• I Owe It All to SAH: Final Report

    ‘Deyemi Akande, 2016 H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellow
    May 21, 2018

    They say be careful what you wish for, for you may just get it! Well, ‘get it’ I did, and it was an extraordinary journey and experience all the way. There is no better way to capture my fellowship year experience than this: deeply refining. The year was magical and exhilarating in more ways than I could have ever imagined. I thought I was going around Western Europe and Egypt to see architecture but far more than I bargained, I went 'round and saw life.

    The experience has fundamentally helped me to professionally rediscover myself. It guided my reconstruction of what architecture is and the role it plays in our cultural or religious identity. I saw the fire of history in a totally different perspective as it fiercely burns in the furnace of architecture. In this last year, my goal of learning new things was well achieved, even surpassed. However, I think a more valuable achievement was my unlearning of several stereotypes that I carried on over the years. I have often heard that it is much easier to learn a new thing than to unlearn a former—I can confirm to you now, without a doubt whatsoever, that this is true.

    Fig 1
    Fig. 1: In one of the long train rides across Europe: from Rome to the town of Pisa. My journey all through the fellowship year was extraordinary.

    Fig 2
    Fig. 2: Here I am next to the slightly larger-than-life statue of Pope John Paul on the grounds of Notre Dame, Paris.

    Fig 3
    Fig. 3: At the park near the Notre dame du Paris.

    Fig 4
    Fig. 4: In Rome, I sat for about 7 minutes while a street artist created a caricature of me. It was a hilarious and lovely experience. The artist is Michael. See his final work in Fig. 30.

    Fig 5
    Fig. 5: My travel companions: My Nikon camera, travel ID, and books.

    Fig 6
    Fig. 6: Scarecrow historian. In front of Notre Dame in Paris. The yard around the cathedral has become a sort of cultural melting pot with people from several nations brought together in the same spot for no other reason but to see architecture.

    With the deepest sense of responsibility, I wish to express my sincere gratitude to the Society of Architectural Historians and the H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship Committee for deeming me worthy of the prestigious fellowship. The award meant a lot more to me than can be imagined. I, being the first male and first non-American to be awarded the fellowship, count myself privileged to be mentioned amongst such stellar former recipients, all of whom I hold in very high regards. In light of this, I took every day very seriously and with such pride that captures the prestige of the award.

    I first became aware of the H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship when I happened upon a short video that featured Amber Wiley, the inaugural recipient of the travel fellowship. In it, I was awe struck by Dr. Wiley’s confidence and fine words about how the fellowship had helped her truly appreciate architecture through the magic of physical contact. From that point on, I was hooked. My excitement was contained, however, when I went to the official H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship page on the SAH website—I remember telling myself, “Nah! This is too good to be true.” I just did not think a ‘far away’ individual like me could win the award. It would take two more years and having attended the Chicago 68th Annual International Conference of SAH in 2015 before I gathered myself to finally apply. The rest, they say, is history. The day I received the email announcing that I had won the fellowship, I was filled with such joy. Well, that was not the reality of the matter. I was not filled with such joy—I was a total wreck! My initial email reply to the executive director was a mess—mumbled words and such. Thankfully, she was so understanding—such a remarkable lady. It took an appreciable amount of time before I could bring myself back to normalcy.  

    I owe the successful completion of this fellowship to many quarters. Firstly, to the excellent team from SAH with their unwavering support and understanding every step of the way. To my family who endured the grueling one year away from home having to make do with WhatsApp video calls only. To the cheering friends, students, and the very many blog readers who made the nightly reading, searching, and writing all worth it. And also, to the inspiration and guidance of the past Brooks fellows. Before I started my fellowship travels, I took the time to read through every single article posted by the Brooks fellows before me, and this gave me good insight on what to expect, what to focus on, how to approach my subject and very importantly, how to enjoy the trip. Amber Wiley drew words from deep within her. She gave meaning to simple things and brought even the most ordinary structures to academic importance and approval. I will not forget her emotive photographs of the male dungeons of Cape Coast castle in Ghana, particularly the pitch black shot where she records that the guide switched off the lights to give them a sense of the real conditions under which the slaves were kept. Amber Wiley is simply brilliant. 2014 recipient Patricia Blessing’s work and posts were extremely vital to me and critical to my trip as she had visited some of the countries I was about to visit. Her email to me with advice on transportation and moving around Europe was priceless. Then there is Danielle Willkens—an incredibly perceptive storyteller and a most brilliant photographer. One who sees Danielle’s photographs sees an excellent example of the articulation of visual realism. I was so anxious when it dawned on me that Danielle’s photographs will unconsciously present a standard for Brooks fellows moving forward—forward being me as it was my turn, right after her. At some point I wondered how on God’s earth could I match her expertise. I barely coped but thankfully I managed to survive. Her visual oration and crisp photos served me as a constant reminder of quality all through my fellowship year.

