Michelangelo’s Sistine Ceiling: Uncovering Its Message

Michelangelo's Sistine Ceiling
Scaled Sistine Ceiling, Cappella


Michelangelo’s Sistine Ceiling astounds with its beauty and complex theological messaging. In this post we will be exploring the meanings behind the various elements of the ceiling and how they all come together to support a common theme of reconciliation.

I’ve already written about the drama and challenges Michelangelo faced when he was forced to take on this daunting project and you can read about it here.

Unsolved Mysteries of Michelangelo’s Sistine Ceiling 

Before his death Michelangelo burned all of his notes, cartoons, and other documentation that might have given us definitive answers about his art. This leaves us free to speculate on some of the odd details that he chose to include in the Sistine Ceiling. We certainly have clues, and many scholars have posited theories, but I would encourage you to let your imagination go and to explore the ceiling with curiosity and wonder.

The meanings behind the Sistine Ceiling have ignited debate amongst scholars and art lovers for centuries. The very fact that we can’t definitively answer the many questions the ceiling raises is just one of the reasons I love it so much. We are invited into a conversation with Michelangelo as we explore this creation, a conversation that is give and take. We bring our presuppositions and history, and Michelangelo brings his.  My hope is that this interaction enlarges our worldview giving us empathy and hope for humankind’s journey forward.

The Medici Court’s Intellectual Environment Shapes Michelangelo

At just 13 years of age Michelangelo was brought into the palace of the Medici in Florence and here he would be exposed to some of the greatest philosophers, theologians, poets, and artists of his day. One can only dream of the conversations that surrounded the young Michelangelo as his agile and creative mind was challenged during these formative years.

In the Medici court Christianity was being synthesized with Neoplatonic thought, and with mystical Judaism. During Michelangelo’s teen years, Florence was the heart of the Renaissance and there was a new freedom to explore theology in less traditional ways as both scholarship and art flourished.


Neoplatonic thought would shape and influence Michelangelo’s art and religious understanding for the rest of his long life.

According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Neoplatonism is most accurately described as “a grand synthesis of an intellectual heritage that was by then exceedingly rich and profound…. Neoplatonists together offered a kind of meta-discourse and reflection on the sum-total of ideas produced over centuries of sustained inquiry into the human condition.”

In very simplified terms, Neoplatonism absorbed and harmonized Greek philosophy, religion and literature covering nearly a thousand years. The Greeks, influenced by other world cultures, extensively explored the human condition and Neoplatonism brought all of these divergent streams of thought together under the unifying theme of the “One,” or “Consciousness” from which everything else emanated.  The church was able to co-exist with Neoplatonic thought by redefining the idea of the “One” with the God of the Bible.

Judaic Traditions

In the Medici court of his youth, we also know that Michelangelo was exposed to the teaching of the esoteric discipline of the Kabbalah. Kabbalah is a mystical Jewish school of thought.  Michelangelo’s extensive exploration of Old Testament themes in his art, particularly in the Sistine Ceiling, provides proof that respect for Judaic teachings heavily influenced and informed the artist’s understanding of his own Christian faith.

Michelangelo’s Sistine Ceiling Illustrates Restoration and Reconciliation

Melding Catholic faith, Neoplatonic thought, and Judaic teachings, Michelangelo’s famous ceiling provides the backstory for Christ who will come to restore creation and reconcile man to God.

Using a complex mix of narrative scenes, architectural details, bronze figures, relief sculptures, and nudes, Michelangelo creates a diverse, yet unified, work that has fascinated for centuries.

The Messaging of the rest of the Chapel

Entrance wall of the Sistine Chapel
From top to bottom: Lunettes, Portraits of Popes, Cycles of Moses and Christ, Painted curtains, where Raphael’s Tapestries will hang

When Michelangelo began to conceive of his ceiling, he was not working within a blank chapel. The walls of the Sistine Chapel already had two art cycles on the walls. I will be exploring these cycles in upcoming posts, but for now our goal is to understand how Michelangelo’s ceiling ties in with the rest of the chapel.

