Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The Sistine

A couple of years ago I came across an old issue of National Geographic in which they reported on the controversial restoration of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The article fascinated me so much that I ended up reading the book, Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling by Ross King.

When I saw the Sistine back in 1985, the restoration had not even started, so while I was awed by the scope and majesty of the masterpiece, it was dark and covered with centuries of soot, varnish, and grime. You couldn't help but get the impression that Michelangelo was a tortured person with a dismal grasp on the use of color. And who could blame the man? Painting on his back for years?

Ha! I discovered in the King book that that's a myth. Michelangelo actually built an elaborate, moveable scaffolding that the restorers used as a model when building their own for the restoration. And his use of color...genius. Judging from photographs in The Sistine Chapel by Michael Hirst, the ceiling is ten times more breathtaking now.

Here is one of my favorite areas even if the figure is so obviously a man's body with a woman's hairdo and dress. (Click on the title of this entry to see a bigger version of this picture.) But look at the color! It's gorgeous! And even more amazing is the fact that the ceiling was curved and was to be viewed from so far away, and yet Michelangelo managed to make the paintings look so real through his mastery of foreshortening. Oh, and did I mention that the art of fresco requires that you have to paint extremely fast while the fresh plaster is wet, because otherwise the pigment won't be absorbed and made permanent?

Ah, yeah. The man was amazing.

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