Sunday, June 18, 2017

Freeing the Angel

We'd already been to St. Peter's where Michaelangelo's "Pieta" is safely ensconced behind glass. We'd also gazed in wonder at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, and frankly, we'd seen a lot of master works by the time we walked into San Domenico's in the heart of Bologna's city center.
The Angel freed

On our previous trip to Bologna, we walked right past this (relatively) humble church without giving it a second glance. Let me clarify that the humblest churches in Italy would be considered magnificent cathedrals in the US.

San Domenico's (Saint Dominic) was consecrated in 1251 and its simple brownstone facade belies the treasures inside. These include three sculptures by Michaelangelo completed in 1495 that guard Saint Dominic's tomb, which is a wildly ornate and amazing collection of art onto itself, within St. Dominic's chapel — one of numerous chapels in this cavernous basilica.

We were planning our return trip to Bolonga when I stumbled upon information about Saint Dominic's.  I was writing a presentation about the nature of essence, and was reminded of a quote attributed to Michaelangelo about his process for sculpture:

 "I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free." 

(This reductive process is the same for us when we hit that point in our lives — usually at mid-life — when our ego's strategies and motives are no longer effective in protecting us from whatever it is we fear and we begin to long for the true self that lies hidden inside of us.)

San Domenico's unassuming facade belies what's inside.
To make sure I had the quote right — and that Michaelangelo did indeed say it — I did what I always do when I'm fact checking: I Googled. Sure enough the quote popped up with numerous sources confirming its origin. Along with the quote were images of the angel.

I always thought the "freed angel" was in the Vatican or some important basilica in Rome or Florence. But after doing a little research, I discovered that it was actually in the Basilica of San Domenico. Another quick Google revealed that — to my amazement —San Domenico's was two blocks from the Air B&B apartment we were renting! So along with eating prosciutto and cheese and sampling balsamic vinegar, The Angel went on the list of things to see and do.

Upon entering the vast church, I expected to see signs, arrows, flashing lights pointing the way, but there were none. In fact, when we entered the basilica at about 10 a.m. on a Monday, there mass was being held in the very ornate chapel that held the priceless sculptures. The angel remained hidden. We decided to come back after the service concluded.

That afternoon we were not disappointed. The chapel was open and empty. Soaring above the final resting place of St. Dominic was a cupola that could rival anything we saw in Rome. The frescos were amazing too, but below them on the altar was the Angel exposed for all to see. I could have touched it! (But I didn't.) It was awesome to stand so close to such a master work.

According the to account I read, Michaelangelo traveled through Bologna after the death of his Venetian patron, Lorenzo De Medici. He was only 19 years old when commissioned to sculpt The Angel and two other pieces for the chapel. Four years later, while in Rome, he would be commissioned to sculpt The Pieta.

I love to plan our trips. I take a lot of pleasure finding the ideal Air B&B accommodation or great local restaurant, but the best experiences I have in my travels are the ones that occur through a culmination of happenstances. Like the Angel in the marble, the opportunity to see a masterwork in such an intimate manner had been there all along. I just had to be willing to seek it out.
San Proclus by Michaelangelo, adorns the tomb of San Domenico
San Petronios by Michaelangelo in the Basilica of San Domenico