Baylor study abroad: Lauren Kelley in Italy, No. 2

Lauren Kelley, a junior journalism and public relations major from McKinney, Texas, took part in the Baylor in Florence study abroad program this past summer. In this second of two posts, Lauren describes the artistic treasures enjoyed by visitors to the Vatican Museums.

Vatican Museum Arts and Mosaics
By Lauren Kelley

A 2,000-year-old man is glancing at me from the floor in hundreds of pieces. I see the vibrant colors and intricate designs and shapes in how he was laid in the floor. The gold in his face catches my eye, and the colors around him show me how long he has lain there.

The Vatican Museum art appeals to many people interested in ancient Roman mosaics and design collections. The 16th century renaissance art shows a gallery of sculptures, paintings and mosaics displayed after its establishment in 1506.

Pope Benedict XVI explained the faith and culture by stating, “The Museum truly displays a continuous interweaving between Christianity and culture, between faith and art, between the divine and the human.”

The art gallery idea arose after Napoleon fell and 118 paintings and art pieces were publicly viewed. Specifically, mosaic art tile was dated back to 4,000 years ago using terracotta stones. These pieces pushed into the ground are called “tesserae.” They gave detail and color range as Greek artists used small tiles in the floor mosaics. However, glass floors were not suitable so they used marble pieces or other stones that were pushed in a bed of cement or plaster.

As I walked around in the Vatican, I found that not only are the paintings so intriguing, but also that it is important to look at the floors. I noticed that in every room our tour guide, Giovanni, had mentioned that the marble floors were the original marble walked on so many years ago. I found myself wondering how long these floors took to design and create. Ancient Grecian Roman artists decorated the mosaic tile pavements using intricate designs to make scenes of people and animals. Roman period scenes were devoted to gods and geometric pattern work.

The Byzantine Empire carried out the mosaics and started the use of “smalti,” which was special glass tesserae involving a thick rough surface and small air bubbles. Even though Roman mosaics were mostly used as floors, the Byzantine Empire set the mosaics for use as walls and ceilings so they could catch the light in different ways. The small tesserae pieces had gold sparkles incorporating a finer elegant look.

When I walked into the room with the mosaic floors, I couldn’t look away. I could only imagine the artist lying there placing every tile exactly where it should go. Think how long it could have taken to piece these floors together. It is easy to walk through the museums and take the architecture for granted.

Many people who come visit the Vatican are not aware of the Vatican Mosaic Studio. Pieces of art are created as well as the older pieces that are restored. These techniques are passed down to the younger artists so the secrets are never lost as these art pieces are created throughout the Vatican City. If I were to ever go back to the Vatican, I would head straight for the workshop to see the ancient pieces of mosaics being restored.

Vatican Museum art galleries began under the reign of Clement XIV and Pius VI in 1775 and were expanded to the classical artworks to open other art gallery museums. The popes opened the historical and cultural art collections to the public. Since then, thousands of people have viewed the content among the many Italian art galleries. In 2011, more than five million people viewed the Vatican. Clement XIV and Pius VI have now let everyone enjoy and learn about the 16th century history and its designs.

The hundreds of pieces of this old man intrigues me as I glance down at him. If it were possible to have a conversation, I wonder how much more this man in tile would have to teach me.

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