Today, Madeline presented us with some insight into history, art history, and a bit of ecclesiastical history as well. She presented a TED Talk for expertise so that Madeline had the help of serious art professionals. (I hope I can do this justice, this is a tough one to summarize- Rick)
Originally known as the Cappella Magna, the chapel was renamed by Pope Sixtus IV, who was determined to fix it up between 1477 and 1480. It is a small place, and the Pope started with the lower walls. They were decorated with frescoes of the lives of saints, the life of Moses and other stories from the bible and a little bit of Roman historical renderings. In the middle of all this are painted renderings of the pope and his friends. Above were hangings in silver and gold. It was, she said, the ultimate ecclesiastical man-cave.
By 1508 the Pope was Julius II, and he had been very successful in doing some things under the heading of what I shall call “foreign policy” and had an idea to hire Michelangelo to paint some corners of the Sistine Chapel with images of the apostles. But, in between 1480 and 1508 something astounding had happened. In 1492 the world had been introduced to the knowledge of the Americas.
Whereas Italy had seemed to be the center of the universe, now it was time to rethink that premise. Creation was a bigger place than the world that the Europeans had known before, and Michelangelo had something more inspiring in mind. Michelangelo demanded a free hand in the design. He took over the entire ceiling of the chapel as his canvas. Julius was intrigued. This would not be an area filled with isolated figures but rather something framed within the traditions of sculpture. The images would not be images of what had been created, but rather the act of creation itself. Nine pictures showing God’s Creation of the World,God’s Relationship with Mankind, and Mankind’s Fall from God’s Grace. Below that he painted twelve Biblical and Classical men and women who prophesied that God would send Jesus Christ for the salvation of mankind, and around the upper parts of the windows, the ancestors of Christ.
Interestingly, as god reaches out famously to man, the man, Adam, is alive. Adam is about to be animated by the touch of God, not to bring him to life but rather to bless him with the thing that will make him human… alive and above all the animals. One other thing that is interesting… Eve is already huddled under God’s other arm as Adam is touched.
The third phase of the Sistine Chapel is the of The Last Judgement painted by Michelangelo from 1535 to 1541. There is a great theater of people from all situations of life being lifted to heaven on the day of judgement according to John Chapter 20. But Michelangelo painted them going to heaven naked, unburdened by their life on earth or the trappings of clothing. (This is something of a problem because how do you tell the rich folk from the poor folk if they aren’t wearing clothes? Rich people pay for paintings.)
Michelangelo was accused of immorality and obscenity. A censorship campaign (known as the “Fig-Leaf Campaign”) was organized. Some powerful Cardinals mounted a campaign to remove the entire frescoe. The Pope defended the painting, but soon afterward the fig leaves and ribbons were painted over the genitalia of the humans, which would not emerge again until the restoration that took place in the 1980’s.
So, what can we learn? As is customary at our little congregation in Reynoldsburg, we discussed it among ourselves. Art is a product of its time and geography. Andy pointed out that in the Far East, art is about God’s landscapes with depictions of people playing only minor roles in the artwork. Did the discovery that Italy might not be the center of God’s universe have affected art? Do people rethink their relationship with God by looking at art? What do we think about Michelangelo reinterpreting God’s creation? Adam does not spring to life with the touch of God , but rather is selected to be elevated by God. And the bible would have us believe that Eve was an afterthought in Adam’s elevation but Michelangelo would have us believe that God already had Eve in mind before he ever stirred up self-awareness in Mr. Muscles here. So many questions.
If you think this topic is interesting, then please come and join us in person. We talk about a lot of interesting things in the Unitarian Universalist Church. Free thinkers wanted.