On the South wall of the chapel, we have a series of frescoes that explore the Life of Moses. On the North wall, we have a series that explores the life of Christ. These frescoes were done between 1481 and 1482 by some of the greatest artists of the Renaissance including: Sandro Botticelli, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Pietro Perugino, and Cosimo Rosselli.

The band of paintings between these cycles and the ceiling are portraits of Popes.

The original ceiling was painted blue and had golden stars painted upon it. When a large crack began to appear in the ceiling repairs had to be made and the ceiling repainted.

Michelangelo was then commissioned to paint the ceiling in 1508. (It was a contentious commission, and again you can read the backstory here.) Just a few years later Raphael was commissioned to design tapestries that would cover the lowest level of the chapel. And finally, in 1541 Michelangelo would again be commissioned to paint the Last Judgement on the wall above the altar.

The Physical properties of the chapelAerial view of the Sistine Chapel

The Sistine Chapel is built according to the description of Solomon’s temple in the Hebrew Scriptures. The temple was built during the reign of King Solomon on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Solomon’s temple was destroyed by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar. The Hebrew Bible in the Book of Kings includes a detailed description of the temple, including the Holy of Holies.  According to Judaic law, rebuilding the temple anywhere except the temple mount in Jerusalem is forbidden.

So why did Pope Sixtus design his chapel after Solomon’s temple. Roman Catholic’s believe in Apostolic succession. When disputes arose in the New Testament era, Paul and the other disciples would appeal to their authority as apostles. Several streams of the Christian faith teach that their Bishop’s continue this line of succession providing a continuity of teachings. The church is the vessel into which truth is poured, but the Bishops are the ones who carry out this task.

For both Sixtus and his nephew Julius II, much of their building campaigns and art installations are meant to emphasize this connection and solidify their power.

Fortunately for Pope Sixtus, the Hebrew Bible provided exact dimensions and details regarding Solomon’s Temple, so a copy could be built. The important parts for Michelangelo’s task, is that the vault of the ceiling is 68 feet in the air, and measures 133 by 43 feet of curved surfaces.

The Original Ceiling Plan

Julius II conceived of a plan to paint the Sistine Ceiling with portraits of the 12 apostles, then to fill in the open spaces with geometric ornamentation. Eager to elevate the glory and power of the Papacy, it makes sense that Julius would want to see the apostles in essence, ‘over’ everything else in the chapel. The Pope’s power is seen to come directly from the original apostles, specifically through Peter. This drawing of a direct line from the apostles to the Popes solidifies their position both in the church and politically.

Michelangelo’s Plan For The Sistine Ceiling
Michelangelo's Sistine Ceiling: Diagram of the plan

When called to paint the Sistine Ceiling, Michelangelo was already deep into another project for the Pope, designing his tomb and the 40 sculptures that would adorn it. The tomb had a complex schematic, and the potential to be the greatest achievement of Michelangelo’s artistic life. Michelangelo was crushed when forced to abandon that project to paint.

Therefore, it is not surprising that elements from the tomb made their way into Michelangelo’s schematic for the ceiling. A melding of ancient classical elements and Old Testament stories provided Michelangelo with a wealth of material. Michelangelo convinced the Pope to adopt his vision for the ceiling by emphasizing how it would illustrate the succession of power from the chosen people of Israel to the Roman Catholic Church as the instrument of God’s salvation and power on earth.

Michelangelo's Sistine Ceiling: The delugeThe Central Panels of Michelangelo’s Sistine Ceiling

There are 9 central panels that march down the center of the ceiling. These tell the main stories from the book of Genesis, the first book of the Bible: Creation, the fall of man, and the story of Noah.

These central frescoes give the backstory for the rest of the chapel. Jesus came to the earth to save humankind, and the story of people’s need for salvation is explained in the ceiling narrative.

