Vatican Shows Off Its Goods in Fort Lauderdale

Art aficionados get preview of blockbuster exhibit at Museum of Art

A haunting, life-like portrait of Christ. A cherubic gold angel sculpture. A tool thought to have belonged to Michelangelo. These priceless objects, unwrapped Thursday, are just a small part of "Vatican Splendors: A Journey Through Faith and Art", which opens January 29th at the Museum of Art in Fort Lauderdale.

"I think it's going to be an extraordinary display of history and art," said Mariann Celia, one of the lucky few who who caught the temporary display Thursday, designed to whet the appetite,like an appetizer before the main course. It worked. The sneak preview left art lovers hungry for more.

"We're all excited about this, especially since my background's in art history," said Janette Gomez, the museum's educaton director. She said it was "surreal" to look at 500-year-old calipers, knowing there's a good chance Michelangelo used that very tool to measure and plot out his painting of the Sistine Chapel's ceiling.

"Many of these objects, this will be the first time they've left Rome," explained museum director Irvin Lippman, speaking about the entire, 170-item exhibit which will run through April 24th.

The show will have special significance, of course, to Catholics, but the Vatican designed the traveing show to appeal to a wider audience.

"Through seeing beautiful works of art, you can find something in common with other people," said Msgr. Roberto Zagnoli, the Vatican's Coordinator of Exhibits, through an interpreter. "That's the beauty, these shows put people in dialogue between themselves."

Zagnoli says the show saves people a trip to Rome because Rome's coming to South Florida. In fact, "Vatican Splendors" is just the latest blockbuster at the Museum of Art, following the King Tut, Princess Diana, and Norman Rockwell shows over the past few years. The place is on a roll these days. A Chef Allen Cafe and a Books and Books store just opened in the lobby last week, and the front plaza's getting a snazzy new makeover.

"The museum has continued on this upward trajectory for the last several years," Lipman says. "It's not just about looking at art, it's about conversation, creating a neighborhood." 

Now the Museum of Art is poised for heavenly art to raise it to new heights.

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