This is one of my favorite stories about a piece of art.
After Michelangelo was commissioned to paint “The Last Judgment” on the wall of the Sistine Chapel, the Vatican’s Master of Ceremonies, Biagio da Cesena, examined the painting in progress and said it was shameful for a sacred work to depict nude bodies, and that it was a painting more fit for a public bath than the Holy See.
In revenge, Michelangelo gave one of the devils in hell da Cesena’s face, and added donkey ears. (Lower right hand corner: he’s also got a snake wrapped around him. Close-up below the jump.)
Da Cesena complained to the Pope, but His Holiness replied that there was nothing he could do, because this was a devil and his authority as Pontiff did not cover hell.
The painting remains on the wall of the Sistine Chapel to this day, viewed by millions of tourists each year, and while Da Cesena was a rich and powerful man at the time, the only reason we even remember his name today is because Michelangelo snubbed him.
Aside from being hilarious in its own right, this story sits right at the intersection between art, sacred culture, and commerce. Michelangelo was a hired gun, paid a lot of money to make sacred art by people there is every reason to think he didn’t particularly like or respect, and the result has become a fixture of western culture. (more…)