Progressing through the works

As a visitor enters the chapel the panels appear in reverse order, beginning with Noah. This is because Michelangelo oriented the works to the view of the clergy who would be standing at the Altar end of the chapel. Everything is oriented around the people who have power, not the laity who would be entering from the other end of the chapel.

Others have suggested that the placement of panels creates a rewind effect, taking the viewer from the expression of the sinful nature, the drunken Noah panel, back to the powerful creation fresco, where man and God lived in harmony in the garden.

Additionally, as we progress from the final painting of Noah, back to the creation, we are witnesses to the progression of the artist as he becomes proficient in both fresco and working in the vast space of the chapel. The Noah panels are crowded with figures that are hard to make out when viewed from the ground. By contrast as we move toward the stories of creation the energy and precision of the paintings grows until the final figure of God creating is astounding in its beauty.

The stories in the main panels of Michelangelo’s Sistine Ceiling. Michelangelo's Sistine Ceiling,: Center panel of the Creation of the Sun, Moon, and Planets

  • The Drunkenness of Noah
  • The Great Flood
  • The Sacrifice of Noah
  • Adam & Eve’s Temptation and Expulsion from Paradise
  • The Creation of Eve
  • The Creation of Adam
  • God’s Separation of Land from Water
  • The Creation of the Sun, Moon, and Planets
  • God Separates Light from Darkness

You will note that the Noah stories are told out of sequence.  It has been suggested that Michelangelo initially conceived of these panels as a series of three triptychs. A triptych is a three-part altarpiece. Typically, these would have the main part of a narrative in the central panel, with two supporting stories on the sides. In the Noah sequence the flood dominates the center panel. Flanking the center panel are the two later stories of Noah’s sacrifice after the flood, and the drunkenness of Noah which comes near the end of Noah’s life.

After finishing the “Noah triptych” Michelangelo changed his approach and relates the rest of the panels in the order the stories are told in Genesis.

Michelangelo's Sistine Ceiling: The creation of AdamCreation of Adam in Michelangelo’s Sistine Ceiling

The most famous painting in the ceiling is the creation of Adam. In this fresco Adam is shown lying languidly, hand extended, waiting for life to be poured into him by the creator. The tension of the work is in the blank space between the two fingers that are about to touch. The total lack of background details focuses our attention on the drama that is playing out in front of us.

Interestingly, this panel is not the center panel, that spot is given to the creation of Eve.

Creation of Eve

It is possible that the reason for Eve being the center panel of the ceiling is simply that her story falls there when we put the panels together chronologically. However, given the extensive planning Michelangelo went to in every detail of the ceiling many have proposed other theories.

One proposal, that I find compelling is that Eve is the archetype of the Virgin Mary. Often Mary is referred to as the second Eve, just as Jesus is referred to as the second Adam.

The Sistine chapel is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, so it makes sense that she would be highlighted around the chapel in a variety of both obvious and subtle ways.

Connecting Adam and NoahNoah's Drunkenness' from Michelangelo's Sistine Ceiling

Another interesting note, as it connects all of the imagery, is the parallel that Michelangelo is drawing between Adam and Noah. You can see that Michelangelo has painted both figures in the same reclining position, connecting their stories as progenitors of the human race, and as figures who fell from grace and whose families and ancestors had to live with the consequences of their fall.

The Ignudi in Michelangelo’s Sistine Ceiling

As we view the main frescoes of the ceiling we are struck by the nude figures, or ignudi, that surround the panels. These figures have been a topic of speculation and confusion for 500 years. What Michelangelo meant to convey when painting them is conjecture. As far as we know, he never fully explained their presence.

Many believe they are merely filler, or perhaps meant to show man in his perfect form before sin entered the world. Others speculate they are there for no other reason than Michelangelo loved the male physique. However, I think this is an inadequate explanation for a variety of reasons.Michelangelo's Sistine Ceiling, Dividing the waters

First, the monumental size of the ignudi. While hieratic scale is less prominent during the High Renaissance, there is still an understanding that larger, imposing figures placed in prominent positions are meant to convey a message.

