The Sistine Secret: Michelangelo’s Forbidden Messages in the Heart of the Vatican by Benjamin Blech & Roy Doliner

25 Sep

Before reviewing the book itself, a word about the design of the hardcover edition. The dust jacket is made in such a way that it creates a pocket. In that pocket is a small poster of the Sistine Ceiling. It is a really interesting presentation. Only two problems with it. 1- I hate dust jackets and never keep them on the book (note, these are not priceless first editions we’re talking about). 2- The poster is a very poor reproduction, very out of focus and badly cropped. Speaking of out of focus photos, there are several in the body of the book. You’re not allowed to take photos inside the Sistine Chapel, but, apparently, the authors did and published the blurry results. On to the text itself…

This book is hard to categorize. It’s really a book-length thesis, without any research behind it. The theory is this: Michelangelo, due to his upbringing in the house of Medici and his early tutors, was exposed to the Jewish bible, Jewish traditions and, especially, Jewish mysticism. He was, according to the authors,  a Humanist before his time (300 years or so). In the grand tradition of Renaissance artists hiding messages within their paintings (true), they posit that Michelangelo hid Jewish symbolism throughout the Sistine ceiling, and eventually, the end wall. The theory is fascinating, and they are able to show some interesting images that seem to back up their theory. Some of their correlations are a bit thin, especially when they are establishing the background of how it was that Michelangelo came to acquire such knowledge. I’m not discounting their theory, I just feel that it’s not supported strongly enough by actual facts. They shroud it all in how dangerous it was for Michelangelo to clearly show his Jewish knowledge, which conveniently provides no proof he actually interacted with the people that he is supposed to have learned everything from. The “evidence” is really thin when they start finding Jewish letters made up by the poses of different figures. They are cherry-picking from the gigantic ceiling, finding pieces that fit their thesis. I always expect that the citations listing will be the same length as a chapter in the book, here, it’s 2 pages…4 if you also count the bibliography. It’s an interesting read, just disappointing to me for its lack of substance.

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Posted by on September 25, 2013 in Book Reviews


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