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The Agony and the Ecstasy

May 31, 2012

One of the greatest works of art is Michelangelo’s fresco on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.  Very few have not seen pictures of at least part of it.  It was painted from 1508 through1512 under the tutelage of Pope Julius II and is a cornerstone of Renaissance art.


Pope Julius II undertook making the Church the political leader and unifier of Italy.  He wanted the art decorating the Churches to represent a strong symbol of his command.  The paintings were to depict the doctrines of the Catholic Church with the ceiling illustrating the Book of Genesis and many of the Old Testament Prophets.  343 figures are painted on the ceiling.


Michelangelo was a noted sculptor and wanted no part of the assignment, but was prevailed upon by the power of the office and personality of the Pope.  Michelangelo had his own visualization of how he wanted the ceiling to appear and the Pope yielded to his ideas.


Irving Stone wrote a novel of the conflict and interaction of the two men.  “The Agony and Ecstasy” tells an interesting and historical story of the painting and also of the strong wills of the protagonists.  The story shows how people with divergent interests can work together and accomplish great feats without compromising their principles.  I recently saw the 1965 movie based on the 1961 book.  Charlton Heston plays Michelangelo and Rex Harrison, Pope Julius II.  Check it out.  Moses and Henry Higgins!


P.S. Michelangelo shows the Prophet Daniel with an open book.  I contend that book is an accounting ledger since Daniel is known to have been a clerk and kept financial records for King Nebuchadnezzar.

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