These are not small nudes painted amongst pillars and in corners. These are massive, imposing figures. Let’s examine the four that surround the panel of God separating light and darkness. The nude figures are as large, if not larger, than God. Additionally, the lower two figures break the picture frame and intrude into the scene, with one of the figure’s elbows mere inches from God’s robe.

I find it unlikely that these massive figures that surround the main paintings of the ceiling are meant to simply be extras with no other meaning.

There are over 20 ignudi positioned throughout the ceiling, surrounded by bronze medallions that are connected to oak garlands.

I will explore the ignudi in more detail in a future post, but for now I’ll share the theory I find most convincing and link the article by John Vedder Edwards below.

Throughout the ceiling Michelangelo includes both Biblical and pagan symbols. Most noticeable are the prophets and Sybils.  The Sybils were pagan prophetesses who were associated with holy sites. During Michelangelo’s life it was believed that the Sybils prophesied Christ coming.  Theologians emphasized this pagan endorsement of what would develop into Christianity as the reason mythical images could be used in churches.

Edwards, in his article, speculates that the ignudi are meant to represent the Dodona priests, who tended one of the most ancient oracles in Greece. According to the myth these priests hung bronze objects from oak branches in a sacred grove, and then interpreted their sounds. The Dodona priest are always described as being barefoot, which Michelangelo has highlighted by painting the ancient priests in the nude. He has surrounded them with the bronze medallions, strung from oak branches.

Bronze MedallionsMedallion on Michelangelo's Sistine Ceiling

The scenes and meaning of the bronze medallions are also in question. Some have suggested they are the 10 commandments, others prophetic visions. The medallion that I’ve pictured has been named, The Death of Uriah. However, that identifier is disputed, as are most of the medallions. It is difficult to determine if they are Biblical scenes, prophecies, or something else. The images could be multiple stories, just one of the many mysteries still unanswered.

As you can see in the diagram of the ceiling, the ignudi and the bronze medallions are repeating elements of the center panels.

Prophets and Sybils: Uniting Religious and Classical Imagery

As we move out from the center panels the next ring of figures are alternating Old Testament Prophets and the Ancient Sybils. Tradition holds that each of these groups foretold Christ’s coming.

Unlike the ignudi and the medallions, Michelangelo has labeled each of the prophets and the Sybils, so we do not have to guess at their identities. Each is pictured with a book or scroll which is presumed to be their prophecies. They are seated and placed within the spandrels over the windows.

The seven Old Testament Prophets are: Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah, Daniel, Jonah, Joel, and Zechariah.  Prophets served several roles in the Old Testament stories. Perhaps we connect them most strongly with foretelling future events, like the coming of the messiah. However, they also brought words of judgement concerning the events of their day. It is worth noting that Michelangelo includes Jonah on the ceiling, whose words of judgement and warning were for the gentile nation of Nineveh. Because of Jonah’s words Nineveh repented and was spared. Including Jonah points to the universal nature of the work Christ came to do, and by extension, the inclusive work that the Catholic Church was called to do. Many believe Michelangelo included messages in the Sistine Ceiling that were calling the church to account for its failings in much the same way that the prophets did Israel.

It has been noted that the Sybils appear to have been chosen so that they represented the known world at that time, again, emphasizing that Christ came for all peoples. The Sybils are connected to specific oracles in the ancient world. The five Sibyls Michelangelo included are the Erythraean, Persian, Delphic, Cumaean, and Libyan.

Fictive ArchitectureArchitectural detail of the Sistine Ceiling

Michelangelo’s ambitious theological scheme was placed physically inside an imaginary structure of columns, pillars, and arches. Viewers are hard pressed to determine which elements are physically part of the ceiling, and which are painted images. This fictive architecture is one of the many achievements of the ceiling.

The physical ceiling is actually fairly simple.  There are fourteen arched windows surrounding three walls of the chapel. The ceiling is a flattened-out barrel vault, making the entire ceiling a gentle curve. The windows transition into the vault with spandrels, or triangular spaces above the windows.

