Saturday, 30 May 2015

God's Bottom on view in The Sistine Chapel ?

God creating the plants of the Earth
(Detail from UNRESTORED Sistine Chapel Ceiling)
Let me state up front I believe the Sistine Chapel to be THE greatest work of Western European art of all time - period. It is the ultimate fusion of painting, sculpture and architecture – a jaw dropping monumental magnificence,  an absolute joy, a delight to behold.

I’ve studied The Sistine Chapel for some time and found black presences on its walls  and in its tapestries but not in its ceiling or in its Last Judgment – until now.

However before I describe the possible new black presence let me share with you some something that has troubled me since I first started studying the Sistine Chapel – the presence of God’s bottom -  God disappearing  into the distance with his bottom in full view. As he creates the plants and trees:  bringing forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind Genesis 1:11.

There is no mention of that bottom in any of the Chapel’s literature I’ve read , the image is variously and tactfully described for example :
The figure of God that is seen from behind as He descends to create the plants of earth is …… disturbing  and mysterious. His hand , held out in a gesture of creation is drawn with a foreshortening as extraordinary as it is simple. [1]
The only other bottom that I know to be so prominent is any one the many to to be found in the works of the Baroque painter Fran├žois Boucher - for example his 1745 L'Odalisque.

Francois Boucher L'Odalisque 1745
The absence of discussion on God’s bottom is in complete contrast to the Last Judgement’s genitalia debate on the number of  penises on display. Discretion won that debate, as it concluded as soon as Michelangelo died in 1564 with most of the bottoms and genitalia in The Last Judgement being discreetly draped.

Methinks there are double standards at work here!

Pope Julius II's Master of Ceremonies Biagio de Casena
(Detail from The Last Judgement)
In the Last Judgment Michelangelo immortalizes the Vatican's Master of Ceremonies Biagio da Cesena who condemned The Last Judgment’s nudity. Michelangelo, angered at Cesena's criticisms, used his face for Minos, the god of the underworld, painting him with donkey ears and a snake with its body wrapped around  Cesean’s body biting his penis!

Michelangelo Self Portrait
(Detail for Sistine Chapel Ceiling)
Also the Sistine ceiling is packed full of what called Michelangelo his  ignudi aka the Classical nude male figure, including a young naked Michelangelo self portrait, his rumoured  homosexuality is well documented. Hence why I raise the question of possible double standards.

Detail from The Family of Darius before Alexander 1565-7,  Paolo Veronese
I had considered The Sistine Chapel’s God’s bottom to be a result of ageing, where the over painting  on a background image fades away with time from the corrosive effects of atmosphere, exposing the under lying background image. You can see this in the classical columns at the rear of Paolo Veronese’s 1565-7 The Family of Darius before Alexander ,which originally had a horse in front of the column, the  painting of the horse has faded over time allowing the background column to show through.

Similarly, God's bottom appearance might have been a result of the way Michelangelo was trained to paint. During the period one writer on how to paint described creating well proportioned figures in a pictorial space as follows - we first have to draw the naked body beneath  [the clothed figure], then cover it with clothes ..

Michelangelo Study for the drapery of the Erythraen Sybil

Above is a study by Michelangelo in which he clothes a naked  seated figure. So the underlying naked body might be revealed as the over painted clothes faded with time.

Even the restored image has that bottom clearly on display for all to see. Thus God’s bottom is not the result of fading, it is exactly as Michelangelo painted it.

God Creating the plants of the Earth
 (Detail from RESTORED Sistine Chapel Ceiling)
So Michelangelo has left us looking up God’s robe with his bottom in full view as he floats above us creating the plants of the earth, but please don't mention that bottom!

[1] Chastel, A, Okamura, T , The Vatican Frescoes of Michelangelo, Abbeville Press