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Current time:0:00Total duration:6:47

Video transcript

we're in the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican which has tremendous importance to Catholicism this is where the Pope will lead mass but perhaps most famously this is the room that the College of Cardinals uses to decide the next pope and every surface of this space is decorated from the beautiful mosaics on the floor the walls are painted with frescoes by early Renaissance artists the wall behind the altar was painted by Michelangelo later in his life and then of course the ceiling and everybody is looking up their necks are craned and of course it's magnificent we're here in the late afternoon on a day in early July the light is diffused and it makes those frescoed figures feel so dimensional they feel like sculpture and you can imagine what it was like when this was unveiled in 1512 after Michelangelo had worked on it for years how different how revolutionary Michelangelo's figures seemed well he was first and foremost a sculptor and it wasn't actually until a relatively recent cleaning that we knew his brilliance as a colorist but for him lying and drawing and the of carving figures out of paint was primary and you have this extraordinary ability to render both strength and elegant simultaneously they have a massiveness and a presence that is charismatic but there's also a sense of elegance and ideal beauty so let's describe what we're looking at okay probably the most important are the series of nine scenes that move across the central panels and those are framed by a painted architectural framework that looks real it doesn't look like paint and we start with the creation of the world God separating light from darkness I love that scene this primordial God light on one side of his body and the darkness of night on the other this Venetian separation and division to create order in the universe and then we move through to the creation of Adam the creation of Eve or the separation of the sexes and the creation of God's most perfect creature human beings and then the fall of human being in a sense the separation of good and evil man and women disobeying God causing the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden and then the far end by the entrance we see the scenes of Noah so these are all scenes from the first book of the Bible from the book of Genesis and it's so interesting because of course this is a Catholic Church and yet we don't see images of Christ but these Old Testament scenes lay the foundation for the coming of Christ and Christ is present in other ways not only does the disobedience of Adam make the coming of Christ necessary but when we look on either side of those central scenes we see the prophets and the sibyl's who predicted the coming of a savior for mankind the image of the Libyan Sibyl that we're sitting directly across from is spectacularly beautiful so Sybil's are these ancient pagan soothsayers who can foresee the future and according to the catholic tradition foretell the coming of Christ but look at the Libyan Sibyl look at the power of her body and look at the elegance with which she twists and turns there's that a sense of potential in the way that her toe just reaches down and touches the ground but seems as if she's in the act of moving and possibly of standing there's a presence and drama to these figures to the Libyan civil especially she twists her body in an almost impossible way and we can see if Michelangelo has articulated every muscle in the back and in fact we know that he used a male model for that figure I'm so taken with a color here when I first studied Michael Angelo we spoke only a line of sculptural form but of course after the dramatic cleaning of the Sistine Chapel those original colors their brilliance their delicacy came out and we see purples and go and oranges and blues and greens she of course is reaching back and presumably that's a book of prophecy that she holds and is a look of confidence and knowing on her face the absolute clarity with which she knows that Christ will come sitting on the architectural framework on the four corners of all of the central scenes are male nude figures that we refer to as Beauty I think this is really important because Michelangelo is not painting simply separate paintings but he's creating this enormous Li complex stage set with it which to create levels of reality and so for example the Libyan Sibyl seems as if she is seated amongst the architecture and then set next to her or bronze figures and then in the spandrels as you mentioned other scenes that seemed to recede into a kind of illusionistic distance and then relief sculptures on the architecture on either side of her and then seated above those big Moody and it's so clear that we're at this moment at the rediscovery of ancient Greek and Roman sculpture and Michelangelo was in a row the Vatican this is the high Renaissance and it's so interesting to compare of the optimism the elegance the nobility of the figures on the ceiling with a far darker and more pessimistic view that miglin's will paint decades later on the back wall the Last Judgement that's right well there's a big difference between 1512 a Michelangelo completes the ceiling and when he begins the Last Judgement the Protestant Reformation has begun and the church is under attack Michelangelo's world had been shattered but when you look at the ceiling you see instead all of the optimism all of the intellectual and emotional power that characterizes the high Renaissance in all of its newfound appreciation for the ancient world this was a moment of incredible promise and all of that comes shining through these figures and let's not forget that just a few doors away simultaneously Raphael is painting the frescoes in the papal palace so what a moment in Rome you