The Sistine Chapel

Here’s a little update from our trip. On Tuesday we visited the Vatican Museum. I didn’t really understand what it was. I thought we were just getting to see the Sistine Chapel, but instead, it’s a huge art museum with the Sistine Chapel as the finale.

I had such an emotional reaction to the collection and it caught me off guard. Near the end of the tour, you come upon this huge (huge like 15 or 20 feet high) sketch of Mary, offering her baby to the World. I started crying as I approached it. It was so beautiful! And then I realized it was by Matisse and I started crying even harder. (Oh dear!)

I love lots of Matisse’s work, but am especially drawn to his oversize pieces that look super simple and child like — created from line drawings and cut paper. I wasn’t expecting to see works by Matisse. It was such a happy surprise! Here’s a little video I found about the Matisse gallery, in case you’re curious.

Then, 10 minutes later, we walked into the Sistene Chapel and I teared up all over again! It really is jaw-dropping. It made my heart beat faster.

I don’t consider myself very sentimental, so it always surprises me when I cry at unexpected times. Has art ever brought you to tears? Have you ever visited the Vatican Museum?

P.S. — The museum also houses the School of Athens by Raphael. It felt like an honor to see it! If you’d like, you can follow along on our adventure here and here.

48 thoughts on “The Sistine Chapel”

  1. I was fortunate to have visited the Vatican about 15 yrs ago and it is INCREDIBLE. Just amazing, every inch of it. The art. It’s just life changing!

    I have to share a wacky story with you about the Vatican. I saw the two most crazy handsome men there, we are talking better looking than the most gorgeous male model you’ve ever seen — one was a tourist who probably WAS a model and the other was a….priest! I couldn’t believe it! I mean, he was SO good looking, all I could think was, how does he do his job? People must never listen to him, his face would be so distracting! You’d think it would make his job impossible! How did he become a priest? Not to say good looking folks don’t enter into the clergy, but this man was like a 20 on a scale of 1-10. I’ll probably be pondering this forever….

  2. I am awake here in AZ (it’s 2am here) and I needed a little inspiration to get me back to a blissful sleep. I visit your site a few times everyday for daily inspiration! I always find something AMAZING and put out there so genuinely and real. This post was by far one of the very best. Good job Gabby! You are so talented at getting people to think in all sorts of ways they maybe hadn’t before in so many areas too. Designmom is my favorite thing to read in the middle of the night, or right after the kids are gone for school, or when I should be doing a chore, or when I have a any spare time at all!

  3. Mary offering her child during Easter week in Rome. What a wonderful thought for this time of the year! I have been–but never saw this. Thank you for sharing!

  4. What a lovely post! I have jad similar, very emotional reaction to art and beautiful views. I love to follow your experiences in France and in Europe.

  5. The first time I went to the Vatican Museum, I was an art student living in Italy (an amazing experience). As my roommate and I went through the museum, each time we saw a sign pointing to the Sistine, we looked at each other and declared that we weren’t “ready yet.” When we finally were, we were both moved to tears. It is so overwhelmingly beautiful. I am a terribly sentimental crier, so it didn’t surprise me that I did. But the scale and beauty was so much greater than I imagined.

    I also love Matisse and was fortunate enough to travel to both the Matisse museum in Nice and the Chapelle du Rosaire in Vence (where I also cried, of course), which I would highly recommend. The blues of the stained glass are sublime. Not to mention the French Rivera is just beautiful too.

  6. We’re in Rome too, so happy it’s finally warmer here today. I just read about the best place for having a coffee in Rome, if you happen to be between piazza Navona and Panteo, Piazza San’Eustachio 82 there is the best coffee house in Rome. We’re definitely going there

  7. Are you still in Rome? I’m sure you’ve scheduled your remaining time, but if you have a few minutes I have a suggestion of a great little adventure off the beaten track in Rome-
    Google “Garden of the Knights of Malta” and you’ll see what I mean.