    Fig 7
    Fig. 7: Me with some of the other SAH-Getty International Program fellows at the 2015 annual conference in Chicago. Back row left to right: My very dear friend Nelly Liz. Klee, Prof. Ranee Vedamuthu. Front row left to right: Cristina Lodi, my very good friend Oksana Chabanyuk and Arc. Anvi Gor.

    Fig 8
    Fig. 8: At the SAH Conference in Chicago, 2015. That’s me on stage delivering my presentation to the SAH Board.

    Fig 9
    Fig. 9: With Dr. Danielle Willkens in Glasgow, UK, at the SAH 70th annual conference.

    Fig 10
    Fig. 10: On my way to Dresden, Germany. Long train rides afforded quality time to contemplate on many matters. Do not mind my serious look here, I was holding the phone camera and pretending like the shot was captured without my knowing.

    Fig 11
    Fig. 11: My stack of train tickets.

    The Art and Balance of Being Alone

    In the purpose statement of the H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship, we see a part that says, "Professor Brooks intended the recipient to study by travel and contemplation while observing, reading, writing, or sketching." All of these I did to the fullest but one other thing the fellowship predisposes you to is being alone. I spent many hours in the hotel rooms and book stores—particularly in France and the UK—alone reading, planning my trip, and just thinking. The alone time is probably one of the most valuable thing this research year has afforded me, a time to truly look inward and meditate about the things that matter professionally and otherwise—just as Professor Brooks intended.

    One thing Professor Brooks did not consider is that when you are alone, one does really strange things. Things like standing at the window for protracted periods staring into space (or the hotel street as the case may be). Things like pretending in front of the bathroom mirror that I am a guest speaker being interviewed on CNN, History Channel, or National Geographic because of some wonderful discovery I luckily uncovered during my Brooks year. And when I come back to myself as the shower curtain, towels, and toilet bowl reappear behind me in the mirror, I am filled with half portion of embarrassment and the other of bewilderment at what I find myself doing. Standing and staring into space or feigning a high profile TV interview did not worry me as much as the other me I met during the travels: the selfie-loving me. I will naturally define myself as a non-selfie person but alas, I was wrong. I found myself taking selfie shots at every opportunity I got—mostly in the confines of my hotel rooms. This peculiar act really surprised me about myself and I owe this strangeness to nothing but alone time. In my analysis, alone time can be as productive as it can be delusional, particularly for active minds.

    Fig 12
    Fig. 12: I am still not able to explain what came upon me. I find myself in several occasions taking a selfie. For me, this is strange behavior. Here in the hotel in Milan.

    Fig 13
    Fig. 13: Messing around taking a selfie in the famous Dizzy Gillespie big cheeks pose. Here in the hotel in Dresden.

    Fig 14
    Fig. 14: Between reading and taking a selfie. Here in the hotel in Frankfurt.

    Fig 15
    Fig. 15: Same hotel as in fig. 14, different night.

    Fig 16
    Fig. 16: Putting my alone time to good use. Reading about ornamentation and architecture was something I thoroughly enjoyed during my fellowship year.

    Fig 17
    Fig. 17: I also took some time to broaden my knowledge on a host of topics other than ornamentation—race and intellect being a particularly interesting one for me. I was stunned and concerned about what I learned. 

    Fig 18
    Fig. 18: Cathedral brochures are an excellent reading material to pass time. I made it a point to get one whenever it was available.

    Fig 19
    Fig. 19: The face of an unrepentant selfie convert: climbing up the stairs in the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral in London.

    Fig 20
    Fig. 20: I battled with the bitter cold almost all through my travels. Being from the tropics it was really hard coping with sub temperatures, particularly during the “Beast from the East” chills. Here in Florence, Italy.

    Fig 21
    Fig. 21: In front of a hotel mirror taking a creative selfie.

    Fig 22
    Fig. 22: Enjoying a slice of Pizza in Pisa, Italy.

