[ Late again, for extremely happy reasons; details will follow. ]
A major part of the exhibit was about the Sistine Chapel, which I knew was going to be good when in the discussion of preparations to building the current Vatican they put in a glass box a foot-long iron compass (the circle-drawing kind) with the caption, ``Tradition, never disproved, holds that this compass was used by Michealangelo''. Who could argue a provenance like that? It also pointed out how ``the similarity of the instrument compared to modern ones'' showed off the sophistication and care which Michealangelo took with his tools, although I would have to read a 380-page book by Henry Petroski to learn how much the drawing compass has evolved in the past five centuries, and it would explain how engineering is a matter of choices to optimize results while minimizing cost while keeping failure modes understood again.
There were more pleasantly human touches, though, such as playing cards which were found underneath the plaster in renovations -- a four of clubs, a Queen of diamonds, and a card I couldn't make out. Those, it turns out, date to around 1710, and probably were put there by people working on a previous restoration, but you have to wonder how bad a hand the workmen had that they were burying their cards under the mosaic of Creation.
And there was as always stuff I never realized I didn't know: apparently, before Michealangelo was hired for some painting, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel was painted to look like a starry night, kind of the way young space enthusiasts would do if it wasn't too much bother to accurately place the glow-in-the-dark stars there. The panels also said the Sistine Chapel was designed with the intent of mimicking the dimensions of the Holy of Holies from the book of Solomon, which I didn't realize was specified clearly enough to be reproducible. (I'm vague on many details of Bible lore; as may have been guessed, I was raised Roman Catholic.) Unexplained was why the Pope picked Michealangelo, who was a sculptor, to hire for such a big paint job.
But also neat was they set up a little bridge with scaffolding and a lowered ceiling to represent what it might have looked like in the middle of painting the Creation Of Adam, complete with the cartoon -- which they explain with just a hint of disdain means not a cartoon but rather the detailed drawing of what was to be plastered over and painted -- for some parts, and a speaker rattling out generic scraping noises and Italian mutterings and the like. I can't say I really felt like I was there, but that might have been because of the crowd and cramped dimensions and that I was on an ahistorical bridge, but I appreciated the effort.
Trivia: Magnetic variation of compasses is most easterly at about 8 am and most westerly about 1 pm. In winter the variation is smaller than in summer. Source: Compass: A Story of Exploration and Innovation, Alan Gurney.
Currently Reading: Three To Zero: The Story Of The Birth And Death Of The World Journal Tribune, Joseph Sage.