  8. Art doesn’t usually bring me to tears, but ever since having babies I can’t listen to live music and singing without tearing up. It can be embarrassing at times ;) I’ve been to many places in Italy, but never Rome…it’s on my list.

  9. The Vatican Museum is AMAZING! I remember being in awe in the hall of tapestry’s wondering how long it must have taken to complete those wall sized hangings. I loved the hall of maps as well and of course the Sistine Chapel left me in wonder with the detail that went into it.

    I remember getting emotional inside St. Peter’s Basilica after reading the bible verses they had posted inside and I still do feel stirrings of that feeling when I think about it.

  10. I’ve yet to shed a tear over art, but if something were to get to me me misty-eyed, I imagine the Sistine Chapel would do it. It’s actually music that makes me cry, particularly somber choral music.

  11. Thank you for posting this information. We are going to Rome in a few months (with kids 6,4,1) and it is great to hear about your trip and see where you go. Love the Matisse info!

  12. I think the whole Vatican experience is just amazing. The tour is long and way too much information to really grasp (in my opinion :)nbut it just feels like you are walking on Holy ground, doesn’t it?!

  13. Love the pictures as Ink361! Pachelbel’s Canon in D makes me cry every time. But, the most moving piece of art that I have ever seen is Michelangelo’s Pieta in the St. Peter’s Basilica. It totally caught me off guard! I read Irving Penn’s The Agony and the Ecstacy before going to Rome, which added so much to my trip that I would not have known otherwise (about Michelangelo, Florence, and Rome). I highly recommend the book and the Pieta!

  14. A few years ago we visited Rome and saved the Vatican Museum for our grand finale. We didn’t realize we had decided to go on the free day, and when we arrived early that morning the line literally went for multiple metro stops. We realized there was no way we would make it in and I was completely heartbroken. We must have looked pretty despondent, because one of the guides came and whispered to us that with a baby (we were travelling with our daughter who was just a few months old) we could “jump the queue.” Although we felt really guilty for cutting in front of the thousands of other people, we asked at the front if this was true and were whisked in before the museum even opened. I knew the place was about to be completely swarmed, so we ran straight through to the Sistine Chapel and were able to be in there for about fifteen minutes with the place to ourselves—it was one of the most moving, spiritual experience of my life! One of the few times travelling with a baby makes things easier!

  15. i’ve never been, but my husband has and he said the same thing about his reaction to that matisse painting. weird!!
    just kidding. he did not cry, but he did say the whole museum was the most amazing place he’s ever been. i can’t wait to go someday.

  16. it’s been 4 years this fall since my husband and myself took an extended trip to italy as our oldest entered high school and our youngest entered kindergarten. i thought we were crazy but it was the best vacation. our first trip to europe turned out to be an incredible investment in each other. i have to say that the sistine chapel was incredible and moving and very, very emotional for both of us. not to be forgotten anytime soon, any of the vatican experience. we actually leave again shortly for a return trip in france. no plans this time, just time spent together with a start in paris and a few weeks together.

  17. I went to the Vatican when I was 13. I wish I had known about the art museum beforehand so I could have prepared myself! Touring museums wasn’t my fave thing, so by the time we got to the Sistine Chapel, I was so over it. Now I look back and just want to shake my teenaged self! I can’t wait until I can go back so I can truly enjoy it and soak in all the majesty.
    I don’t think I’ve ever cried looking at art, but I had such an emotional reaction to the Seattle Museum of Glass when I was 18. I think it was one of the first times I really felt a connection with art.

  18. I went to Italy just after college (10 years ago… sigh) and the Vatican was probably the highlight of the whole trip for me. The School of Athens, the Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica… AMAZING. I’ve never really been able to describe it to people who haven’t been, so I had to come comment on your post just to say that I know exactly what you mean! The single piece that moved me the most was one of the 4 huge statues in the crux of the Basilica, by the baldocinno (sp?)…. Veronica bringing a cloth to wipe Jesus’ face. Astounding… I was frozen to the spot in awe for what seemed like an hour. I hope that I’m able to go back someday with my husband and kids… maybe when they’re in college or young adults. :-)

  19. I felt the same way when I saw a Portrait at London’s National Portrait Gallery. If you are still in Rome, by far the best museum ever (no, really, the best!) is the Capitoline Museum up on Capitoline Hill, beautiful views of the Roman Forum below and had by far the best collection I’ve seen. Hint: Find the room full of busts, they are such an intimate scale, it’s like looking into the eyes of the ancient caesar’s.

