Dr. Utr. Iur.


Van den Broeke

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Sistine Chapel: Michelangelo

We will also discover that Michelangelo was a man “Avant la lettre”. Even today history shows that absolute rulers don’t like journalist and neither artists, see what happens today (2015) in the Islamitic State (ISIS). They are a danger for their existence. They are pushing the ruling cast to give up their privileges and push for change. We will see how Michelangelo gave the first pushes to change the church from beneath. A year after he finished the Sistine Chapel, the Tridentine Council would come together and creating a new Church, collegial and based on a God who had became man and died for our salvation: the art that will follow is the late renaissance and the Baroque. It is the art for promoting the Catholic Reformation, the Propaganda Fidei or the Propagation of faith.

But when it all started, things were quite different. A quite cynical story in the Decameron by Bocaccio in 1340 will help you to understand how the world and the Church was.

Decameron I, novel 2 .doc

Abraham, a Jew of Paris, is the friend of Giannotto di Civignì, who for years has urged him to become a Christian. One day Abraham departs for Rome, telling Giannotto that he wants to see the leaders of the Church – the Pope and the Curia – to decide whether or not he wants to convert. Giannotto, knowing of the debauched and decadent ways of the Roman clergy, fears Abraham will never want to convert after witnessing the corruption of the Church. But when Abraham returns, he converts, concluding that if Christianity can still spread even when its hierarchy is so corrupt, it must be the true word of God.

In this caustic story, the Jew converts because he logically concludes that only a religion supported by God could prosper despite the corruption of its leadership.

This was written during the exile of the Popes in Avignon

Among my sources, I opened also my mind to all the arts that surrounded Michelangelo. So, we will discuss the art of anatonomy, the art of architecture & perspective, the art of astronomy, and much more. Although Michelangelo took great care to strip the nude figures of their sensuality, the Last Judgement still caused offense to some members of the church. After his death in 1564 there were calls for it to be censored, largely because so many prints of the painting were circulating. As a result, Michelangelo’s friend Daniele da Volterra painted drapery on some of the figures.

This is a study for the soul emerging from a grave at the bottom left of the Last Judgement. (A lot of inspiration of the Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri. The detail in the drawing contrasts with other drawings for the same commission. This drawing is more detailed because of its position on the altar wall—it is one of the lowest and therefore most visible to the viewer. The chapel is rather gloomy and so any detail higher up would have been pointless. The foreshortening of the arms, elbows, wrists and hands in this image is remarkable. Michelangelo convinces us that the body is rising up from the grave with real force.

Michelangelo, A male nude seen from behind, 1540, black chalk, 21.99 x 30.48 cm, Italy

©  Trustees of the British Museum

I'o gia facto un gozo in questo stento

chome fa l'acqua a' gacti in Lombardia

o ver d'altro paese che si sia

ch'a forza 'l ventre apicha socto 'l mento.    4

La barba al cielo ella memoria sento

in sullo scrignio e'l pecto fo d'arpia.

e'l pennel sopra'l uiso tuctavia

mel fa gocciando un ricco pauimento.       8

E' lombi entrati mi son nella peccia

e fo del cul per chontrappeso groppa

e' passi senza gli ochi muouo inuano.         11

Dinanzi mi s'allunga la chorteccia,

e per piegarsi indietro si ragroppa,

e tendomi com'archo soriano.              14

Però fallace e strano

surgie il iuditio che la mente porta

ché mal si tra' per cerboctana storta.        17

La mia pictura morta

difendi ormai Giovanni e'l mio onore

non sendo in loco ben né io pictore.

(Note: the letter U is often V today)

I've got myself a goitre from this strain,

As water gives the cats in Lombardy

Or maybe it is in some other country;

My belly's pushed by force beneath my chi.

My beard toward Heaven, I feel the back of my brain

Upon my neck, I grow the breast of a Harpy;

My brush, above my face continually,

Makes it a splendid floor by dripping down.

My loins have pnetrated to my paunch,

My rump's a crupper, as a counterweight,

And pointless the unseeing steps I go.