    Fig 23
    Fig. 23: I find myself standing in front of the window for long periods staring and contemplating. In this photo (Paris) I set the camera on timer to record this moment.

    Fig 24
    Fig. 24: A view from my hotel window in Paris, an energetic city with many varied characters.


    On Architecture as a Template for History

    In my first article, I asked the question: to what purpose do we study the history of architecture? It is a question I had hoped to answer as I travelled around Western Europe to see some of the world’s greatest cathedrals. I cannot categorically say I now have a straight answer to the above question, but I will venture a response here. Perhaps we study the history of architecture only for the purpose of knowing beauty. For beauty was all I saw in the structures I encountered, as they stood vivaciously with the stateliness and intricate allure of figural and floral ornamentation on them like a cloak of honor.

    In this last year, I learned that ornamentation is beauty and proof of the fullness of life. While it is tough to take defined positions in this matter and certainly I will require a more formal paper to argue my points on the issue, I strongly posit that ornamentation is a cultural and religious expression of identity and a testament of a collective past, the past that bore a common instinct which uncontrollably drives us to create figural art, usually in our image or a mimicry of the same. Perhaps it is the same instinct that the Father possesses that enabled the creation of man in the first place—where it was said, ‘Let us make (create) man in our own image.’ The functional words there being ‘create’ and ‘image.’ Therefore, wrong are those who saw it as desecration of architecture at some point in our history, however evocative their arguments were in context of the reality of their time. The manner and measure with which we engage ornamentation in architecture must remain a subject of debate, but to propose an instance where it is completely obliterated from our everyday architectural vocabulary based on what I can now almost confidently call a time-related philosophy is quite unacceptable. I also posit, that in seeing beauty, we may know life and in knowing life, we may live it. In living life then, we may further create beauty, but the day we admit to fully defining it, perhaps that day we finally cease to exist. So I conclude that understanding the communication of beauty through ornamentation must remain a wisdom built on continuous refinement. The type of wisdom that can only be understood through a process and not a finite end in itself.

    Fig 25
    Fig. 25: I secretly took this selfie inside the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican. Though we were repeatedly asked not to take photos of the works, I just could not imagine (or resist) I had come all the way to see this enigmatic work not to record myself in context of the masterpiece. A guard caught me taking this photo and gave me a mean look. I at once pretended to be texting, but I know he didn’t buy it. "No photos!" he yelled in his silky Italian accent!

    Fig 26
    Fig. 26: With one of the giant murals inside the Vatican in Rome.

    Fig 27
    Fig. 27: Nightfall in Milan. A silhouette of me with the Milan Duomo as backdrop.

    Fig 28
    Fig. 28: Breakfast in some hotels is on-the-go. Here is the ration in the hotel in Bath, UK.

    fig 29
    Fig. 29: Standard look for my work table. Checking the weather is something we don’t worry too much about in Africa but I found it to be very important when travelling around Europe. 

    Fig 30
    Fig. 30: Posing with the street artist, Michael, in Rome. He shows his caricature work of me.


    On a Final Note

    There is an African maxim that says, "He who returns from a journey is not the same as he who left." This turned out to be true in my case. If one truly went on a significant journey, the many novel things one encounters will often have an impact on one’s worldview. My mind and thinking have been renewed and recalibrated. As I return to university teaching, I am poised to create a new kind of beauty: the beauty of the mind, particularly the mind of the next generation.

    Again, my sincere gratitude to all those who made this possible. To the faculty of the architecture department at the University of Lagos, I am grateful for their unending support and cheering. I am very proud to be a part of that team. I cannot end this without mentioning Pauline Saliga, Christopher Kirbabas, Beth Eifrig, and Helena Dean (all of SAH)—I have known no better team. Thank you!

  • The Basilica of St Peter: No Words to Describe

    ‘Deyemi Akande, 2016 H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellow
    Apr 9, 2018

    'Deyemi Akande is the 2016 recipient of the H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship. All photographs are by the author, except where otherwise specified.

