SAYONARA, MICHELANGELO: The Sistine Chapel Restored and Repackaged by Waldemar Januszczak

SAYONARA, MICHELANGELO: The Sistine Chapel Restored and Repackaged

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KIRKUS REVIEW

An exuberantly irreverent appreciation of the controversial restoration of the Sistine Chapel's ceiling frescoes, whose sly title alludes to the facts that Nippon TV underwrote the costs (in return for exclusive media rights) and that the vivid colors of the cleansed murals reveal Michaelangelo as an earthy, celebratory humanist, not the tortured, God-driven soul that some art historians have made of him. A former art critic and literary editor for The Guardian, Januszczak manages to cram a remarkable amount of absorbing material into his revisionist text. He provides, for instance, a start-to-present chronicle of what are, arguably, the greatest paintings in the Western world, plus a wealth of Renaissance, Roman, and Vatican lore. There's also an account of Christian missionaries' sins of commission in 17th-century Japan and a full measure of opinionated commentary. On a couple of occasions, moreover, the author essays sendups of Francisco da Holanda (a Portuguese who fabricated Michelangelesque dialogues) that enable him to poke pointed fun at the convoluted theories some pedants have advanced to explain the genius of the legendary sculptor, painter, architect, and poet. Though willing to speculate on influences, Januszczak is at pains to let the man's work speak largely for itself. Among other examples, he notes that the protocinematic sense of movement of the Vatican's classic Greek statue of Laocoon and his sons had an important effect on the artist's rendering of the frescoes. Despite enduring images left by The Agony and the Ecstasy, however, the author concludes that the Sistine Chapel's overhead paintings were neither a solo performance nor painful to execute. With the assistance of well-trained apprentices, he stresses, Michelangelo worked upright on scaffolding (of his own design) that today's high-tech restorers have found good enough to copy. Citing self. portraits to correct any notion that the short, broken-nosed artist looked like Charlton Heston, Januszczak also challenges the long-lived impression (nurtured by myopic scholars) that the biblical scenes are effusions of despair. An accessible, artful appraisal that rescues a Renaissance master whom elitists and some academics had held captive for over 400 years.

Pub Date: Oct. 25th, 1990
Publisher: Addison-Wesley