The Italian museum had a gory multitude of blood-streaked Jesuses. But in one immense painting, he was flanked by two anonymous thieves—palms nailed, faces obscured, genitals exposed, legs cudgeled by a guard to speed their deaths.
In the crowded gallery, I tried to ignore the pointy elbows of audio-tourists, the smells of cranky feet, the eye-splitting camera flash of a stealth rule-breaker—until a museum guard in brass buttons and crisp trousers stood accusingly before me. He tried to speak English; I tried to speak Italian. He pointed from his eye to mine, as if to say he had seen me transgress. He also pointed to the Uscita sign and motioned me to follow. I was being evicted; that was clear.
In the guard’s wake, I pleaded with the walls of dead painters to admonish him for yanking me from my reverie. Near the exit, he led me up some chilly stairs and unlocked the door to a deserted room. What now? A scolding? Something worse?
With a flourish, he whipped a tarp from a cutaway in the wall, and stepped aside to reveal, up close, the huge, magnificent painting I had struggled to see downstairs. He pressed a cool mint into my palm and, like the guard in the painting, left before he could be thanked.
Photo provided by Ryan Michael White, via Flickr.com creative commons license.
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