The Conservatives vs. the LiberalsMichelangelo's Sistine Chapel Ceiling is almost universally loved and admired, especially in the light of its restoration a few years ago. In spite of its prodigious population of nude and semi-nude figures, even school children are aware of the story of Genesis told in such expressive splendour as to be "awesome" in the current adolescent vernacular. At the time of its completion, school children weren't the only ones who found the work awe-inspiring. Thanks to the restoration efforts, only in this era can we get a feeling for the truly awesome impact this massive spectacle must have had on clergy and laity alike.
On the other hand, Michelangelo was not without his critics, roughly dividing into what we might think of today as "conservatives"--those who were shocked by the widespread nudity Michelangelo employed, and "liberals"--those who were equally dismayed by the writhing, un-classical, almost painful contortions through which the sculptor-turned-painter put his nude figures. Of course, when it came to controversy, Michelangelo was hardly blameless. He dared to depict the serpent in the Temptation of Eve as a female figure. He blatantly portrayed an almost obscene nakedness in the Drunkenness of Noah. And, in the panel depicting the Creation of the Sun and the Moon, he not only repeated earlier, ground-breaking depictions of God himself, but had the audacity to portray him from the rear, perhaps even for God, not his most flattering side.
Contributed by Lane, Jim
5 December 1997