In front of me my skin is being stretched

While it folds up behind and forms a knot,

And I am bending like a Syrian bow.

And judgement, hence, must grow;

Borne in the mind, peculiar and untrue;

You cannot shoot well when the gun's askew.

John, come to the rescue

of my dead painting now, and of my honour;

I'm not in a good place, and I'm no painter.

A finger, in the collective mind of human mankind, inspired artists all over the history: Steven Spielberg's ET, evokes the same energy:

A body in rest (of Adam), comes alive throught the positive energy of the Creator

Rapporti tesi, tra personalità massime, e che Michelangelo riassume in una lettera del 6 maggio 1513 (conservata alla British Library). «Dipoi, tornando a Roma, non volse anchora che io seguissi la sepultura, e volse che io dipigniessi la volta di Sisto, di che fumo d’achordo di tremila ducati actucte mie spese, chon poche figure semplicemmente. Poi che io ebi fatto certi disegni, mi parve che riuscissi chosa povera, onde lui mi rifece un’altra allogagione insino alle storie di socto, e che io facessi nella volta quello che io volevo...». Carta bianca, dunque. E se le sue figure, come quelle di Leonardo, restano contemporanee, la ragione è tutta nella loro potenza mitopoietica, in grado di scatenare e creare miti.

One of the best and comprehensive (modern) books that I have read about the Sistine Chapel, is written by the notorious English Art-historian Andrew Graham-Dixon. Don't blame me if I make use of it to explain you in a simple way Michelangelo & the Sistine Chapel. (click on the book to get to my Bibliography and find it on Amazon.com)

The other book that guided me, and I have no clue about the English edition, is written by one of the most famous historians of the 19th century: Herman Grimm. His book in German was adjourned in the 20th century. Not easy reading, and over 900 pages of VERY small characters. But the best: the poetry of Michelangelo, who surrounded him and much more. I believe nobody is reading it anymore, but it is a standard. (click on it for your kindle or to buy it in Amazon.

Let's start ...

A time-line of Michelangelo's life  (a summary) you find in the weblog: the life of Michelangelo. Here we will concentrate us on what he did in the Sistine Chapel and mostly why he did it in the way he did it, breaking with the tradition of how art was perceived in the 15th century. Michelangelo changed with his works the history of art. The past will Never return after Michelangelo.

I don't expect everyone to agree with me, when I make my conclusions, but at least, I hope it will help you to make your own conclusion about a man, who reluctantly started, stood fiercely up against popes, expressing his own utmost beliefs about human mankind, made after the image of God, and how he should be.in a better world.

Herman Grimm

For sure they were tumultuous years for the Catholic Church, and often the leaders of the Church were everything, but not Jesus on earth.

They were rather God on earth, taking the prerogatives of God as their own power. Only God can judge, his ministers have only to seek to give guidance so that we can find Him. His grace is there, for everybody, and for free !! We only have to accept it. And we are all called for sainthood. But the pope acted like God. He could send you to heaven (the practice of indulgences, where you could buy your heaven), or sending you to hell by excommunication. A practice which most rulers of Europe feared immensely.

As little boy, 12 yrs. old, I picked this book up in the local library. I loved the cover. No idea of the "shades of Grey"  in the book. When my father saw what I brought home, he said: "read it", "but when you finished it, we will have a talk".

I was scandelised, but it gave my father the opportunity to talk about sexuality with a young teenager.

Andrew Graham-Dixon

Giorgio Vasari Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, 2nd version with Condivian corrections.

full text click here

Ascanio Condivi 1553, Vita di Michelagnolo Buonarroti

Full text click here

Michelangelo was the first artist who had seen in his lifetime two biographies about his life.

Of course, Michelangelo supervised the edition ... and had cut out some negative elements, enlightening the praise he received ...

However, you should read them (click here for link to bibliography where you can buy them on Amazon.com)

My sources ....

The beheading of James Foley, journalist 2015 by the Islamitic State (IS)

Anatomical elements in Michelangelo


A poetry, written by Michelangelo towards the end of his enormous task of painting the vault (1512) of the Sistine chapel, explains his suffering and reveals his humility.