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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Liberals Versus Conservatives

It still happens occassionally, but it's fairly rare.  Seldom is a painting in this day and age considered to be contoversial. Such works have, by now, moved into the realm of the more viable media of communication--usually the movies or television. When was the last time you recall a painting making the cover of Time or Newsweek?  Let me tell you, if you'd lived in Rome five hundred years ago you'd have been well aware of the controversy a painted work of art might generate.

Today, Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel Ceiling is almost universally beloved and admired, especially in the light of its restoration a few years ago.  Despite it's prodigious population of nude and semi-nude figures, even school children are aware of the story of Genesis told in such expressive splendor 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, for the first time in hundreds of years, we can get a feeling for the truly awesome impact this massive spectacle must have had on clergy and laity alike.

The Sistine Chapel Ceiling, 1508-12, Michelangelo
Awesome or not, there was controversy. Even Michelangelo was not without his critics.  There were the "conservatives"--those who were shocked by the widespread nudity Michelangelo employed, and in a church at that. Then on the other side of the proverbial coin, were the "liberals"--those who were equally shocked and 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 Drunkeness 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 angle.

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