Saturday, January 14, 2006

Sitting Stage Right of the Altar in the Sistine Chapel

This time around I’ve recently been reading the Sistine Chapel’s frescos in the fabulous Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling so I have some idea who the other dudes were who painted the side walls of the chapel. It’s not just the uber-genius of Michelangelo in here.

The audiogiude said all the frescos are meant to reflect the history of humankind. This struck me as particularly important as so much of what I would call “my” history is in this place. There’s Moses, there’s Jesus, a hundred different biblical scenes. The dimensions of the chapel are supposedly the exact dimensions of the first Jewish temple (where they kept that ark of the covenant above which God lived on earth). The painting of the ceiling by Michelangelo overlapped in time with Martin Luther’s only visit to Rome. Luther’s visit stirred such disgust at the impiety of his fellow priests and brothers that he proposed some protesting reforms a few years later. They didn’t go over so well. I say this is my history because white American cultural history is less relevant to me than Church, Hebrew and general Western Civ history.

Before we were in here, we saw some frescoes I had never appropriately appreciated before. Rafael frescoed many rooms for Pope Julius II (the same guy who commissioned Michelangelo for the Sistine Chapel, and not a very nice man) and one room in particular stood out. The Stanza della Segnatura was the Pope’s personal study/library and Rafael was asked to portray the supreme values of Philosophy and Religion: beauty, goodness and truth. My favorite wall is probably "The School of Athens” because it depicts great thinkers from antiquity and Rafael honored some contemporaries by painting their portraits as if they were famous people from the past. So Plato looks like Leonardo da Vinci. Across the room, the “Disputation of the Sacrament” is also pretty cool.

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