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Sunday, April 24, 2011

A Modern Michelangelo

For hundreds of years, Michelangelo Buonarroti's Sistine Chapel Ceiling has inspired artist far and wide of all nationalities, styles, and religions. In size, scope, and influence it may well be the most important painted surface ever created. For several generations after the Renaissance, it was "required reading" so to speak, for every would-be artist who ever hoped to make a major name for himself. For Artists like Raphael, El Grecco, Caravaggio, Rembrandt, and dozens of others who are, in themselves legendary artists, it was a major painting icon to be worshipped from afar, something akin to a glimpse of heaven itself. As time has passed however and styles changed, even with it's recent cleaning, the massive fresco has become more of a tourist attraction than any kind of force to be reckoned with in modern art...well, at least until 19-year-old Ryan Du Val visited Rome.

Ryan Du Val's Sistine Chapel Ceiling, 1998
The work had a profound effect on the Northwestern University sophomore. When he returned to his dorm room on campus at the Chicago university, he decided to paint a major portion of the work on the ceiling of his room. Lying on his back atop a portable scaffolding, much as Michelangelo did, Du Val covered the entire ceiling with major scenes from the Sistine Chapel. He must have had a very understanding roommate. Using color printouts from the Internet to guide his choice of colors, and ordinary house paint, he chose the creation of Adam as the centerpiece for his homage to God, man, and Michelangelo. God's outstretched finger points to a smoke alarm. Du Val considered that since he was paying $6,400 room and board per year, he ought to have a little freedom in terms of creative expression as to how he decorated his room.

A problem arose, however, when Ryan learned that the university planned to paint over his masterpiece during winter break.  Horrified, Du Val took the university to court...and won! In a deal brokered by a U.S. district judge, the painting will remain for at least the rest of the school year with the university looking into finding a way to remove the ceiling and preserve the painting to be donated to a school or museum. If not, Du Val will have to cover the cost of repainting the ceiling over the summer. For now, the artist is simply glad the whole thing is over. Perhaps the university is just lucky he didn't visit the Statue of Liberty.

(This item was first posted over ten years ago.  While Ryan Du Val does have a website,, I could find no recent information as to the fate of his mural.)

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