    Besides a final report, this is officially the last article of my H. Allen Brooks fellowship year. Understandably, it comes with a cocktail of emotions. I had mentioned in the last article that I will write on my experience at the Vatican this month, but alas, here I am now at a loss for words to express the experience. Suffice to say that the Vatican numbs me in every beautiful way. For over three hours I paced here and there in the nave of the St Peter’s Basilica, voraciously feeding my eyes and mind with the intense visual array of ornaments, symbols, and patterns. Interestingly, in the end, I could not help the feeling of inadequacy. The feeling that I still do not know enough; that I remain significantly deficit in knowledge in spite of my best efforts. Every material I come across has something new to add to the Basilica’s history. The Basilica is one of those buildings you want to be able to talk about confidently rolling out dates from your head like an encyclopedia, but no matter how much I read, it felt insufficient and I, desperate. I am at once reminded of the fine letters of the Holy Book and forced to console myself therewith. It admonishes in its book of Ecclesiastes 12:12 “Be warned, my son … of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.” I blatantly saw the rationality of this in my quest for comprehensive knowledge of the Basilica Papale di San Pietro.

    If I had just a day to see Rome, by all means I would spend three quarters of it at the Vatican, particularly at St Peter’s Basilica. I am not a Catholic, but I have a lot of devote Catholic friends and students. Perhaps in reverence to their conviction and in my uncontrollable respect and love for Church history, I would consider it a great error on my part not to have given ample time to St Peter’s Basilica during my visit. Of all its history and controversies, it continues to carry a type of transforming power and unseen force like no other space. The site and structures of the Vatican, however concrete and marble they are, will feed your soul in a manner that ignites an inner wonder; the type of wonder I have spoken about several times; the one that turns a history-loving person into a suckling. The words of John Varriano comes to mind. He declares there is scarcely an account of any Roman sojourn that does not contain the impressions of a visit to St Peter's. Those who remained silent about virtually everything else often found their voices inside the great basilica.1

    Fig. 1
    Fig. 1: An evening view of the Basilica Papale di San Pietro (St Peter’s Basilica) from the St Peter’s square in Rome.

    St Peter's Basilica
    Fig. 2: As old and as true as the sky. St Peter’s Basilica, portrayed by Viviano Codazzi in a 1630 painting. Most of the main features including the obelisk at the centre of the piazza remain the same today.

    St Peter's
    Fig. 3: An evening view of St Peter’s Bernini's colonnade and to the left hand is the Maderno's fountain

    Fig. 4
    Fig. 4: The obelisk in the centre of St Peter’s Piazza. Standing 83 feet tall and moved to the current position by Domenico Fontana in 1586 on the order of Popes Sixtus V.

    Fig. 5
    Fig. 5: Close up of St Peter’s Basilica dome, redesigned and completed by Giacomo della Porta in 1590. In the foreground are statues of Christ the redeemer (to the right with the big cross) and St John the Baptist with the green patina slim cross. St James the elder barely shows to the far left.

    Fig. 6
    Fig. 6: The Loggia of the Blessings—Close up of the Papal balcony of St Peter’s Basilica—from here a new pope is announced and on this balcony he gives the Urbi et Orbi blessings. Also, the pope addresses the people gathered on special occasions from this balcony.

    Fig. 7
    Fig. 7: A gull quenches its thirst from the ‘living’ waters of the Maderno's fountain on the grounds of St Peter’s Piazza.

    Fig. 8
    Fig. 8: Papal Coat of Arms.

    Fig. 9
    Fig. 9: Coat of Arms of Pope ALEXANDRA VII.

    Fig. 10
    Fig. 10: A concoction of patterns, figures and symbols mostly of gold and blue and the natural shades of concrete too. Such wonderful beauty to behold. The space around the main altar inside St Peter’s Basilica.

    St Peter’s Basilica is deemed to be one of the Holiest sites in all of the world by many Christians and the principal church of one of the most powerful men on earth – the Pope. So I must be pardoned for my ‘sin’ of touching material objects of historical significance. It is a thing I do every time I find myself in a place or with an object of reverence; I do it to connect with the past and I must confess it gives me a heighten sense of delight. It is my way of affirmation that I came in contact with the past. At the Vatican, this my indulgence was in overdrive. When it was possible, I touched almost anything that had a sense of age and importance. To me, it is like touching the very hand of Michelangelo or Bernini.

    I am one of those who fantasise about touching something old and suddenly get transported to an unknown past – very much like the experience of the character Claire Frazer (played by Caitriona Balfe) in the TV serial Outlander where she touched an ancient enchanted rock and was sucked into a different time in the past. However, as magical as this experience may be, and perhaps as fruitful as it may appear for a historian, I imagine finding one’s way back to their rightful time may prove something of a difficult task. In light of this, I have resolved in my heart to stay in the present and look to the future instead.

