By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Feb 14, 2006 at 5:37 AM

Unlike some media outlets in Milwaukee, we won't suggest that seeing the Milwaukee Public Museum's "Saint Peter and the Vatican: The Legacy of Popes" exhibition will "save" you a trip to Rome (after all, who wants to be "saved" from such a trip?!).

But we will suggest that since the Vatican museums and St. Peter's Basilica are such overloaded treasure troves of artistic works of all kinds, this much-vaunted exhibit whittles down those millions of treasures into one digestible show.

On view at the museum, 800 W. Wells St., through May 29, these 300-odd objects make their only Midwest appearance here in Milwaukee before returning to Vatican City.

"The exhibition is sure to inspire and educate Catholics and non-Catholics alike on the successor of Saint Peter, his role in promoting international peace and justice and his historical commitment to increasing dialogue with other world religions," said Milwaukee's Archbishop Timothy Dolan.

It's true that the exhibition, which ends with a string of displays discussing Catholicism's contact with other religions, works as a nice adjunct to what Benedict XVI's papacy has claimed it will do: Reach out to Jews, Muslims and other religions.

But those displays feel almost like an afterthought in an exhibition that starts out pointedly focused on Saint Peter, his crucifixion on the Vatican hill and the pair of basilicas that rose on the site of his tomb, which was rediscovered exactly where tradition said it was, in the past century.

And before it sets off on a wandering path, "Saint Peter and the Vatican" does a wonderful job of explaining how Peter came to be in Rome and how the basilicas were planned, built and used. There are some lovely paintings and a small batch of stunning mosaics, including one of an angel by Giotto that is simply radiant.

There are a more than a dozen small sculptural works from Gian Lorenzo Bernini's studio as well as some lovely marble busts that are unlike anything Milwaukee has seen for years.

At the end of this portion of the winding exhibit is a recreation of the scaffolding that Michelangelo used (on a much smaller scale, of course) to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel from 1508 to 1512. Thrust up to the ceiling amid precarious and claustrophobic scaffolding, we realize first-hand how onerous was the task of working on such a vast expanse of ceiling. It renders the Florentine painter's achievement even more miraculous.

After this, however, the exhibit ceases to focus on the first of 256 popes and instead dishes up a couple rooms of papal memorabilia dating mostly from the late 19th century (Leo XIII) to the present.

Much of this material is interesting, like the examples of the actual capsules burned to create the white or black smoke during a conclave and photos of the stove in which they are burned. Nearly all of it is golden, bejeweled, ornate and glistening, but we noticed that most visitors sailed past these items -- perhaps out of fatigue -- especially in contrast to the reverential doting they bestowed on the works in the earlier part of the show.

"Saint Peter and The Vatican" is a fabulous and engaging assemblage that suffers from what afflicts most blockbuster art exhibitions these days: too much stuff. In defense of the show's curators, however, what the later items bring to the table is the star power (Pope John Paul II) and glamor (bejeweled objects) required these days to mount such an exhibition.

Saint Peter and the Vatican" offers a fine glimpse into the world of the popes. Just don't rush through the first half. There will be plenty of time for that in the second part.

Tickets for the exhibition are $18.50 for adults, $17.50 for seniors and $11.50 for children 3-15. Call (414) 278-2728. The museum's Web site is

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He has be heard on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories, in that station's most popular podcast.