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The Morning Report - 4/29/20 | Main | The Morning Rant
April 29, 2020

Mid-Morning Art Thread [Kris]

micelangelo flood1.jpg

The Flood
Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni

To call the Sistine Chapel ceiling a masterpiece is to rob the Ceiling of a special honor very few works of art possess. “Masterpiece” seems too simplistic for something that is beyond description and is one of the greatest works of art in the world of all time. While his name was already secure among the greatest artists of the Renaissance, after the four years it took to create this massive work, Michelangelo became immortal. Unfortunately the work is too large to give it its due here, so I will discuss one scene, “The Deluge”. The entire work should be understood as one whole piece, however, with one single message — it is a enormous allegory of Jesus Christ.

Contrary to popular legend, the artist did not paint the Ceiling on his back; he stood the entire time, and did it almost entirely alone, in reverse narrative order. Michelangelo started at the post-Flood “Sacrifice of Noah” end and ended at “God Separating the Light from the Dark” end. Because of this “The Deluge” is still relatively early in Michelangelo’s evolving style. If you look at the entire ceiling, the Zacharias/Flood side is less complex in terms of composition, form and color than the Jonah/Creation end.

Despite what I just wrote, “The Deluge” is still complicated in terms of pieces involved. It involves the most figures, with each still an individual. The Ark is afloat, a storm rages, and the waters are about to cover the last bits of land on earth. Desperate people cling to anything to survive—land, objects, each other. Michelangelo kept the landscape simple, just large areas of plain blues and green. A lone cloud rolls through the sky and there are only two trees in the entire work. The focus is the people and humanity in its death throes.

There are five groups of people, each one shows a different reaction to the end of the world. The group in the extreme left foreground are huddled around the dead tree. To me they show acceptance of their fate, although one still tries to climb higher. They embrace each other or talk to each other. The sitting mother in the front with the screaming child is the most pitiful. Her child wails behind her but she doesn’t react. Her entire body language is exhaustion and submission, and she is unresponsive to anything going on around her. She can go no farther so she can go no further.

The second group is climbing up the mountain in the foreground middle. They are still fighting. They still have hope because they have not abandoned their possessions yet. I like the couple leading this group. The man shows determination. He is carrying his wife/daughter on his back. He will not leave her. The third group on the rock outcropping is fear. They huddle together under a makeshift shelter. They are huddled together like bodies the pier at Pompeii—nowhere else to go, nowhere to hide. A man carries his dead son because he doesn’t know what else to do. The range of emotions is greatest here. The figure in front, leaning on the keg, folds in on himself. He neither helps nor looks at anyone else. His terror has frozen him.

The group in the boat is self-preservation. It probably holds the members of one family. The boat has more than enough room, but those in the boat beat off swimmers trying to get aboard. A group has made it to the Ark and cry out to be let in. Someone attempts to chop his way in with an ax. His act is blind desperation. If he is successful, all life will parish when the ark sinks. Another figure uses a ladder to try to climb in one of the upper windows.

The work uses lines and dynamic diagonals to emphasize the action and deep emotions of the people. Beginning front-center, the line of the land gently rises to the left. It then takes a sharp swing to the upper right as the tree spreads out over the water, leading to the Ark, then continues down through the other boat, through the man with the dead son. The people on the rock reach out and grab the line which continues thought that group, finally ending at the right edge frame and the man being pulled out of the water. This swirling line recalls a garment blowing in a windstorm and enhances the action and drama. Michelangelo also painted whirling garments to show the storm but they also represent the spinning emotions of the figures. Only the Ark has quiet, stable vertical and horizontal lines. Only the Ark is safe.

The scenes on the Ceiling are not in narrative order. In Genesis, the Flood comes before the Sacrifice of Noah, but Michelangelo chose to depict the Sacrifice first, then the Flood, then Noah’s drunkenness because the entire ceiling is a portrait and allegory of Jesus Christ. “The Deluge” symbolizes Christ’s death and resurrection, Christian baptism, and the wiping away of sin on the earth.


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posted by Open Blogger at 09:30 AM

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