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Rome's Top 10 : Artistic Masterpieces

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  1. Caravaggio’s Deposition

    Caravaggio strove to outdo Michelangelo’s Pietà by making his Mary old and tired. Rather than a slender slip of a Christ, Caravaggio’s muscular Jesus is so heavy (emphasized by a diagonal composition) that Nicodemus struggles with his legs and John’s grasp opens Christ’s wound.

  2. Raphael’s Transfiguration

    Raphael’s towering masterpiece and his final work was found, almost finished, in his studio when he died. It is the pinnacle of his talent as a synthesist, mixing Perugino’s clarity, Michelangelo’s colour palette and twisting figures, and Leonardo’s composition .

  3. Michelangelo’s Pietà

    The Renaissance is known for naturalism, but Michelangelo warped this for artistic effect. Here, Mary is too young, her dead son, achingly thin and small, laid across her voluminous lap. Hearing the work being attributed to better known sculptors, the artist crept into the chapel of St Peter’s one night and carved his name in the band across the Virgin’s chest .

    Michelangelo’s Pietà
  4. Raphael’s School of Athens

    When Raphael first cast his contemporary artists as Classical thinkers in this imaginary setting, one was missing. After he saw the Sistine ceiling Michelangelo was painting down the hall, Raphael added the troubled genius, sulking on the steps, as Heraclitus .

  5. Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel

    Although he considered himself a sculptor first, Michelangelo managed to turn this almost flat ceiling into a soaring vault peopled with Old Testament prophets and ignudi (nude men). He did it virtually alone, firing all of his assistants save one to help him grind pigments .

    Ceiling, Sistine Chapel
  6. Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne

    Rarely has marble captured flowing, almost liquid movement so gracefully. Bernini freezes time, wind-blown hair and cloak, in the instant the fleeing nymph is wrapped in bark and leaves, transformed into a laurel by her sympathetic river god father .

  7. Caravaggio’s Calling of St Matthew

    Caravaggio uses strong chiaroscuro techniques here. As a naturalistic shaft of light spills from Christ to his chosen chronicler, St Matthew, Caravaggio captures the precise moment of Matthew’s conversion from tax collector to Evangelist .

  8. Leonardo da Vinci’s St Jerome

    Barely sketched out, yet compelling for its anatomical precision and compositional experimentation. Jerome forms a spiral that starts in the mountains, runs across the cave entrance and lion’s curve, up the saint’s outstretched right arm, then wraps along his left arm and hand into the centre .

  9. Michelangelo’s Moses

    This wall monument is a pale shadow of the elaborate tomb for Julius II that Michelangelo first envisaged and for which he carved this figure. Some claim there is a self-portrait hidden in the flowing beard. Moses is currently undergoing a long restoration but remains visible .

  10. Bernini’s Ecstasy of St Teresa

    The saint here is being pierced by a smirking angel’s lance, and is Bernini at his theatrical best. He sets this religious ecstasy on a stage flanked by opera boxes from which members of the commissioning Cornaro family look on .

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