    1. The room of busts was my favorite, too! I love Ronan busts; they’re so realistic, even down to unflattering moles and crooked noses. I could have spent hours just in there.

  20. I love that you shared this experience! Thank you!! I’m not a (total) crybaby but sometimes excellent or particularly beautiful art and music cause the same reaction in me. I feel that excellence and beauty are divine attributes and when we really see them, it can absolutely be an emotional experience. This is probably the reason yours is the only blog I have found that I consistently come back to. You have a strong sense of he divine through art, beauty, and family.

  21. the Vatican’s filled with such wonderful treasures, isn’t it??!! my neck hurt from taking in the whole Sistine Chapel ceiling so long (during my 2003 BYU study abroad). loved. every. second.

  22. This alone is a reason to visit in the off-season! We visited Rome in May a few years ago, during a heat wave, and I HATED the Vatican as a result! We waited 2-3 hours to get in, sweltering, and then most of the museum was roped off (I’d been very excited to explore the amazing antiquities collections) so the hordes had to stay in one immense shuffling line all the way through to the Sistene Chapel, which was of course wall-to-wall people and cranky security guards. It was miserable–hard to even look up without getting shoved over! I’ll have to go back in the winter one day.

  23. Yes! Last summer, in London, I had the same reaction as I walked into Westminster Abbey. Goosebumps, teary, awe. . .you could feel the history. Then, in Paris, I was surprised by tears at the Rembrandt special exhibit, “Rembrandt and the Face of Christ” at the Louvre. “Supper at Emmaus” (1628) and “Supper at Emmaus” (1648). The light in the first photograph is so beautiful.

  24. Oh, the Vatican Museum… When I was there, I couldn’t get over the fact that even the *ceilings* are covered in beautiful artwork. It’s almost too much to take in at once! I had so many of those “something in my eye” moments in Rome — all that art and history really have a way of catching you off guard. How wonderful that you and your family get to experience it together!

  25. As an art history major in college, I was often moved to near tears at seeing art. I remember tearing up at the Sistine Chapel. And don’t even get me started on how I bawled at the Uffizi and then at the National Gallery in London.

    I love that art can do that to us. It makes me so happy to be alive knowing this.

  26. Seeing School of Athens in situ was my favorite part of visiting Rome…along with seeing the entire Roman soccer team wearing Italian designer suits in the Sistine chapel. Wow!

  27. Will always remember the Vatican museum — ah-mazing. And over-whelming. Like you, I didn’t quite know what to expect. I was almost over-saturated before I stepped into the Sistine Chapel. Enjoy Rome!

  28. I once went to the Rothko chapel at the de Menil collection in Houston and almost couldn’t breathe. I cried, for sure, but it was more like my eyes started leaking and I didn’t know why. While I love abstract art, it can be hard to accept. Not these pieces, though. SO etherial and they accept whatever you project on them – either the light that struggles to come out of the darkness or all that darkness gobbling up the light. Truly an amazing place. Not the Sistine chapel, for sure, but still amazing. If you’re ever in Houston you should check it out..

  29. I still remember looking up in the Chapel…trying to capture every detail, wishing I could just lie on the floor and take it all in…very moving.