    In the Vatican, not minding much for being warped into another time, I bent over barricades to get closer access when possible and I remember trying to reach the statue of St Peter mounted on a pedestal of 4 meters to the left side of the basilica’s front façade. The statue itself was about 17 feet tall, and one can imagine how clumsy it was to reach the feet atop the pedestal. I fell short of the feet of the Apostle, but reached the papal crest of Pius IX. In the bitter cold, my skin touching the stone was indeed a warm feeling. In my mind, I felt transported to the late 1849 when the brilliant stonecutters, Angelo Bezzi, Fortunato Martinori, and Vincenzo Biancheri completed the tall pedestals and decorating them with the heraldic emblems of Pope Pius IX. In my last article, when I spoke of the mesmerising feeling I had at the Vatican, it is to such experience I refer to; the type that I now betray its depth with my shallow and hasty words.

    Probably the height of my mesmerisation inside the Basilica was when I came eye to eye with the grieving mother of Christ in the beautiful work by Michelangelo: the Pietà. Time literally froze. I had seen several photographs of it in books and read countless articles but here I was only about 10 ft away from the master of masterpieces. It remains an indescribable experience. This is what St Peter’s Basilica will do to even the most restrained of beings, it reaches deep into your place of concealed emotion and brings out a measure of reality in you. I must have said ‘wow’ a hundred times in the twenty-two minutes or so I spent staring and not yielding to the light jostling by the crowd around me. Robert Kahn puts it this way, St Peter's is a resume of so much that is Roman, from Michelangelo's Pietà to Bernini's Baldachin and Cathedra Petri and Giotto's mosaic of the Navicella. Its outsized dimensions and grandiose decoration are overwhelming, making the experience of walking through the building a dynamic one.2 I couldn’t agree more.

    Fig. 11
    Fig. 11: Maderno’s nave of the St Peter’s Basilica looking towards the chancel. No space is left to waste – every spot available is ornamented or dressed by mosaic art or sculpture.

    Fig. 12
    Fig. 12: The papal crest in marble on the floor of the nave inside St Peter’s Basilica.

    Fig. 13
    Fig. 13: At the main altar of St Peter’s Basilica looking up into the inner portion of the baldachin. The 98-foot-tall baldachin is an elaborate ornamental canopy held by four immense twisted pillars all designed by Bernini between 1624 and 1632.

    Fig. 14
    Fig. 14: One of the four pedestals of the baldachin, made of fine polished wood with a brilliantly gilded ornamental plaque.

    Fig. 15
    Fig. 15: The dome of St Peter’s Basilica from the nave. Along the base of the inside of the dome is written (translation from Latin), in letters about six feet high each, from Matthew 16:18-19; "...you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church. ... I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven...." Near the top of the dome is another, smaller, circular inscription: "To the glory of St. Peter; Sixtus V, pope, in the year 1590 and the fifth year of his pontificate."

    Fig. 16
    Fig. 16: The 17-ft-tall statue of St. Peter in front left side of the Basilica, commissioned Giuseppe De Fabris by Pius IX (1846–1878).

    Fig. 17
    Fig. 17: Michelangelo's interpretation of the Pietà (1498–1499), one of the most emotive of the artist’s work. It is tough to get a good shot of the sculptural piece as it is (probably deliberately) placed in a low light space on the northern part of the Basilica. A glass wall protects the pieces making it even more difficult to photograph due to reflections.

    Fig. 18
    Fig. 18: A statue of St Andrew inside St Peter’s with what has now come to be called the St Andrew’s cross. The piece is by Francois Duquesnoy.

    Fig. 19
    Fig. 19: A statue of St Veronica inside St Peter’s holding her veil with the face of Jesus on it. The piece is by Francesco Mochi.

    Fig. 20
    Fig. 20: Statue of Pope Pius X inside St. Peter's Basilica.

    Like many great church buildings, there was an old church on the same site before the ‘new’ and current one. St Peter’s Basilica is no different. The old church on the same site was a simple basilica commissioned by Constantine the Great after he converted to Christianity. The building of the old church itself was a replacement for an older sanctuary begun around the year 323. The current edifice, however, replaced the Constantine basilica in the year 1506 though it was not completed until over a hundred years later in 1626. The site where St Peter’s Basilica is built, is believed to be over the very place where Simon Peter, apostle of Jesus, first bishop of Antioch and later first bishop of Rome was buried. Clearly the scriptural rhetoric for the inspiration of the basilica on that spot will be the verse from the book of Matthew “… on this rock, I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail over it…”3 this is however not expressly stated. The burial spot of the apostle Peter is said to be directly underneath the massive basilica’s baldachin.

