I’m excited to introduce Armchair Travels, an invitation to travel around the world through the reportage illustration of Studio 1482. We have gathered art from our travels to share with you, in the hopes that while you can’t get out and see these places (yet), our experiences may bring some happiness and light to your day. Please check back often as we will be posting new adventures weekly.
Here I post some memories from an afternoon in Vatican City and an audience with Pope John Paul II…
Looking at the current images of Rome under lockdown: empty streets, deserted piazzas; I can’t help but contrast them to the Rome I found back in 1998, when I spent a week drawing the scene in Vatican City. PEOPLE make the heart of any city, and in a place that is sacred to so many of the Catholic faith, that rule applies even more, despite the gorgeous architecture. The crowds were immense, almost as immense as the heat that August.
While I definitely felt it was important to capture the majesty and the sheer crowd size of the square, what intrigued me the most about Vatican City was how everyday it was for the people who lived there – not only the priests and nuns, but also, the vendors who made a living from the hordes of tourists coming to visit the shrine and perhaps catch a glimpse of the Pope. To help me feel immersed in this world, I decided to stay at a convent while visiting. When the nuns found out that I was busily drawing their city, they arranged for me to have an audience with the Pope to complete my story. And so, one morning after our communal breakfast, I headed into town for my day’s work.
Vatican City is a bustling little metropolis in it’s own right, and actually, it’s an official country within Rome. There is no difference between commuting here and in any other urban center, except in Vatican City, many of your fellow commuters are wearing the garb of the clergy, and saying the rosary is a common commuting past time. Above, a group of nuns wait for the bus to take them down the mountain to St. Peter’s Square.
Vatican City is also a place where many secular Romans make their living. Here, two vendors argue on the outskirts of the Piazza, exhibiting the famous Italian body language and hand gestures as they emphasize their points.
Not far from them, a group of nuns and priests take their lunch break. Different suits, but in many ways, the same activity as the folks on Wall Street.
I soon arrived at St. Peter’s for my audience with the Pope. That sounds so intimate, but actually, you need a ticket to get in, and when I arrived to the entrance of the smallish theater where the audience is held, there was a line complete with vendors hawking umbrellas and water to protect us from the August heat while we waited to get in. Most of the people on line were from the clergy, taking their vacation to visit the holy site. There were nuns and priests visiting from all over the world, and as Pope John Paul II walked on to the stage, there were nationalistic cheers from the various factions of religious folks. It was quite a rally! He waved to the crowd as he slowly made his way to the chair set up at the center of the small stage.
Pope John Paul II was very old and frail by 1998, but his aura was still quite strong. He was multi-lingual, and people were in tears when he spoke to them in their own language. Everyone lined up and walked across the stage for a personal blessing. It was kind of like a graduation of sorts. The Pope was surrounded by many bishops and the Swiss Guards at all times. It was quite regal.
It was also quite moving to see how the people responded to him. After the audience ended, we all went through St. Peter’s Basilica, where the tradition is to kiss the feet of the statue of St. Peter, which at this point are nothing more than thin worn down slabs at the end of his marble legs.
On my way out, I stopped to make some drawings of the Swiss Guards.
I was quite enamored of the Swiss Guards – after all, when you are a young Italian man wearing a uniform designed by Michelangelo, it’s hard to go wrong. I can’t say that my motivation was entirely religious here, but I think they were good with it. Even in Vatican City, that holiest of places in Rome, bella figura rules the day!
To see more Armchair Travels from the reportage artists of Studio 1482, please click HERE.