As we look at this close up of the ceiling as it would have appeared before Michelangelo began his work, we can see that over each window we have an arched flat space that is called a lunette. Above the lunettes there is a curved triangular space that transitions the wall into the vaulted ceiling, this is called the spandrel. Additionally, you should note that the spandrels that unite the corners of the buildings are larger in size.

The lunettes and center of the ceiling gave Michelangelo relatively flat surfaces to paint on, so those works are done with minimal foreshortening. (Foreshortening is when an artist “shortens” his lines to create perspective and realism in his drawing.)  However, in the spandrels and the area that holds the prophets and Sybils, Michelangelo had to modify his figures to account for the curve, and the distance from which they would be viewed.

As a sculptor Michelangelo had extensive experience with making these adjustments. If you have seen his famous sculpture, David, you may have wondered about the enlarged hands and head. Michelangelo was commissioned to create a statue that would sit atop a dome and be viewed from below, so he made the needed adjustments. Upon seeing the sculpture, the city decided to display it in the city square demonstrating the problems created when art is removed from its intended site.

So, the lunettes and spandrels gave Michelangelo distinct spaces for more individual scenes.

Spandrels and Lunettes in Michelangelo’s Sistine Ceiling
Detail from Michelangelo's Sistine Ceiling of Judith and Holofernes

All together there are 12 spandrels in the ceiling with the four corners being the largest. Each of the spandrels picture Jesus’ human family.

Scholars continue to debate which of the Bible stories the 8 smaller spandrels are meant to represent. Given Michelangelo’s background, these could be midrash or apocryphal stories.  We know that Michelangelo was providing a connection between the 9 main panels of the ceiling to the lower cycle of art on the work of Christ that surrounded the lower walls.

In the spandrels and lunettes Michelangelo continues to draw us through the Biblical narrative from creation to fall, to Christ’s birth by tracing his ancestors and the major events in Israel’s history.

The focus of this history is God continually reaching out to his people to restore and reconcile them to himself.

We see this expressly in the four largest works at the corners of the ceiling. Each of these pictures a salvific moment in Judaic history when Israel was saved from destruction. There is the young David conquering Goliath, Haman from the book of Esther being killed, Judith beheading Holofernes, and Moses raising the brazen serpent. Each of these prefigure the saving work that Christ will do on the cross.

The semicircular lunettes continue with the theme of Christ’s ancestors, although these portraits have tablets that list the traditional ancestors of Christ, so we are not left to wonder who they are.

The Colors

Michelangelo’s Sistine Ceiling  is particularly noted for the bright, clear colors that Michelangelo used. He used these bold colors in large swathes, and put contrasting colors against each other to create shadows, depth, and drama. The contrasting colors appear even brighter than they are, and from the floor, create a shadow effect.

As Michelangelo was known as a sculptor, not a painter, his use of color is remarkable. The ability to manipulate color and understand how the pigments would appear when dry and from a distance distinguished good painters from great painters, Many contemporaries hoped that Michelangelo would prove an inept colorist and his reputation would suffer accordingly. As it turns out his colors created such a sensation that they helped bring on the next great movement in art, Mannerism.

Pope Julius II, when he viewed the ceiling informed Michelangelo that he wouldn’t be finished until he had enriched the colors and added gold secco to the works.  Secco is when an artist adds paint to a fresco after the plaster has dried. It was common practice to go back over frescoes and add deeper pigments and gold after paintings had dried.  This process greatly added to the expense of a work, as the gold was real, and the pigments added were the most expensive available. That is why they were applied once the work was dry, so that their depth of color would not be diluted by the plaster. The addition of color and gold was an ongoing debate between Pope and artist. Michelangelo is reputed to have had a ready reply when the topic was raised saying, “Holy Father, in those days they did not wear gold; they never became very rich, but were holy men who despised wealth.”

Then Michelangelo dismantled the scaffolding. Once it was down no one wished to reassemble it and the paintings were left as they were.

