Michelangelo’s fresco on the Sistine Chapel ceiling turns 500 years old today! (10/31/2012) The Renaissance artist realized long ago, that the best way to make sure your painting does not get taken off the wall is to make sure your painting IS the wall.
People have praised his upside-down artistic achievement for most of these five centuries—though I believe it was El Greco who saw the ceiling and basically said, “Yeah, I coulda done better.” So instead of addressing the artistic achievement of the ceiling, I thought I’d reveal a few of its most endearing oddities and the corresponding Bible quotes.
This first scene I’ve chosen shows an unflattering angle of God as he creates a fairly un-majestic bush, recalling this Bible verse:
And again the Lord said, “Behold there is a place near me, and thou shalt stand upon the rock. And when my glory shall pass by, I will set thee in a hole of the rock, and protect thee with my right hand, till I pass. And I will take away my hand, and thou shalt see my back parts, but my face thou canst not see.” —Exodus 33:20-23
The next image is one you don’t see often in religious paintings: Noah as an old naked, drunk. Not to say that Michelangelo was plagiarizing himself, but it’s basically the “Creation of Adam” composition but with the Adam/Noah figure too wasted to point back to the finger that’s pointing at him. But hey, it’s a big ceiling; all those little kids touring the Vatican would hardly even notice the passed out 600-year-old man exposing himself, right?
He drank some wine, got drunk, and lay naked inside his tent. —Genesis 9:21
We also have Moses’ cure for those who were dying from being bitten by the fiery serpents that God was sending down to them. All you had to do back in those days was look at the brass serpent Moses put on top of a pole, and you would not die. I don’t know if this cure still works. Next time you’re bitten by a snake, you may want to ask to your doctor if Brass Serpent Beholding is right for you.
And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he was made well. —Numbers 21:9
One of the many prophets that Michelangelo painted was Ezekiel. The Book of Ezekiel has this underpreached treasure:
Your kerchiefs also will I tear, and ye shall know that I am the Lord. —Ezekiel 13:21
as well as this one:
And he said to me, “This is the house of the kitchens wherein the ministers of the house of the Lord shall boil the victims of the people.” —Ezekiel 46:24
And finally, this lovely scene of Judith, who, after beheading Holofernes, needed to stash the head somewhere!
And she struck twice upon his neck, and cut off his head, and took off his canopy from the pillars, and rolled away his headless body. And after a while she went out, and delivered the head of Holofernes to her maid, and bade her put it into her wallet. —Judith 13:10-11
So congratulations Michelangelo for having created such a lasting work of art, that still amazes to this day. 500 years is a very long time indeed. How long, you ask? 500 years is exactly the amount of time it took until Noah was finally able to father his three sons.
After Noah was 500 years old, Noah fathered Shem, Ham, and Japheth. —Genesis 5:32
I can only hope my paintings are still around in 500 years, but with medical advances and clean living, I’m quite confident that I will still be around fathering children to populate my space ark.