You don’t have to be Catholic to appreciate the works of art that the popes have been collecting in the Vatican’s museums since the Middle Ages. But with Catholics accounting for 123.3 million Brazilians and 64 per cent of the population of São Paulo state, it’s safe to say that the exhibition ‘Esplendores do Vaticano: Uma Jornada Através da Fé e da Arte’ (‘Splendours of the Vatican: A Journey through Faith and Art’) shouldn’t struggle to attract visitors during its stay at OCA.
Divided between 11 galleries, the show consists of more than 200 artefacts, many of which are rarely exhibited. Placed together in chronological order, they relate the history of more than 2,000 years of Christianity. According to Charles Hilken, a professor of medieval history at Saint Mary’s College in California, and one of the show’s consultants, each object has a cultural significance that tells a story about the immediate historical context in which it was created, as well as expressing the universal qualities of faith.
Walking through the various galleries, visitors can admire priceless artefacts such as the original fragment of the wall of St. Peter’s tomb, with the Greek inscription Petros Eni (‘Peter is within’) that was discovered in 1941, as well as the four priceless frescos (out of 250) that survived the 1823 fire which consumed St. Paul’s Basilica in just a few hours.
The fourth gallery, dedicated to Michelangelo, is one of the exhibition’s highlights. It will house a full-size reproduction of the Pietà (left), one of the artist’s most famous and final works.
Another gallery destined for popularity, particularly among the pious, is the one dedicated to Pope John Paul II. It was his democratic attitude towards the Vatican treasures that enabled this exhibition to take place, so those feeling particularly grateful will have the opportunity to touch a sculpture of the great pontiff’s hands.
Be sure, also, to see the two works by the Italian Baroque painter Guercino – Portrait of Christ with Crown of Thorns and The Virgin Mary with the Infant Jesus and Book in Hands. Finally, don’t forget to visit the virtual Sistine Chapel on your way out, with an interactive exhibit that includes Michelangelo’s ceiling fresco illustrating episodes from Genesis, and the astonishing Last Judgement, which appears on the Chapel’s altar wall.