RestorationDaniel before and after the restoration in Michelangelo's Sistine Ceiling

Restoration of works of art is a controversial topic. In the case of Michelangelo’s Sistine ceiling, 500 years has passed since Michelangelo wielded his brush and added color to plaster on the ceiling. Over that time soot, air pollution, and candle smoke has darkened and aged the works. Additionally, there have been leaky roofs, nearby explosions, and the passage of time. Fortunately for us, frescoes are extremely durable pieces of art as the paintings are actually part of the plaster.

Then in 1979 a 20-year restoration project began on the entire chapel. Centuries of soot was removed. When the ceilings were revealed in their original glory in 1999, many were disappointed. Visitors were used to the colors being darker, moodier, and had come to associate that look with the Italian Renaissance. When these bright, bold figures were revealed they found the change jarring. The original response was that the restorers had changed Michelangelo’s work, rather than revealing it.

Responses to the Ceiling

After the completion of Michelangelo’s Sistine ceiling in 1513, we have these words written by the art critic, Vasari, “When the chapel was uncovered, people from everywhere rushed to see it, and the sight of it alone was sufficient to leave them amazed and speechless.”

Of course, the ceiling had its critics. Primarily, there were members of the clergy who objected to the nudity depicted. This controversy has continued to this day.

Completion of the ceiling cemented Michelangelo’s position as the greatest artist of his time, and thereafter he was called il divino, or the divine one.  The ceiling became an academy for young painters, both during his life and after. Painters and sculptors flocked to Rome to view and learn from the master.

Michelangelo in Raphael's School of Athens
Raphael’s depiction of Michelangelo in his work, The School of Athens

Raphael’s Response

Even his archrival, Raphael, was influenced by, and incorporated elements of Michelangelo’s work. The story is, after viewing the ceiling, Raphael went back to the work he was currently doing and painted Michelangelo into the “School of Athens.” We can see him leaning on his block of marble, sketch book in hand. In a room full of people, Michelangelo is alone and obviously in his own head dreaming up his next great work.

Raphael's Prophet Isaiah
Raphael’s Prophet Isaiah

Later, when Raphael painted his work of the prophet Isaiah, the influence of Michelangelo can be clearly seen. In fact, there is a legend around the work that suggests that over time there came to be great respect between the two competing artists.

The story goes, Michelangelo heard Corycius, who had commissioned Raphael’s Isaiah complaining of the price, to which Michelangelo responded, “the knee alone is worth the price demanded.”

Modern Responses to Michelangelo’s Sistine Ceiling

Of course, even today people flock to the Sistine Chapel. They might also be there to view the incredible paintings on the walls, but most stand with their heads tipped back too awed by Michelangelo’s Sistine Ceiling to notice much else.

To summarize both the themes in the ceiling, and a more modern take on the artistry, I turn to words of Pope John Paul II spoken during a Mass in the Chapel on April 8, 1994. In this sermon the Pope refers to the ceiling as a sanctuary of the theology of the human body. I think Michelangelo would have been pleased with that description.

“It seems that Michelangelo, in his own way, allowed himself to be guided by the evocative words of the Book of Genesis which, as regards the creation of the human being, male and female, reveals: ‘The man and his wife were both naked, yet they felt no shame.’”

“The Sistine Chapel is precisely – if one may say so – the sanctuary of the theology of the human body…in witnessing to the beauty of man created by God as male and female, it also expresses in a certain way, the hope of a world transfigured, the world inaugurated by the Risen Christ, and even before by Christ on Mount Tabor.”

“With Michelangelo’s work of genius, our gaze is drawn to the message of the Prophets, to the pagan Sybils awaiting Christ, and finally to the origin of all: ‘In the beginning God created Heaven and Earth.’ With a unique expressive intensity, the great artist depicted God the Creator, His action, His power, to show that the world is not the product of obscurity, of chance or of the absurd, but that it derives from intelligence, freedom and from a supreme act of love. In that encounter between the hand of God and the hand of Adam, we perceive the contact between heaven and earth; in Adam God enters into a new relationship with His creation, and man is in direct contact with God, is called by Him, and is the image and likeness of God.

