is an interview with Jane McIntosh, who is the narrator of a new
series of audio guides focusing on the artistic and architectural
treasures found throughout Europe. Her first work titled, 'ST.
PETER'S BASILICA: Audio Guide to St. Peter's Basilica in Rome and
its Remarkable Art Treasures' has already won The Communicator
Award of Excellence.
So Jane, what's your background?
My interest in art started as a teenager, living in Europe, and
I studied art history in university. Early on, I worked as a tour
guide at Boston City Hall, but my career took a different track
when I got an MBA at Columbia University and I spent two decades
in consumer marketing, in both large corporations and start-up companies.
But as so often happens, I began to feel that there was something
missing. I started to read and travel again, and my love of art
I'm a more
mature student now, of course … I can appreciate that art history
is so much more than artists' bios and artistic styles, and being
able to array them on a timeline. The study of art through the ages
is actually the study of social history, economics and politics,
philosophy and religion … it's the visual expression of the history
of human experience.
my curiosity about the role of Christianity and the Church in the
history of architecture and art, I've encountered a personal, spiritual
element in my studies. Perhaps it's this conjunction of the intellectual
and the spiritual that feeds my passion for exploring the history
of churches and their art treasures.
Rome is my
favorite place in the world. I feel so alive when I'm there. The
layers and veins of history in Rome are endless … it's for good
reason that it's known as the Eternal City! But it can be overwhelming
without some sort of structure to contain one's focus. I have found
that learning about history within the context of the art at a particular
site provides the structure that makes it meaningful.
Why did you choose St Peter's for your audio guide?
The simple answer is, "When in Rome … one visits St. Peter's!"
I did wonder
if it was wise to tackle the most important church in western Christendom
as the first title in the Jane's Smart Art Guide™ series! But I
was inexorably drawn to it … St. Peter's and the Vatican have been
at the hub of society and culture and politics for two millennia.
To delve into St. Peter's is to experience 2000 years of history.
After which, one has the foundation to begin to peel back more layers
at the dozens - hundreds -- of other churches around Rome, and Italy.
What were your primary sources for information?
When creating a Jane's Smart Art Guide™, I gather and synthesize
scholarly and not-so-scholarly writings in a variety of fields.
Then I focus on making the material interesting and compelling for
a lay person --- that is, people like me. I have an extensive library
of books about art, artists, architecture, history … and I'm always
borrowing books, and scouring second-hand and out-of-print sources.
over the past few years, the internet has become a fantastic resource.
But one has to be cautious and check the facts. As you know, there's
a tremendous amount of misinformation out there. But used with care,
the web is a tremendous tool, which allows me to quickly investigate
even somewhat obscure details. And of course I have your website
I could go
on and on about books I'd recommend … perhaps one day soon I'll
add a bibliography to my website. One book that pops into mind is
by one of my favorite historians, Michael Grant. I would recommend
his biography, Saint Peter, to anyone who's interested in learning
about the man -- Simon-Peter -- disentangled from faith, legend
and artistic convention.
What has been your personal experience in St Peter's?
It takes my breath away, every time! I find the sheer magnificent
scale of the place to be awe-inspiring. And I love the way the light
changes over the course of a day.
If you can
be there late in the afternoon, when the crowds have thinned and
the sun is low behind the Glory window … it's a memorable sensation.
The Glory is Bernini's great gilded burst of angels and rays representing
light and spiritual wisdom, and billows of clouds framing the west-facing
amber-colored window. At the center of it all is the dove, symbolizing
the Holy Spirit. At day's end, the whole extravaganza is glorious,
glowing! It's hard to fathom the scale of this fantastic theatrical
construct, even when you learn that the dove's wingspan is 4-1/2
that always strikes me is how dazed so many of my fellow visitors
look! St. Peter's provides a perfect demonstration of tourists being
overwhelmed by so much to see ... with few clues as to the significance
of any of it. Who were all those popes whose monuments line the
side passages? And why are three women, Matilda, Christina and Maria
Clementina memorialized here? And who are the figures in the two
tiers of niches that line the nave and transept? What about the
artists whose labors produced these dozens of sculptures, some of
which are acknowledged masterpieces, while others have technical
or stylistic importance in the history of art? So many people don't
even realize that all but one of the huge "paintings" aren't paintings
at all. They're actually mosaic copies of paintings that were removed
soon after they were installed because the humid atmosphere was
What inspired you most about the basilica?
I like to think about the historical figures who have walked that
pavement before me. And the timelessly beautiful art treasures …
Michelangelo's Pieta of course, and his dome, and …
But also …
the pilgrims. Among the flocks of tourists the pilgrims are easy
to recognize. Many of them are realizing a long-cherished dream
-- to come to Rome, to the Vatican, to pray at St. Peter's -- and
they're virtually aglow with faith and spirituality. A sensitive
observer can absorb much of the meaning of the place by taking in
the emotion exuded by these pilgrims.
What areas of the basilica would you like to visit?
I've never taken a tour of the "scavi". To be underground in the
excavations, in the presence of the 2000-year-old human remains
that scholars believe to actually be St. Peter's, and to walk the
street that was buried for 16 centuries, lined with beautifully
decorated pagan mausolea … that's definitely high on my list!
What additional items would you add to your guide?
I think one day I'd like to do a separate guide to the grottoes.
In the space between the floor of the new St. Peter's and the ancient
floor of Constantine's church, Pope Gregory XIII laid out an extensive
area to preserve the tombs that had stood under, in, or near the
original building. The grottoes are filled with beautiful early
Christian sarcophagi - including recycled pagan ones - and wonderful
early history …
What are your plans for new audio guides?
I've just published the audio guide to Sta. Maria del Popolo, which
is one of my favorite churches in Rome … with its two magnificent
Caravaggios and a good deal of other important art. Located where
it is, adjacent to what was the principal North gate in and out
of the city, Sta. Maria del Popolo has seen some fascinating history.
Martin Luther lodged at the convent there during his single, disillusioning
visit to Rome.
that the next audio guide to a church in Rome will be for San Clemente,
which is another church with two millennia of history in its foundations.
But I have just gained the audio rights to a series of books published
in the 1990s, about the Great Fresco Cycles of the Italian Renaissance,
so the next few Jane's Smart Art Guide™ titles will be drawn from
that series. First will be a guide to Fra Angelico's frescoes at
San Marco in Florence, which will be available, at least in MP3
format, in a couple of months. Michelangelo's Sistine ceiling and
the Raphael rooms in the Vatican, Lorenzetti's Allegories of Good
and Bad Government in the Palazzo Pubblico in Siena, Signorelli's
San Brizio Chapel in the Duomo di Orvieto … those are high on the
idea was to produce guides to "the remarkable art sites of Europe".
But I'm personally such an Italophile, that my title plans are heavily
weighted to Italy. But a Jane's Smart Art audio guide to Our Lady
Cathedral in Antwerp is already available. Antwerp is wonderful
little gem of a city that was once known as the Metropolis -- the
most important city in Northern Europe. The cathedral has no fewer
than four Rubens altarpieces! And I may have an audio guide to Chartres
Cathedral out next year, if all goes well.
More information on Jane's Smart Art Guides™ can be found at: