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Friday, April 15, 2005

Gearing Up For The Conclave; The Sistine Chapel

On a personal note -- and not to put it mildly -- the last two weeks have kicked my butt! I have thoroughly enjoyed reporting on the Pope's death and funeral and all of the travel-related issues surrounding the events in Rome, BUT I have also had to do the final edits on the April issue of Dream of Italy, so if blogging is a little light this week, that's why. The issue is off to the printer tomorrow (subscribers expect your copies slightly later than usual). But I'm hoping for a little downtime this weekend to recover from exhaustion and gear up for the Conclave next week.

The lead story in the April issue is a profile of Enrico Bruschini -- the art historian, author and true Renaissance man -- who can show you Rome (and specifically the Vatican and Vatican Museums) as no one else can.

Here's an excerpt of my article:

Enrico knows the Vatican so well that he was asked by the powers that be to author the latest official guidebook of the Vatican. Vatican Masterpieces, published in 2004, is sold in six languages at the entrance to the Vatican Museums and at kiosks throughout the institution. It’s the first Vatican guidebook to note the author’s name on the front.

It’s hard not to feel like you’re with a rock star when you accompany Enrico through the Vatican Museums. During even a short visit, it isn’t unusual for a handful of guides and sightseers to recognize Enrico, and to stop to say hello or compliment him on one of his books.

Heard while in line to get into the museums: “Aren’t you Enrico, from the American Embassy?”

Heard in the Map Room: “I loved your book.”

Heard in the Sistine Chapel, addressed to his lucky guests: “You are with the most wonderful scholar in the world. He’s the most important man in Rome besides the Pope.”

The last quote can be attributed to Brenda Nardone, a Mexican American tour guide now living in Italy. She admires Enrico so much that she had her group buy his book, and then tracked him down at the entrance to St. Peter’s Basilica so he could autograph their copies.

The highlight of the museums is undoubtedly the Sistine Chapel, restored to its full glory after 12 people took six years to clean the centuries of dirt off the walls and ceiling. One of the themes Enrico emphasizes throughout his tours of Rome is the pure genius of many of the people of yesteryear. He points out that those who cleaned the Sistine Chapel built the scaffolding in the same way Michelangelo had. “He invented the solution five centuries ago,” Enrico says.

Enrico had the rare honor of being invited to view the cleaning from atop the scaffolding. What followed was one of the highlights of his life. Since he was just a foot away from
The Temptation and The Expulsion, he could see the lips on Eve’s face and how Michelangelo used a tiny brush to bring out the small vertical lines on her lips. “We could see how Michelangelo was painting for himself; no one else was going to see this detail,” Enrico says.

Even more startling to this art historian was what he saw in Eve’s eyes. Once the painting was cleaned, he could see fingerprints — certainly Michelangelo’s fingerprints — in her eyes. Enrico touches his heart while recounting the story. “It was amazing to see his fingerprints,” Enrico recalls, wondering if it was a message to future generations who might see the dried paint up close.

That’s another theme in Enrico’s tours, one that art buffs and novices alike can appreciate: What is the meaning of these works and does the meaning change and develop over time?

As much as Enrico enjoys instructing his clients, he seems to learn just as much from the questions and observations of his guests. One case in point is The Creation of Adam, on the ceiling of the chapel, which Bruschini believes definitely holds “a message for future generations.”

In 1990, an American neurologist observed that the mantle surrounding Adam is the exact shape of the human brain in cross-section. Bruschini theorizes this could be a message from Michelangelo, indicating that he saw the autopsy of a human brain. (During the artist’s time, this was illegal in Rome, but he may have seen it in Florence.)

A few years ago, an American female gynecologist told Enrico that the mantle resembled a uterus, and the green cord flowing from it resembled an umbilical cord. “I’ve seen a lot of uteruses. That’s my job,” she told him. He has included this theory in his books.

“These are new discoveries of the original messages. There are hundreds more to be discovered,” he says with excitement.

Besides being an incredible showcase of art, the Sistine Chapel also serves numerous functions, the most important of which is happening this month — the conclave of cardinals who are meeting in the chapel to pick the next leader of the Roman Catholic Church.

The uncle of Enrico’s wife, the priest Fra Alfonso Rossi, was a close assistant of several popes. During the conclaves, he was charged with helping the cardinals, burning the ballots and helping the new priest into his vestments. The priest accompanied several new popes into a room of the Sistine Chapel in order to help them dress in their new white cossack and shoes. Often the new pope, mindful of the burden now upon him, would break down in tears. Fra Alfonso was there to offer him support.

“Ah, it’s not easy to leave the Sistine Chapel,” says Enrico wistfully when it is time to move on, this coming from a man who has visited here hundreds of times.

Want to read more about Enrico? Become a paid subscriber and read the 2,000+ word article when it comes out next week!


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