Thoughts on Time and Raphael's Transfiguration
I’ve been thinking about Time a great deal recently. It’s a curious business, isn’t it? Perhaps it’s because I’m at the sort of age where it starts moving ever faster, or perhaps because “on this day” memories filtering through social media and photo albums remind of spring lockdowns and curfews—once so entirely all-encompassing, but now distant and diaphanous—which gave it a newly amorphous, malleable, form.
Time is an aspect of Raphael’s last painting which I find particularly intriguing. It is the vast Transfiguration (410 cm × 279 cm; 160 in × 110 in), I’m not alone in thinking it one of the best paintings in the world, and it is to be found in the Pinacoteca, the picture gallery of the (alarmingly plural) Vatican Museums. The atmospherically lit room which houses it is also home to two other major paintings by Raphael, plus the surviving tapestries he designed for the Sistine Chapel (hence the low lighting).
By rights it should be full of visitors but the Vatican Museums are enormous and despite some thirty thousand visitors a day Room VIII is almost always empty. It also has very comfortable wooden chairs which I never seem to remember to take a photograph of, and which were designed in the thirties but modelled on the “X”-shaped chair of Sixtus IV in this fresco by Melozzo da Forlì).
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