So...did you go to any museums in Rome?
Well, strictly speaking, except for the Vatican Museums...no. No need to, not when you've got Bernini in the churches.
(Although I was sort of hoping, somehow, to squeeze in the Capitoline, but no. Didn't work.)
For our art, we stuck with the churches, which of course, are museums - but, we hope, not museums. Although certain pieces attract the connosseur who probably has scant interest in the spirituality and religiosity expressed therein (although I find it hard to imagine how one could appreciate the aesthetics of a religiously-themed piece without being even a little bit interested in what inspired it), they remain in these churches, these places where people come, not just to see and study, but to let the works, individually and together, shape their response to God.
So, going into St. Peter's in Chains, a rather sizeable crowd mills about Moses. A tour guide explains things in soft German to his group, which murmurs in assent of what he tells them. They come and go, and glance at everything else, but the attraction is Moses. And in the chapel just across the church, since it is Saturday evening, another, smaller group is gathered, and a different voice speaks - this one in Italian..ciò è il mio corpo and eventually the group he leads murmurs in assent as well.
As spectacular as the art is, it is the smaller group that draws me, that seems to almost demand my attention and even my presence. I keep looking back and forth between the two groups, wondering about the relative power of what has drawn them here, watching as the tourists studiously ignore the group in the corner, almost, it seems, embarassed by them.
It was the same with Teresa in Ecstasy, the Madonna of Loretto and the Calling of St. Matthew. Before every one of these, well-dressed art pilgrims gathered and were instructed as to their composition and importance. Entering a church with one of these pieces, one need only follow the crowds to find them, and then let them keep inserting the 50-cent pieces in the light machines, so you don't have to. (And do go equipped with these coins - or 1 Euro pieces - when visiting these churches. The more famous pieces are not lit as a matter of course, so you have to put money in to keep the light burning for a minute or so.)
They are gorgeous pieces, all, and worthy of all the learned commentary they draw. But that's not why they were on my "Must see" list - I wanted to see these pieces in their context and let myself be spiritually nurtured, tested, challenged and played by them. The Madonna holding her very large baby, as humble as the peasants at her door, turned slightly away, slightly toward them, unsure, perhaps of what they want or what she should do with the baby they have come to see. Matthew surprised, and perhaps even a bit unwilling, as most of us are, when the call comes, with, as Caravaggio places it in the form of the window panes, the Cross in sight.
And then Teresa, being watched, in what I wonder is a sly comment by Bernini on precisely the relationship I'm contemplating, between art, spirit, observation and participation, by Cardinals and others from the side. They sit in witness, as we do, to the ecstasy of the moment and the perfection of its expression, but they do, indeed, simply sit and discuss amongst themselves, just as those beyond the chapel rail do in the flesh, pointing and marveling, perhaps even reading the excerpts from the Life that are helpfully provided in cards in front of the work...but at how much distance? We could turn around in S. Maria della Vittoria and find ourselves in the Real Presence who pierced her heart with love.
Where am I then? Am I still just watching? Or am I stepping closer, with the pilgrims come to the Virgin, with Matthew, answering the call, or even yearning for even a glimpse of what I can so easily just observe in the words and depiction of the body blow of Divine Love?
And the tour groups shuffle off, past the candle in front of the gold box in the front, casting a backwards glance at that other side of the church, thinking that next time we should plan better, so we can enjoy the art without the intrusion of that other group in the corner, mumbling and shuffling forward, hands outstretched. Pilgrims used to do that once. We know. We saw it in a painting. A couple of churches ago. Somewhere.