Tag Archives: life

‘Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling’ by Ross King – review

Michelangelo and the Pope's CeilingMichelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling by Ross King

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After Pope Julius II saw the Pieta installed for the tomb of a French cardinal, he wanted the same awe-inspiring adornment for his tomb. Hence, Michelangelo Buonarroti from Florence was summoned for the work. That’s how Michelangelo at age thirty-three reluctantly embarked on his Herculean task of frescoing the vault of the Sistine Chapel. This book by Ross King recounts such background stories of the making of the Sistine Chapel frescoes and descriptions of the personal traits of Michelangelo.

Michelangelo’s work on the frescoes resulted from part Divine Providence of endowing the humanity with an awe-inspiring masterpiece of art to delight the senses of mankind throughout the ages, and part secular ambitions to mark the names of both the commissioner and the artist themselves. Pope Julius II also wanted to renovate the Sistine Chapel that had been used as a living quarter for the guards, a fortress against papal enemies, and a jail. As no one pours new wine into old wineskins as said in the bible, the pope’s plan to revert the chapel to its original place of worship, which made him drop his tomb project, was met by his idea of frescoing the vault in its entirety. Michelangelo, who was a breadwinner of his family, accepted the commission with good amount of salary and commenced four-year of labor of woes and dramas on the vault of the chapel.

There are revealing truths that should be known concerning the process of frescoing the Sistine Chapel as follows: Contrary to popular belief that Michelangelo did the work while lying prone on his back, he worked with his upper body bent backward like a bow. Also, it wasn’t done by Michelangelo alone but by a team of his assistants chosen by Francesco Granacci, a close friend of Michelangelo, even though he was innately a solitary worker who had a strong distrust of others who worked with him.

Michelangelo was said to be a man of  homely appearance without sociability in comparison with his contemporary and rival Raphael Santi whose beautiful look, even-tempered, and sweet character topped with artistic ingeniousness endeared him to the many. Also, Michelangelo’s direct altercation with Leonardo da Vinci as described in this book was amusing to discover. Both of the masters of the arts did not like each other publicly, but it was on the part of da Vinci who instigated such heated feud. He disregarded sculptors, including Michelangelo, as mechanics in the appearance of unkempt bakers.

It is also interesting to pay special notes on the figures Michelangelo used for the frescoes, which shows his ingenuity of selecting unique subject matters distinguished from his contemporaries. To illustrate, he used 7 prophets from the Old Testament and 5 sibyls from pagan myth to decorate the Sistine vaults. He was fascinated with prophetic knowledge of the sibyls who had dwelt in sacred shrines and predicted the future in fits of inspired madness. This offered a riveting link between the sacred and the profane, the church and the esoteric pagan culture by reconciling pagan mythology with orthodox Christian teachings.

Readers will find that the position of a painter/sculptor was not esteemed highly; he was more of a skilled laborer, a craftsman given exact orders how to produce his work by his commissioner or patron. In fact, he image of a solitary genius who would wield his brush and pallets to portray his world of imagination from the fathoms of his soul was a romantic fable. In Michelangelo’s time, an artist’s creativity was fettered by the demands of marketplace or his patron. Nevertheless, Michelangelo often disagreed to the pope’s own artistic direction and even had a temerity of broaching the shipping charges incurred in transporting the marbles from Carrara for the aborted tomb project at a dinner table with the pope .

All in all, this book has its magical way of transporting readers to Italy in the early 16th century and invites readers to meet with Michelangelo as he was without sprucing up his personal character. Upon reading this book, I avert that Michelangelo is an artist bizarre fantastico whose magnum opuses on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel have both the beauty and the sublime that produce in the spectator a kind of astonished wonder so formidable and so fantastic transcendent of time and place.

Witching Hour

s-l300The witching hour was nearing to cast its spell on the night under the aegis of Artemis, the goddess of the moon, and the passengers on the last train to East Ventura were inwardly invoking the power of Patience for a high hope for a low heaven – they all just wanted to go home after a hard day’s work, and no more. These aggregates were all bound by the same fate of being held up as hostages to the less practical and more unnecessary delay due to their inapt handling of one unruly passenger on board at Moorpark Station. The force of one unruly passenger carried the aggregates over the edge of their collectively simulated sanity and suspended their precious time to be spent at home. This nightly act of daily drama in the life of a commuter was in fact a repertory regularly put on stage by a company entitled Metrolink. It was performed yet again last night for an hour. Without Applauds, of course.

Since I moved to California last October from New Jersey following the footsteps of the nineteenth century emigrants from the East to the West via mules-driven wagons on the Oregon trail, I have been trying to make myself adjusted to the Californian way of life in every sundry aspect. But the most Promethean challenge to overcome is commuting to and from work via train, and my whole life now seems to be run by train schedules operated by Metrolink, the Southern California’s commuter railway company. It takes about three good hours round trip to and from Union Station in Los Angeles without delays, so basically my free time after work during weekdays is to be spent on the train without much personal time at home in the evening. Let’s say the commuting time is agreeable at will due to my economic activities, but any such delays, including the aforesaid and waiting for an Armtrek train to pass by on the trails for about thirty minutes, are hard to receive my magnanimous understanding. And it seems that the last East Ventura bound train in the evening is set for giving me a series of trials by ordeal that I need not anymore. Woes to those who are already burdened with the yoke of needs.

Call it a commuter’s blues or soliloquy, but whenever I am faced with another ordeal of habitual delay that seems to become part of my Immigrant Song in the Wild West, I think of the following Shakespeare’s quotation tinged with wits and pathos that speaks of our moments in life, such as last night’s episode of “Unruly Passenger at Moorpark Station”.

And so, from hour to hour, we ripe and ripe.
And then, from hour to hour, we rot and rot;
And thereby hangs a tale.

this was a woman!

Josephine Baker was surely more than just a pretty dancer who thrived on her exotic charms and wild popularity from her adoring admirers; she had the guts to talk back to the authority that ignored her presence, the voice to speak out against injustice, the pride of who she was and the will to fulfill her meaning of life despite her hardships. And she did all of this with a graceful choreography of decencies and humanity in style.

Reading of the intriguingly informative article about this strong-willed, headstrong woman has confirmed me in the universal credo that no matter where you came from, with the best of what you possess and the will to meaning by actualizing your valuable attributions, you can rise above biological and social planes deemed to stunt your growth into what you want to be. In fact, Baker’s resilient spirit against social discrimination and personal hardships epitomizes what Nietzsche advised to the suffering humanity:” That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” In this sense, the figure of Baker transcends a statue of civil right activist that some people like to erect for pontificating about their political ideology and becomes a universal model of humanity as she herself practiced during her lifetime. For it was not that she loved the socially disfranchised people of her kind, but that she loved mankind more.

Baker’s life was exciting, and the elements so wonderfully mixed in her that parliament of humankind might applaud her to the very echo and proclaim to the world “This was a woman!” For all her acts of courage and fortitude gracefully surrounding her person, those thousand decencies she exemplified as a citizen of the world flew from all her words and actions, really. 

 

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