    Directly in front of the basilica is the St Peter’s square – Piazza di san Pietro. This square has racked up quite a reputation and is now as famous as the basilica itself. Designed and built by Gianlorenzo Bernini between 1656 and 1667, the square is flanked by two elliptical colonnaded corridors with twin columns of the Doric order lining the whole length. A significant feature of the square is the array of over one hundred 10-ft-tall statues of saints along the roof of the elliptical colonnaded corridor.

    Fig. 21
    Fig. 21: The main façade of St Peter’s Basilica, Rome.

    Fig. 22
    Fig. 22: Statue of St Albert Avogadro – Carmelite on top the elliptical colonnaded corridor of St Peter’s Basilica. St. Albert was born 1149 and died 14 September 1214. This piece was sculpted by Lazzaro Morelli c.1667–1668. St Albert was Patriarch of Jerusalem, and wrote the original Carmelite Rule of St Albert around 1210.4

    Fig. 23
    Fig. 23: Statue of St. Clare of Assisi on top the elliptical colonnaded corridor of St Peter’s Basilica. St Clare was born 16 July 1194 and died 11 August 1253. The piece was sculpted by Lazzaro Morelli c.1667–1668. Clare was one of the first followers of St Francis of Assisi. She is shown dressed in the habit of the Order of Poor Clares, which she founded. The saint holds a monstrance that alludes to a story that her convent was attacked by marauders, and that she put them to flight by showing them the Blessed Sacrament.5

    Fig. 24
    Fig. 24: Statue of St. Remigius on top the elliptical colonnaded corridor of St Peter’s Basilica. The Bishop was born ca. 437 and he died ca. 530. This sculpture was created ca.1668 and installed between 29 May and 3 July of 1668 by Giovanni Maria de Rossi. Bishop Remigius was Bishop of Reims, he baptised Clovis I, King of the Franks, leading to the conversion of the entire Frankish people. His image is particularly numerous in France and Germany.6

    Fig. 25
    Fig. 25: Statue of St. Dominic on top the elliptical colonnaded corridor of St Peter’s Basilica. St Dominic was born in 1170 and died on the 6th of August 1221. This statue was made installed at the Basilica in 1668 by Lazzaro Morelli, Bernini’s assistant. St Dominic wears the habit of the Dominican order, which he founded, with scapular and hood and a tonsure on his head. In his left hand he holds a lily. His foot rests on a closed book, which can be symbolic of a heretical work, as a major impetus in founding the Dominicans was to fight heresy. The spread of the Rosary is attributed to St Dominic.7

    Fig. 26
    Fig. 26: A shadow of the author is cast over one of the sixteen wind roses floor markers on the St Peter’s square. The wind Rose surrounds the obelisk in the Square and are aligned with compass points to show wind directions.

    Fig. 27
    Fig. 27: The massive twin colonnaded elliptical corridor of the St Peter’s Basilica.

    Fig. 28
    Fig. 28: An enormous marble bowl in the centre of the Pio-Clementino museum surrounded by brilliant life-sized renaissance sculptures inside the Vatican. An example of the exquisite art that one finds in the Vatican. The Vatican museum holds over 50,000 art pieces and about 20, 000 are on display at any given moment.

    Fig. 29
    Fig. 29: A frescoed wall inside the Vatican Museum.

    Fig. 30
    Fig. 30: A slightly larger-than-life-sized marble statue of Jupiter inside the Vatican Museum.

    Fig. 31
    Fig. 31: Ornamented roof work with an oculus, which concentrates light on Jupiter’s statue inside the Vatican Museum.


