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Michelangelo and the Creation of the Sistine Chapel

Michelangelo and the Creation of the Sistine Chapel - Robin Richmond photo 51858028-c8ff-42ca-834f-194f57c7bdc3_zps4d64d7f8.jpg
My Picture of the Pieta is Not a Professional One...No Time to Set Up Lights, Move People Away, Etc.

"Michelangniolo, sculptor in Rome" was how Michelangelo signed a letter to his brother Buonarroto on 21 August 1512. Michelangelo spelled his name (which was common in Italy at the time) more than one way. The point though? He considered himself at the age of 24 when he completed Pieta a sculptor, not an artist.

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Statue of David

The Statue of David was completed in 1504 when Michelangelo was 29 years old and he still considered himself a sculptor as did his Florentine family and friends.

Michelangelo apprenticed to the Ghirlandaio brothers when he was only 13 years old and by his 20's was well known as a renowned sculptor not only in his birthplace of Florence but throughout Italy. His artist peers Signorelli and Botticelli were the "painters of art" during his early years. His talent "rested chiefly on the statues."

He stated and signed his letters to his father, brother and nephew numerous times "sculptor"; letters which have survived more than 500 years. Amazing.

During the 1980's after numerous attempts at restoring the ceiling, the Vatican took the necessary steps to have a complete restoration of the Sistine Chapel. The major project included input from scientists, restorers, engineers and various other professionals and took nine years to complete. (Michelangelo took four years from 1508-1512 to complete the ceiling.)

It was only then after carefully removing layers and layers of grime, fine particles, dust, soot and even glue which was used previous centuries to restore the masterpiece, that the absolutely glorious colors used originally by Michelangelo appeared.

It was then that the true genius of Michelangelo's unique eye for color was observed; the ceiling was bright and vivid with colors which "popped" out and looked three-dimensional. Colors he blended to make other colors such as red and white combining on the wet plaster (fresco) to make orange. (See Daniel's clothing.)

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Daniel Before Restoration and After Restoration

And amazing, too, that reading the letters which were at the end of the book, and from the book itself, I got a definite "feel" for who Michelangelo was. That feeling I got conflicted a bit from what the experienced tour guide said when I visited the Sistine Chapel and, of course, the adjoining St. Peter's Basilica last month. (The reason I read the book.)

Michelangelo's letters and this book appears to sound like he was a sincere and devoted religious man obedient in all ways to the Catholic Church. (I need to read a biography and two were written during his lifetime to determine if this is true.) His religious beliefs and his relationship with the Pope was the conflict between the book and what the guide stated.

She said and it's been substantiated that Pope Julius II contracted with Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel but the guide said the Pope threatened the sculptor with jail. This was not mentioned in the book at all. The author did say that Michelangelo felt he would be letting the Pope down by refusing the contract but no mention of his being jailed. The book alluded to some conflict between the Pope and Michelangelo but nothing of being jailed if he refused.

Michelangelo had already committed to creating sculptures for the tomb of Pope Julius II therefore he was not anxious to accept a commission for the painting of the Sistine Chapel. However, how could he deny the Pope?

The task itself, a fresco ceiling 131' X 42' was enormous. And he himself stated "I am a sculptor!"

It was his feeling that his selection was made in an effort to embarrass him since he was not familiar with painting much less frescoes. The suggestion, he surmised, came from architect Bramante, who was the principle architect of St. Peter's Basilica. They were considered rivals at the time but it's not understood completely, the specific rivalry.

Author Richmond states that there was "A difficult relationship between artist and Pope. This was fraught with misunderstanding, willfulness and tension."

However, after signing the contract and taking the initial payment, Michelangelo hired then fired five assistants. To make matter even more complicated, Michelangelo thought that Pope Julius's plan was too trite and simple, the painting of the twelve disciples.

The question of what made Michelangelo who was so very hesitant and reluctant to tackle the ceiling in the first place, decide to paint more than 300 figures instead of the original twelve is still baffling to art professionals.

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The Human Brain

Back With Guide at Sistine Chapel
What astonished all of us was when our guide pointed out that Michelangelo's most famous panel of the entire masterpiece, The Creation of Man, had God surrounded by not only angels but God and the angels encapsulated with what looks like the human brain.

She said it was Michelangelo who had the last say, "Take that, Pope Julius" referring to man's creation of man by his own means; his own brain. God was not the instrument of man; man was the instrument of man.

This, of course, is interpretation and speculation by many hundreds of professionals in the art world; however, the similarities are obvious. Was it intentional? Whether Michelangelo was in fact, having the last say to the difficult Pope Julius will forever be unknown.

However, the genius of Michelangelo who was "only" a sculptor, hopefully will last for another 500 years.

It was pointed out that tourists are the primary problem with saving the masterpieces at the Vatican. This, of course, is a difficult situation since the public wants to view the iconic work of a genius.

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The Creation of Adam Before Restoration

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The Creation of Man After Restoration

A note that the guide imparted to us was that the beauty which surrounded us, the sculptures, the tapestries some of which were woven with 14 caret gold thread, inlaid tile and the beautiful columns were never supposed to be seen by the public. They were for the benefit of the Pope and Cardinals only.

I felt so privileged to be surrounded by the most beautiful art ever created by mankind. So very honored.