Here's the first of my thoughts from the trip. Our group included 18 kids (average age 15) and three (alleged) adults. We were in and out of various sites, on and off buses and subways, and free for various lengths of time with orders to group up at pre-arranged meeting points afterward. Every time, we would do a "buddy check." Groups of 4-5 of us all had to count each other and report back to Dr. Mac (our lead chaperone) that all were present. Each group had a name--I counted for the Raphaels, there was a Da Vinci group, a Michelangelo group, and a Bernini group. Now, any good nerd would tell you--something's wrong with this picture. Bernini should have been Donatello, and then we would have had all 4 of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Da Vinci, of course, is Leonardo).
Well, upon further examination, I have revised my opinion. Having now seen works by all those renaissance masters (and they are truly AWESOME, in the proper sense of the word), I have decided that the author of TMNT was wrong. Donatello was always the odd turtle out, anyway (he's the guy with the purple mask and the staff). But Bernini, he rocks. If I had to pick, I'd even put him a notch above Michelangelo in the sculpting department. Now Mike still takes the best all-around prize (2nd place in marble, no worse than tied for 2nd in the painting with Rapahel, right up there with Bernini again for architecture--Raph didn't sculpt, Bernie didn't paint. Mike may lose a style point for the hideous design of the Swiss Guard's uniforms at the Vatican, but he still would edge out the others on overall artistic genius points).
On a serious note--after teaching this stuff for years, even having some of these works of art and their creators as the answers to test questions back in my days of teaching western civ, it was thrilling to be in the same room with the real masterpieces. One only has to spend a few minutes in the Borghese, the Uffizi, or the Vatican to recognize two undeniable truths: (1) "modern art" can't hold a candle to these guys. And (2) all our attempts at glorifying "multiculturalism" can't change the fact that western culture is unique. Not that others aren't worthy of study, but no other culture has produced a Michelangelo (or, for that matter, a Thomas Jefferson).