“O, happy age O, blessed artists who have been able to refresh your darkened eyes at the fount of such clearness, and see difficulties made plain by this marvelous artist! His labors have removed the bandage from your eyes, and he has separated the true from the false which clouded the mind. Thank Heaven, then, and try to imitate Michelangelo in all things.”

Raphael's tapestry
Raphael’s tapestry created for the Sistine Chapel

Artwork added to the Sistine Chapel after the completion of the ceiling

A few years after the completion of the ceiling, Raphael was commissioned to make the cartoons (sketches) for a series of tapestries that would hang in the lowest register of the chapel. It is reported that once the tapestries were finished and hung, they surpassed the beauty of the ceiling. Due to the fragile nature of tapestries, they were only brought out on very special occasions and then safely tucked away.

Today a few can be viewed under glass in the Raphael section of the Vatican Museums. However, in 2020, on the 500th anniversary of the death of Raphael, the tapestries were hung for one week in the Sistine Chapel. For that week, modern visitors had the opportunity to see the chapel as it was 500 years ago, when the best of the Italian Renaissance masters had each contributed to the decoration of this astounding building.

Additionally, 20 years after the completion of the ceiling Michelangelo returned to the Sistine Chapel to paint the altar wall with his version of the Last Judgement. By then Michelangelo’s style had continued to grow and expand, and we have a less restrained artist who gave free rein to his imaginative mind. Not allowed to sign the work, (artists were forbidden from signing works painted for the Vatican), Michelangelo painted himself into the work as the hanging skin of Saint Bartholomew, who legend says was skinned alive. Michelangelo's Last Judgement

More Sistine Secrets

If you are still with me, congratulations! If you are still curious about the Sistine Chapel and the divine Michelangelo, I have a book suggestion.

Benjamin Blech and Roy Doliner have written a fascinating book, The Sistine Secrets: Michelangelo’s Forbidden Messages in the Heart of the Vatican.   I will leave it to you to decide just how many secret messages Michelangelo left behind for those who might see them. The book is a fascinating journey through the chapel viewed through a different lens. With all great art there is always more to see and appreciate, and this book charts new territory, at least it did for me. I’m not sure if Michelangelo intended all of the messaging they propose, but it certainly provides a great deal to contemplate.

More of Michelangelo’s Sistine Ceiling Is On The Way

Over the next few months I will be writing more blogposts on the Sistine Chapel so please subscribe here and on my Youtube channel if you want to be updated when those posts are published.

Additionally, this coming Christmas Season I’ll be publishing a devotional entitled, The Artist as Prophet: Re-envisioning Advent. Inverting power structures, redefining cultural norms.  What art has to teach us about living into the incarnation.  Again, subscribe to stay updated. 



E.H. Gombrich, The Story of Art. (New York, Phaidon Press, 2016)

Hugh Honour and John Fleming, The Visual Arts: A History (Laurence King Pulishing Ltd., London, England 2018)

Professor Sharon Latchaw Hirsh, How to Look at and Understand Great Art, Lecture series, Great Courses

Professor William Koss, History of European Art  Lecture series, Great Courses

Sister Wendy Beckett, The Story of Painting (London, Dorsey Kindersley, 2000)

Marilyn Stokstad, Art History. (New Jersey, Pearson Education, 2005)

National Gallery of Art website  www.nga.gov

Metropolitan Museum of Art website  www.metmuseum.org

The Getty Center www.getty.edu

Old Testament Figures in Art, Edited by Stefano Zuffi. (The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles 2003

The Library of Great Masters: Michelangelo Scala/ Riverside 1989

And thanks to the Met and Wiki commons quality images for public domain art is now much more easily accessible.

Michelangelo Matter and Spirit

Michelangelo: The story of a Sculptor

Michelangelo: Artist & Genius Full Documentary






https://scholarcommons.scu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1002&context=a_ah  paper on the ancestor cycle of the sistine chapel ceiling

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