The stories told through the frescoes in the Sistine Chapel have been long debated. Countless books, essays, and articles have poured over every detail of the chapel. A new perspective on the chapel was just released to the public in early 2008. Judaism expert and Rabbi Benjamin Blech and Sistine Chapel tour guide Roy Doliner try to convince readers of Michelangelo’s secret mission to undermine the Pope and to fill the Sistine with Judaic references in their book The Sistine Secrets: Michelangelo’s Forbidden Messages in the Heart of the Vatican. Blech and Doliner explain that in an attempt to make a statement against the church’s corruption, Michelangelo frequently hid attacks and jokes at the expense of the church, and more repeatedly, Pope Julius II, by hiding Judaic references on the ceiling of one of the most important chapels in Christendom.
The Sistine Secrets offers some controversial yet intriguing options for what influenced Michelangelo, but it seems as though Blech and Doliner have ignored some crucial established research on the Sistine Ceiling. Most of their claims have been previously made, or are otherwise simply inaccurate. After looking at the ceiling, Michelangelo’s letters, and works of art created before the ceiling was completed, we will find that Michelangelo did not intend for most of the ceiling to be a subversive commentary. Although Michelangelo painted a few pointed social commentaries into the ceiling, the overall theme was not intended to criticize Catholicism.
Lindsay Wieland, ’09 Batavia, IL
Sponsor: Christina McOmber