  30. Oh yes. This. As an amateur art student, especially Michelangelo, the Sistine Chapel and Museums were one of the major highlights of our trip. As I said before, we almost missed it. Moved to tears definitely. Goosebumps on top of goosebumps. Of course for me, that was a regular experience while I was in Italy. It had been a dream to go for so long that I could hardly believe I was actually there. : )

  31. the first time I went to europe I was 11. we saved the vatican museum for our last day in rome only to discover that they were closed the last tuesday every other month (or something crazy like that). we were heartbroken. we went from rome to florence where we saved the uffizi for the last day (you would think we would have learned…). we had just started and were about to get to the botticellis when we were told that the guards had all just gone on strike and we needed to leave immediately. it is very possible that my mother and I both burst into tears at that point. the guard took sympathy on us and took us on a quick, but thorough, clandestine tour of the botticellis, finally letting us out the back way.

    luckily we went back to rome when I was in college. needless to say, we started at the vatican museum.

  32. Walking through the Musee d’Orsay on my first trip to Paris last year, I saw the painting of Whistler’s Mother. The original, real, Whistler, right in front of me. My mom loves Whistler and has several reproductions in her home and seeing it was so surreal. I immediately teared up. And then walking into the room filled with Monet’s…oh bring the tissue. It was the first time of my life that I had an emotional response to art.

  33. Clair McLaughlin

    For me it was Sacre Couer; it was so unexpectedly beautiful and moving and I could not hold back the tears. It also has some of the most amazing views of Paris.

  34. Seeing Michelangelo’s David (at age 12 and appreciating it thanks to my mom’s art history teachings). Van Gogh’s Starry Night and Monet’s Water Lilies at MOMA. All gasp inducing and tissue necessitating.

  35. I have been fortunate to have twice visited the Vatican museum but it was the Pieta in St. Peter’s that brought me to tears both times. I’m an still in awe of the emotion captured in the marble.
    Of course, David isn’t to be missed either. Ah, Florence….so much beauty, so little time.

  36. You know, I very rarely cry when I’m sad, but art has often caught me (along with seeing people reuniting at airports and when I am really happy for someone else). Most recently, the Sagrada Familia church in Barcelona had me trying to pull myself together. I was completely floored and it was totally unexpected. One of the most beautiful places I have been, ever.

  37. I’m moved by visual art, of course, but I am a downright embarrassing emotional disaster whenever I witness music I love performed live. As in loud, child-like BAWLING, even if the music is reasonably upbeat!

  38. Sounds like you had a classic case of Stendhal Syndrome — — the overwhelming emotional response experienced when encountering works of art!

    The well known art history Jim Elkins has also written about these responses, in his book “Pictures and Tears: A History of People Who Have Cried in Front of Paintings’:

  39. I have done this! I came across a Fitz Hugh Lane in a museum in Rockland, Maine that took my breath away. I went back to it 5 or 6 times, each time trying to fight off tears. Amazing work!

  40. Yes Art always brings tears to my eyes, as I am an art history major and a music teacher- they really are intertwined! On April 20th, please see my post about Gaugin (and Picasso) and how it affected me! Thanks.

  41. We’ve been to Rome twice. The first time we went to Rome in 2006, we didn’t plan ahead and went to wait in the line to get in to the Vatican. Literally, the guard came and cut off the line just in front of us on our last day in Rome, no Vatican for us. Then in 2010 we got to go back and meet up with friends for a few days before a Mediterranean Cruise. This time we planned ahead, had a great guide and was SO glad to finally get to see the Museum and the Sistine Chapel. I had the same tear-up reaction walking in to see the paintings in real life. SO amazing.

  42. Actually in italian Musei Vaticani is plural… and this gives you a hint of what you should expect.
    I have to apologize I forgot to suggest you to visit MAXXI (Museum of Arts of the 21° century), I’m pretty sure you would have loved it, specially in comparison with all the ancient things you’ve seen in Rome.

  43. Yes! When I was 17 our art history teacher took us to Paris to see the art museums. When we got to the Musee D’Orsay where alot of the Impressionist collection is held I was so overwhelmed at seeing the paintings I had been studying IN THE FLESH, I just burst into tears. I don’t know where it came from and I was totally embarrassed in front of all my class-mates. But I just couldn’t help myself. I was so moved. My teacher got a kick out of it. She was so pleased her subject really meant something to me. Its one of those moments in life you never forget.

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