BOGOTÁ, Colombia — The Vatican draws millions of worshippers every year, yet it’s not just the seat of the Catholic church but also of an earthly kingdom. Since the 14th century, politically powerful Popes have dwelled in its lush, glittering chambers, and in the 20th century it became a city state fully recognized by international law. Its vast wealth is partially palpable in the Vatican Museum, founded in 1506 CE when the presiding pope began collecting classical sculpture. Today, the place is an opulent maze of galleries that attracts not just religious pilgrims but art historical ones as well.
For those who can’t travel to the Vatican, a photographic series by Massimo Listro offers a chance to wander imaginatively through its halls. Following his work documenting palaces, monasteries, libraries, and universities, the Florence-born architectural photographer systematically recorded the museum’s rooms between 2011 and 2014, registering in zoomable detail even the faintest vein of marble and glint of gold. The massive images — some measuring five feet wide — are currently on view at the Museo de Arte Moderno de Bogotá in Colombia, and word has it they’ll soon be displayed at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC as well.
The experience of looking at Listro’s photographs feels somehow even more indulgent than an actual trip to the Vatican, where crowded tours push you through quickly and there’s hardly time to absorb everything. Here, viewers can saunter leisurely through silent rooms inlaid with granite of every hue, bright mosaics, ancient bronze, and even gold. They can meditate on caryatids, sphinxes, and sarcophagi; on domes, rotundas, and coffers; on chiseled white bodies frozen in stone. Light from the outside world filters indifferently inward, touching and illuminating every surface as in a Vermeer painting. The only thing missing, in the end, is the ability to reach out your hand and steal a touch.
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