I had the good fortune to view the exhibit today. It only has tomorrow and Sunday left before it packs up and returns to Rome.
For anyone able to go in these last two days ahead, you might like to know a couple of things:
-- The most impressive items are downstairs, which is the area in the first 3/4 of the displays (only about 1/4 of them are upstairs on the main floor). And among those, the best items are in the second half of that portion, before you are directed upstairs. It's a self-guided tour and you can spend as long as you want looking at each item. So if you have limited time, you should save most of your minutes for the second half of the downstairs part. If you run out of time for viewing the upstairs portion, don't worry about it because it's pretty much forgettable multicultural post-Vatican II stuff.
-- On very busy days, the Reagan Museum has cars parking on the entrance road all the way out to Madera Drive in Simi Valley with a shuttle bus picking up visitors taking them to the front entrance. Today there were cars all the way out to the signal at Madera. So it was VERY busy. We had to wait in line a half hour to get in the first part of the displays. The museum opens at 10:00 am so you ought to get up there by 9:00 am if you want a parking space and a good place in line Saturday or Sunday, because it's going to be MOBBED. They close at 5:00 pm which does not leave you enough time in one day. You really need two full days to see this. And THAT'S ALL THERE ARE LEFT.
They have already held the exhibit over a few extra weeks because of its popularity. It has been showing since May of this year. It is very unusual for the Vatican Museum to allow these kinds of things out for display in any foreign country. Many of the paintings are not covered with glass and you can get close to them to see every detail. Most amazing! The ornate chalices, patens, candlesticks, bronzes, vestments, Agnus Deis, and such are all in plexiglass cases so you can't touch them. There are no representatives there from the Vatican, but the caretakers on the floor are somewhat knowledgeable in general, however, if you have any detailed or esoteric questions they are surprisingly ignorant, even of Church history. I suspect most of the people working the exhibit are non-Catholics who are there only by way of their service to the Reagan Library and Museum.
My favorite piece is the Carrara Marble bust of Pope Leo XIII, whose voice singing the Ave Maria is the first recording of a Pope's voice in history. It's on YouTube. The bust is white marble, in all its marvelous purity, about 1.2 times life size, so it's a little larger than life. The detail of his face is astounding, and I really got the impression that he was right there in front of me, ready to say something, perhaps sing the Ave Maria (that's the only sound we have him making). They say you can't touch any exhibit and they want everyone to stay 18 inches away from everything. But I couldn't see the detail I wanted at that distance so I got even closer to Leo XIII and nobody complained. I could have spent hours there gazing into the stone from every direction. It was utterly amazing. They did not have a sculpture of Pope St. Pius X, but they did have one of Bl. Pius IX, which was also excellent, but I think the Leo XIII was somehow more impressive. It was beyond words.
They also had a crosier (I think they called it that) of Leo XIII which is a 1-1/2" full round wooden pole covered with red velvet, about 7 feet tall. It has a gold metal tip at the base and an ornamental fixture on the top at least plated in gold. Perhaps it's solid gold. It had an inscription in the center panel that curiously was missing a letter "C", but the C was added, slightly smaller, just above the spot where it belonged! The guy carving the word must have realized he had left out that letter and then put it in above where it should have been. There was no "carrot" (^) below the spot, though.
They have numerous paintings in various media, including oil on canvas, oil on glass (painted backwards from behind the glass, 300 years ago!), carbon chalk and watercolor on cloth, gold leaf melted into glass, and others. The variety is very impressive.
I was amused to overhear people talking and found that most visitors are non-Catholics. But their ability to stand there face-to-face with real historical works of art and excellent reproductions of antiquities from 2 millennia ago can't help but impress them with the antiquity of our Roman Catholic heritage.
I couldn't help but mention a few factoids to viewers about some misstatements in the printed material which pretends that after Vatican II and the Newmass, these older things are no longer in use. They were rather shocked to hear such words. But I couldn't resist.