    Milan Duomo

    With almost 600 years of history, the Duomo di Milano is arguably the most impressive building in the whole of Milan. The church is dedicated to St Mary of the Nativity and is the seat of the Archbishop of Milan. The cathedral is one of the biggest pre-19th-century churches ever built, it is outdone only by a few great cathedrals like Seville Cathedral in Spain, Basilica of Our Lady of Aparecida in Brazil, and St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. One thing the Duomo di Milano has that is yet to be contested by any other church is the number of sculpture on the edifice. Duomo di Milano is famed to have the largest number of sculptural elements on it; it features over 3,300 statues. Milan Cathedral stands as the most sculpturally ornamented gothic building in the world. Thankfully, quite a lot is known about the creation process of many of these wonderful sculptures on the cathedral due to rigorous documentation.8 Probably the most famous sculpture of all the cathedral’s pieces is that of St Bartholomew. Designed and create by Marco d’Agrate in 1562, the sculpture presents the prophet with his flayed skin hanging over his body. The neo-naturalistic finish of the piece will do a number on the faint hearted. The artist presents the anatomy of the figure in very raw and convincing details—a brilliant visual representation of the reality of early Christianity.

    Many archaeologists believe that the location of the Duomo was a sacred Roman site for centuries before the arrival of Christianity. The first Catholic cathedral in that spot was known as Santa Tecla, built around 355 CE. The ruins of its baptistery can still be seen underneath the Duomo. A second basilica was later built next to Santa Tecla, called Santa Maria Maggiore. For nearly a thousand years, these two cathedrals performed; however, by the 14th century, fire and age had taken a huge toll on them. In 1386, the Archbishop of Milan, Antonio da Saluzzo, announced that Milan would build a new cathedral to replace Santa Tecla and Santa Maria Maggiore.9

    The Laying of the new cathedral’s first stone was in 1386 and work effectively finished only in 1965 when the last gate of the cathedral was inaugurated and, while this year is officially deemed to be the year of completion, maintenance and partial construction still continues until date. Surprisingly, it was Napoleon who ordered the final completion phase of the work on the Milan cathedral in 1805, leading to the months that he (Napoleon) was to be crowned king of Italy. At one point, the statue of Napoleon was placed on one of the 135 cathedral spires as a sign of gratitude to his commitment to finishing the cathedral. From the late 1820s to 1850s major finishing was done on the cathedral. The central and oldest of the cathedral’s five bronze doors facing the Piazza Duomo was already in place and is simply a marvel. It is the largest of the pack and frankly, I find it tough to wrap my head around the artistry and detailed craftsmanship put into the piece by its designer Ludovico Pogliaghi. For something that was done in the nineteenth century, the virtuosity and delivery is very commendable.

    Fig. 32
    Fig. 32: The main façade of the Duomo di Milano. In the foreground is the Duomo Piazza.

    Fig. 33
    Fig. 33: Details of the upper part of the front façade of Milan Cathedral. To the top, one will get a hint of the famous Madonnina, the statue of Mary that stands on the cathedral’s highest spire.

    Fig. 34
    Fig. 34: The southern façade of the Duomo di Milano showing several sculptural ornamentation attached to the surface of the building at different levels.

    Fig. 35
    Fig. 35: An interesting marble piece on the southern wall of Milan cathedral. It is of a man with a shovel carrying the remains of another.

    Fig. 36
    Fig. 36: One of the several sculptural pieces on the southern wall of the Milan Cathedral.

    Fig. 37
    Fig. 37: The 1562 emotive sculpture of St Bartholomew with his flayed skin hanging over his body like a cloak at the Milan Cathedral.

    Fig. 38
    Fig. 38: A most outstanding piece of art! The central door of Milan Cathedral’s western wing. The Ludovico Pogliaghi bronze work stands at over 30 ft tall and heavily ornamented with embossed sculpture of a naturalistic nature.

    Fig. 39
    Fig. 39: Details of the ornamented trimmings on both sides of the door.

    Fig. 40
    Fig. 40: Closer details of the marble trimmings around the central door of the western wing at Milan Cathedral.

    Fig. 41
    Fig. 41: Closer details of the marble trimmings around the central door of the western wing at Milan Cathedral.

    Fig. 42
    Fig. 42: Details of Ludovico Pogliaghi’s Pieta on the central bronze door of the western wing at Milan Cathedral.

    Fig. 43
    Fig. 43: Details on the central bronze door of the western wing at Milan Cathedral.

    Fig. 44
    Fig. 44: Pinnacle statues of Milan Cathedral.

    Fig. 45
    Fig. 45: A view of part of the shopping Plaza near Milan Cathedral from the Piazza del Duomo.



    My journey to see ornamentation on temples firsthand started twelve months ago, and I am now at the very end of the road. It only makes sense to see the oldest forms of such expressions and nowhere else will I turn but to Egypt – possibly the oldest examples of ornamentation on architecture by man known to the modern world.

    Because of time and logistic constraints, my trip to Egypt was rather short but fruitful. I decided to see the Karnak Temple Complex. The UNESCO World Heritage site is famed to be the second most-visited site in the whole of Egypt, second only to the pyramids of Giza. For this site, I prepared myself to encounter the ruins of an ancient heritage as I saw in Greece, and while I did not expect to see much by way of structures, I can frankly say that my expectations were surpassed. The ruins at Karnak, though far less taken care of and of course far older, were as majestic as those of Greece in spite of the age over it. These structures are dated to the Middle Kingdom Era of Egypt, which is about 2055–1650 BC. That is about 4,000 years ago! Most of the columns still stand. Several obelisks were still gloriously pointing to the sky. As I stare at a physical articulation of age still standing relentlessly, almost immortal, I am taken over by awe. Millions have stood where I now stand, royals and simpletons, natives and invading foreigners. These walls are witness to time in a way that no history can recall. The temples are quite impressive and audacious and besides the hushed murmurs of the tourists, there is a type of stillness over the space. At every light wind, the eastern dust rises and with it rises one’s sense of pride and glory. These temples are as old and true as the skies, they have been the sky lines of this ancient city since the mind can recall.

    The temple area was used by several Pharaohs each adding his own extension and complexity to the system. Walking in the hypostyle hall, all the way to what would have been the naos (the place of the innermost alter) back then is indeed a privileged and humbling feeling. The hieroglyphs on the surface of the columns and walls are a testament to the age of the structures. I made no attempt at interpreting the hieroglyphs (not that I could on the go, but luckily one can make some sense out of the images if you land on the right google pages); needless to say the pictograms were telling. We owe the resurrection of this form of documentation in Egypt partly to a misfortune of an invasion by the French under the leadership of Napoleon and to the finding of what has come to be called the Rosetta stone. Through the tireless work of two brilliant minds: Frenchman Jean François Champollion and Englishman Thomas Young; many Egyptologists were reinitiated into the wisdom of old through the understanding and reading of the ancient pictograms. I am no Egyptologist but in Karnak, I was proud of what I saw.

    Fig. 46
    Fig. 46: The approaching the hypostyle hall with worn down pylons at the Karnak Temple.

    Fig. 47
    Fig. 47: A Pharaoh’s statue amongst ‘hieroglyphed’ columns at the temple complex in Luxor.

    Fig. 48
    Fig. 48: Giant seated figure of the Pharaoh believed to be Ramses II at the Karnak Temple in Luxor.

    Fig. 49
    Fig. 49: The reverse side of the Pharaoh’s statue laid with hieroglyphs.

    Fig. 50
    Fig. 50: Details of hieroglyphs on a column in Karnak temple. These ‘texts’ are laid out in bands of about a meter in height. The hieroglyphic pictograms are finely done and rather precise in height and arrangement.

    Fig. 51
    Fig. 51: Pigment coloured hieroglyphs on a crossing beam. It is not uncommon to find the complete walls and ceiling of spaces covered with hieroglyphs either painted in or incised.

    Fig. 52
    Fig. 52: The Great Hypostyle hall with towering columns reaching the height reaching 70 ft (about 21 m) and 3 meters in diameter.

    Fig. 53
    Fig. 53: Details of hieroglyphs on one of the obelisks at the temple complex.

    Fig. 54
    Fig. 54: Details of hieroglyphs on the walls of the Karnak Temple.

    Fig. 55
    Fig. 55: A row of columns in the Karnak Temple complex.

    Fig. 56
    Fig. 56: The dead grounds come alive at night with night lights and modern events shows.


    1 John Varriano, A Literary Companion to Rome, (New York: St Martin’s Griffin, 1995), 221

    2 Robert Kahn, Angela Hederman, Pablo Conrad, City Secrets: Rome, (New York: The Little Bookroom, 1999), 79

    3 Matthew 16: 18

    4 Roma Sacra—San Pietro in Vaticano, Itineraries 21–22, ©Fabbrica of St. Peter's, July 2001

    5 Ibid.

    6 Ibid.

    7 Ibid.

    8 Irving Lavin, Visible Spirit: The Art of Gianlorenzo Bernini, (London: The Pindar Press, 2007), 35–36

    9 Christopher Muscato, “Milan Cathedral: History & Facts,” accessed March 15, 2018. https://study.com/academy/lesson/milan-cathedral-history-facts.html


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