, in the guards opened all the windows through the hall allowing golden afternoon sunlight to spill in and mix with the blues and greens of the maps. I felt as though I was in an ocean of color.
One of our fellow travelers is an artist with a fine arts degree and she gave a presentation on paint types available to artists through history. Oil paint as a commonly used medium is relatively new, gaining popularity with artists in the 15th century. Before then, artists used tempura – made of pigment, water and egg yolk – or fresco – made of pigment, water and limestone. Both dry very quickly and fresco is an especially challenging vehicle for artistic expression.
The gallery came about because Pope Gregory XIII wanted to explore Italy but did not want
to leave the safety of the city. (Hmmm – wonder why?) So he commissioned maps to be painted at the Vatican, and got a glorious set as long as a football field. The artists who painted them had to be masters of the craft because of the short drying time.
If you ever go to Rome, don’t miss the Vatican and be sure to reserve time for the gallery. With the maps recently restored to their earlier glory, you might even agree with me that it’s more lovely than the Sistine Chapel.
Read about the restoration of the Gallery of Maps.