There are so many things in Italy that cannot be captured on film, in a picture, a book, by a poem, ode or interpretative dance. The Sistine Ceiling is one of them. Well, let’s be honest, it’s the one. The number of oversized books and posters with endless reproductions and diagrams dedicated to this one space still cannot even begin to communicate the feeling you experience when you’re physically standing in that room looking up at Michelangelo’s love-hate relationship with fresco painting. Many others, who worked their entire lives on painting (and did nothing else), didn’t come anywhere close to this masterpiece. Not even compared to the ceiling closest to the entrance wall of the chapel, where Mich is still figuring things out and is, perhaps, a hair short of his normal state of perfection.
I sometimes think how incredible it is that something this amazing (i.e. Michelangelo as a painter) happened only a few times in this one man’s lifetime and, with the exception of one (or three, depending on who you ask) other panel painting, is completely confined to this one building. (I am including the Pauline Chapel, though I have never had the honor of seeing it. Feel free to open that up any time now, Pope.)
It’s odd, but sometimes I look at this and my heart goes out to Michelangelo’s contemporaries. It’s like your friend who is amazing at cooking but doesn’t even like to do it because she is really into (and also really amazing at) making her own clothes (or something equally useful, wonderful, and infuriatingly awesome). You love them and you hate them. You wish you could do what they do, but you can’t and, yet, they won’t! In Michelangelo’s case, I sometimes wish he had agreed to take on more assistants. (Don’t believe his melodramatic letters. No one frescos an entire ceiling without at least a few assistants making the plaster!) Think of how much he could have done with the studio staff of, say, Rubens!
Sigh. Still, what if it had never happened at all?
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