Painting of the Sistine Ceiling

The Agony and the Ecstasy, by Carol Reed, depicts Michelangelo as being divinely inspired to create the Chapel. This is depicted in the movie in a scene where Michelangelo is running away from Roman soldiers after he had abruptly halted working on the Chapel. In the scene, Michelangelo is hiding in the mountains near the stone quarry and his inspiration for the ceiling is divinely inspired. Michelangelo, while gazing into the sky, witnesses the clouds take the formation of the scenes that eventually cover the Sistine Chapel ceiling. This divine inspiration seems to be an obvious departure from factual history for the sake of dramatic effect. It seems that Reed’s depiction of Michelangelo’s inspiration being divine is in many ways and insult to Michelangelo. Reed portrays the scene where Michelangelo is inspired with very clear, articulate images within the clouds. This depiction in many ways downplays the role or Michelangelo in the conception of the ideas that became his most famous work.

“The Iconography of the Sistine Ceiling,” brings the inspiration of Michelangelo as something dramatically different then Reed’s depiction. Malcomb Bull in many ways is looking at Michelangelo’s work very narrowly. He describes specific sections as having very specific meanings. It seems that while Reed stretches to make Michelangelo’s inspiration emotionally appealing, Bull stretches to make it intellectually appealing. Bull leaves out any room for randomness. Many of the connections throughout the various painted scenes are surely inevitable, based on the fact that Michelangelo painted all nine main scenes based all on the same book: Genesis. Bull tries to place great significance on the placement of the individual paintings, however arguably, the paintings are placed in chronological order. While it is certainly apparent that a great deal of iconology exists within the paintings, it is a stretch to say that all of the iconology was intentional, and even more of a stretch to say that the painting was planned with the iconology in mind.

Both “The iconography of the Sistine Ceiling” and The Agony and the Ecstasy have certain insights into Michelangelo’s approach to painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling. It seems that the most logical explanation to Michelangelo’s inspiration comes as a combination of both Reed and Bull’s depictions. Michelangelo certainly utilized a great deal of iconology in his painting. This required a great depth of theological founding for the chosen subject. This iconology would certainly lay claims to Bull’s beliefs. At the same time, a certain amount of creative inspiration was needed on the behalf of Michelangelo.

While the idea of that inspiration being divinely inspired may seem like a stretch, a separate seemingly unrelated portion of The Agony and the Ecstasy may be relevant to Michelangelo’s work on the chapel. This section of the movie is the part where Michelangelo receives a new piece of granite, looks at the large stone for a while, and then proclaims that it will be a statue of Moses. Michelangelo sees it as freeing the figure within. This part in many ways may have relevance towards Michelangelo’s inspiration when choosing the subject matter of the ceiling. It is quite apparent that Michelangelo thought very philosophically about his art work, and maybe for him, painting was simply bringing to life an image that already existed; even if only in his mind. While neither Bull nor Reed can fully satisfy how Michelangelo approached the painting of the Sistine Ceiling, when combining the two depictions they compliment each other in order to piece together a fairly adequate idea of Michelangelo’s inspiration.

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