Passion For Art

The real enemy of Michelangelo’s Sistine art isn’t us – it’s the Vatican

Five centuries after Michelangelo put down his brush, the Catholic Church says visitors are damaging the Sistine ceiling. But we’re not the only ones guilty of desecration …

The Last Judgment by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel

Big cover-up … Michelangelo’s The Last Judgment, complete with ‘prissy curbings’, in the Sistine Chapel.

The Vatican is worried about the future of Michelangelo’s frescoes in the Sistine Chapel. It says it may be necessary to mark the 500th anniversary of the completion of his painted ceiling by restricting visitor numbers, because the safety and preservation of Michelangelo’s art is paramount.

It is bare-faced cheek for the Vatican to come over all holier-than-thou about art that it has damaged, and continues to damage, through its own intolerance. Before it “protects” Michelangelo from the multitudes, the Catholic church might consider reversing its deliberate attack on Michelangelo’s art and apologising for a philistine assault that impairs the Sistine.

There are two paintings by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel. His intricate and overwhelming ceiling, finished 500 years ago this year, is the quintessential artwork of the Renaissance. This was a moment of experiment and discovery when, in a dizzy maelstrom of encounters with pagan Roman authors and pagan new world “savages”, religion took a back seat to imagination. No one worried about all the male nudes on Michelangelo’s ceiling. Hey, they said, this is 1513, who cares if the guy is gay?

Decades later, as a famous, elderly genius, Michelangelo returned to the Sistine to paint The Last Judgment on its altar wall. But everything had changed. The Church was embarking on a religious renewal known as the Counter-Reformation, and was suddenly much more suspicious of nudity in art.

Michelangelo, on the other hand, still delighted in the male body and in fact had recently “come out” – let’s stick with wildly archaic modern terms for 16th-century sex – in his love poems to Tommaso de’ Cavalieri. So in his Last Judgment he painted male nudes whirling and soaring in a deep blue sky.

He was immediately accused by the new religious conservatives of turning the Sistine Chapel into a “brothel”. Bigots called for his nudes in the Pope’s chapel to be emasculated by painting draperies over their loins. Michelangelo was too eminent for his art to be damaged in such a crude way during his lifetime. But as soon as he died in 1564, one of his pupils was ordered to daub draperies over the Last Judgment’s array of genitals and buttocks. Many of these prissy curbings of Michelangelo are still there. When the painting was restored between 1980 and 1994 it was a chance to remove the additions and reveal the full glory of the resurrected flesh.

The Church chose not to do so. In other words, it continues to this day an act of religious vandalism against the art of Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel. And it has the gall to accuse us legions of secular art lovers of killing the thing we love? At least we love it.


December 20, 2012 - Posted by | Art | , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. Wow, amazing blog layout! How long have you been blogging for?
    you made blogging look easy. The overall look of your web site is fantastic, as well as the content!

    Comment by décodeur Tnt hd | December 21, 2012 | Reply

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