Saturday, October 30, 2010


Just a note on my blog in general to start this post. Everything I write in these are about what I have experienced. This can include tours, just my wanderings or things others told me while I was there. I do check some facts online to make sure I understood things correctly and so I am not misinforming the reader. I usually do a quick browse of wikepedia. I am usually surprised to see how accurate my memory is. I also only post my own pictures on here, with the exception of the pictures I am in. Those are taken by someone else with my camera (and it doesn't happen very often).

That brings me to this post. It takes place in The Vatican and is about Michelangelo and his famous paintings on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. As you can guess, taking pictures was forbidden and as usual people still took them. I did not. They were actually enforcing this however and yelling at people to put their cameras away. The pictures of the ceiling do add to the dynamic of this post, so I have found them and added them to this post

I had trouble finding the information the tour guy told me on line. That means he either had great information unknown to many people or that he is misinformed. He told us a lot about Michelangelo's life. What is well known about him is he sculpted statues. Unknown is that the first thing he ever painted, was also the first thing he painted on the ceiling of the Sistine chapel. He was not a painter, in fact apparently a quote from him earlier in life compared painting to knitting, something only old ladies did. He was motivated to paint the walls of the chapel by rivals who said sculptors couldn't paint.

In order to understand Michelangelo's paintings, it is important to understand his use of symbolism and metaphors in his art work. A good example of this is the statue on the left he sculpted . He also didn't take criticism very well. A group of people were looking at the sculpture one day, openly criticizing it. They thought Mary looked too young to be holding a grown Jesus, surely she would have aged. They questioned who could have made such a sculpture as it had no name. Michelangelo was in the back of the group and these comments angered him.

He stood up, started yelling and approached the statue and started hammering into the statue. He hammered into it his name, and that was the last piece of art he had to ever put his name on. He was well known after that. As a result, it turns out that the dieing Christ in Mary's arm was a vision, she wasn't too young, Jesus was too old. In order to understand some of the Sistine pictures, you have to understand how abstract Michelangelo is at times.

Keeping all that in mind, we can take a look at few of the paintings Michelangelo painted on the ceiling of the chapel. This is the most famous of the paintings, the creation of Adam. There is a lot of symbolism in this, way more than I remember or can accurately talk about. Michelangelo wasn't the most devout Catholic, in fact an argument can be made that he was quite the opposite. Michelangelo had studied anatomy. There is evidence of this if you look at the image of god sideways, with his legs pointed upwards it looks similar to a heart. This isn't a huge deal. The huge deal comes with the other anatomical similarity the picture has. It was illegal to dissect the brain during this time, yet if you compare this picture to a brain, the similarities are too close to say it is a coincidence. He clearly had dissected a human brain. You can be sure there was a deeper connection between the heart and brain that he was trying to make.

This next one is not as hard to interpret. This is the scene of the Garden of Eden just before Adam and Eve are banished for eating the forbidden fruit, the original sin. If you remember this story, Eve picks the fruit from the tree and gives it to Adam. In this painting however, it is Adam reaching for the fruit. Both of these Michelangelo paintings have disregarded either the Church ruling or the Church teaching.

The whole time he was painting these he was constantly arguing with the Pope of the time. They did not get a long and that was reflected in his work, either subtle or blatant. A blatant example is the bare behind of God in the scene where God creates the sun and moon. God is said to be 'mooning' the Pope as well.

The last picture I want to talk about is not found on the ceiling but on the main wall of the chapel. It is Judgment day, the resurrection of Jesus and the rest of the bodies. Jesus is the central figure of this painting. If you notice at his right foot is a figure holding a corpse. The tour guide said Jesus was condemning this figure to hell, and that this figure was supposed to be the Pope. In addition, the corpse in the Pope's hands is supposed to be Michelangelo himself. In his paintings he shows a lot of disregard for the Pope and church. But the paintings are astounding. To think, he never painted in his life!

The paintings of the Sistine Chapel itself, without the explanations provided would have been worth while regardless. The commentary provided an interesting and different way to look at the fantastic images the Chapel offers. Welcome to the Vatican.

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