Saturday, August 4, 2012

Sistine Secrets of Michelangelo, Part 1 of 5

In my last post the revised story of Luther’s Baggage caught up to the critical point where Rebekah meets Heinrich and his family. The interlude of the Invocavit sermons has passed and Heinrich’s world is starting to intertwine with the lives of some interesting people in the dynamic world where the Reformation meets the Renaissance. I would love at this time to continue the story, but it will take a little more research and work. So, as I work on the next few chapters, I’ll try to contribute some other shorts that I have started or would like to add. 
During this time I’ve been involved with quite a few changes. I moved from Grand Haven, near beautiful Lake Michigan, back to the town of Brighton, which is about 20 miles north of Ann Arbor; the main reason was to be closer to our family. I take a van pool to work which allows me to read 45 minutes each way; for me, that’s a huge benefit! I have completed Henry Ford and the Jews and really enjoyed reading Steve Jobs. As I boxed up and moved books from our three, 6 foot book shelves I was reminded how heavy books are. 
My two children, who are into the latest technology, must have decided that it was high time I got with it, so they gave me a Kindle for Father’s day! I immediately downloaded two books that I have greatly enjoyed; it has been a pleasure reading them on this fabulous device. The first one is a biography of Walt Disney by Neal Gabler; it’s 800 pages long, so reading it on the quarter inch thick Kindle is effortless. I grew up with Walt Disney (MIC KEY MOUSE) and it’s been fascinating to learn how it all began. Reading about Walt Disney reminded me a lot of Steve Jobs. Both were extremely devoted to excellence and high quality which inevitably meant that they were workaholics as they made sure that what they produced met their standards. As I read about the making of Snow White (Disney’s first full length animation) I knew that I would have to see it again - so it’s on my Netflix queue. 
The other book is amazing: The Sistine Secrets by Benjamin Blech and Roy Doliner. It serves as a great insight into the Medieval world of the early 1500’s. The book is about the life of Michelangelo and how he came to paint the Sistine Chapel. As one of the world’s greatest artists, Michelangelo’s favorite medium was sculpting; he really didn’t like to paint. But the dangerous intrigue of papal politics forced him into painting the Sistine Chapel for four grueling years. The book is trying to make the case that Michelangelo used the opportunity to put hidden messages into his artwork that exposed the hypocrisy of the papacy and extolled the contribution of Jewish learning and mysticism. I read quite a few reviews on the book and they are divided between the skeptical, such as: “The extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence that the authors do not provide. What we get instead are speculations, subjective interpretations and conspiracy theory.” and the positive: “The Sistine Secrets" is artfully crafted, intelligently written and accurate in its research. The writers have something of import to say and they say it well. Unlike the Da Vinci Code this book inspires the reader to think of "treasure" in terms of truth seeking rather than gold. Yet it captures the imagination with as much excitement.”
I would say if half of the claims are true, then it’s still a game changer. Unfortunately, the Kindle version does not have any pictures, whereas the hardcover comes with a color foldout of the Sistine chapel. I need to get a coffee table type book of the Sistine Chapel and check out some of the claims. Nonetheless, the great thing about the Kindle version of the book is that I was able to upload all of my highlights and edit them on my MacBook. In the past, I had to type them in by hand from my heavily annotated pages. I will include some of these highlights in this post and do more in future posts. 
In closing, without further ado:
“The Holy Inquisition was actively trying to eradicate Jewish knowledge like the Talmud and the Kabbalistic book of the Zohar, the very books Michelangelo’s teachers were imparting to him. Also, Rome was actively trying to separate Jews and Christians while Florence was trying to unite them. 
...when allowed to design an artwork of his own choosing, Michelangelo would often select a Jewish theme rather than the standard Christian and mythological images of the day. It also explains why, when commissioned by the pope to create works of art as homage to Jesus and the Church—including the Sistine Chapel—Michelangelo would brilliantly hide inside these works anti-papal messages more in keeping with his true universalistic feelings. 
[Jewish thinking’s] predominant theme is to question. It links reason to faith. It values logic as a prime good and allows for the legitimacy of conflicting opinions. It also places great stress on the ability to harmonize seeming opposites. These were hardly ideals for the Church, which therefore sought to suppress it. But Michelangelo, while not able to study the Talmud in depth, learned from his teachers to incorporate at least some of its values into his outlook and its multiple levels of meaning into his artwork.
Michelangelo wanted to remind people of intelligence, culture, and learning that the Jesus worshiped by the Church was a Jew, come forth from the Jewish people and the Jewish religion—the very same people and faith that the Church was then persecuting. 
he wrote another angry poem to his friend, describing the Vatican in 1512: Here they make helmets and swords from chalices And by the handful sell the blood of Christ; His cross and thorns are made into lances and shields; Yet even so Christ’s patience still rains down. But let him come no more into these parts; 
Zechariah is sitting right over his head, in the very spot where Pope Julius II had wanted Michelangelo to place Jesus. Why one of the later, lesser-known Jewish prophets over the front door of the Sistine? 
Michelangelo had fully absorbed the mystical teaching from ancient Judaic sources that our actions on earth, whether good or evil, can indeed influence the universe. Here was a concept that appealed to Michelangelo as a disciple of the school of Neoplatonism as well. 
In fact, though, it is the Hebrew Bible’s heroes and heroines who have the starring roles on the ceiling. 
For all of Michelangelo’s positive feelings toward the Jews, it must be noted that during his time the Talmud and other sacred texts of the Jews were being burned all over Europe. Even though Jews had not yet been forced into ghettos (the first ghetto was established in Venice in 1515), they were at best second-class citizens and had few civil rights in most countries. As early as 1215, the Fourth Lateran Council had decreed that Jews were to wear a special badge of shame to keep them separate from good Christians. Furthermore, no matter what the country or the manner of clothing, the badge had to be yellow.
 Aminadab’s upper left arm (on the viewer’s right), cleaning has revealed a bright yellow circle, a ring of cloth that has been sewn onto his garment. This is the exact badge of shame that the Fourth Lateran Council and the Inquisition had forced on the Jews of Europe. Aminadab’s Hebrew name means “from my people, a prince,” referring to his son Nachshon. However, to the Church, a “prince of the Jews” would mean only one person—Jesus. 
the Latin root of the word literacy is the same as for the word intellect: leggere, “to read.” The source for the word intellectual also gives us its true meaning: inter-leggere, “to read between.” An intellectual is defined by an ability to read between the lines, to analyze and to think critically, to understand things on many levels at the same time. This is exactly what we must do to appreciate fully the works of Michelangelo and his fellow Renaissance artists.”
To be continued...

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