The Sistine Chapel was intended to be decoded, the authors believe
Michelangelo 'hid secret code in Sistine Chapel'
By Malcolm Moore 20/06/2008
Michelangelo hid a secret code in the frescoes of the Sistine Chapel made up of mystical Jewish symbols and insults aimed at the pope, according to a new book. The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, which the renaissance artist worked on for four years in the early 16th century, is actually a "bridge" between the Roman Catholic Church and the Jewish faith, according to The Sistine Secrets: Unlocking the Codes in Michelangelo's Defiant Masterpiece.
The book, which is already on the New York Times bestseller list, is the work of Rabbi Benjamin Blech, an associate professor of Talmud at Yeshiva University in New York, and Roy Doliner, a tour guide at the Vatican. Scanning through the arrangement of figures on the vast 14,000 square foot ceiling, the authors have found shapes that correspond to Hebrew letters.
For example, the book states, the figures of David and Goliath form the shape of the letter gimel, which symbolises g'vurah, or strength, in the mystical Kabbalah tradition. Kabbalah is a set of ancient esoteric teachings which are meant to decode the inner meaning of the Tanakh, or Hebrew Bible, and to explain the reasons for Jewish religious observances.
On the opposite wall, the scene showing Judith and her handmaiden carrying the head of the Assyrian general Holofernes is in the shape of the Hebrew letter chet, which represents chesed, or the characteristics of "loving kindness". "There are so many layers of meaning on meaning, and most of it is from the Jewish tradition," said Mr Doliner on an American television programme.
Rabbi Blech added that all the figures in the nine scenes on the ceiling are Jews. "He emphasises only Old Testament figures in the entire ceiling, and what he was trying to say was: Why have we ignored our true roots?" he said.
The book adds that the tree of life in the fresco is not, as usually thought, an apple tree, but instead a fig tree according to ancient Jewish tradition. The authors believe the entire Sistine Chapel, which they say is built to the same proportions as the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, is a "lost mystical message of universal love" which was intended to be decoded. The authors believe Michelangelo picked up his knowledge of Judaism while at the court of Lorenzo de Medici in Florence. In addition, they say there are several attacks on Pope Julius II, who commissioned the work, embedded in the painting. Disgusted with papal corruption, they think Michelangelo painted the prophet Zechariah in the pope's likeness. Behind him, one angel is "making an extremely obscene hand gesture at the back of his head."
Critics of the new book point out that there is no record in Michelangelo's extensive and well-preserved writings of any secret code in the ceiling. Dr Arnold Nesselrath, a curator at the Vatican museums said there was no way that Michelangelo could have painted any of the ceiling without the pope's express consent. Marco Bussagli, an art history professor at Rome's La Sapienza university, said the revelation of "anti Catholic and anti-Christian" messages on the roof "suggests that the Dan Brown syndrome has struck again." Mr Brown is the author of the controversial book, The Da Vinci Code, in which he writes that Jesus was secretly married to Mary Magdalene.
The two authors are not the first to have "seen" a secret Michelangelo code. In 1950, a Venezuelan diplomat named Joaquin Diaz Gonzalez wrote a pamphlet arguing that an outline of the face of Dante, the poet, was hidden in the arrangement of the figures in the Last Judgement. He also "saw" a giant depiction of Jesus on the cross. In 1990, Frank Meshberger argued in the Journal of the American Medical Association that the central panel, showing God and Adam reaching out to touch each other was in the shape of a brain and spinal cord. In 2000, Dr Garabed Eknoyan saw the shape of a kidney in the painting, while in 2005 two Brazilian doctors found hidden body parts throughout, including a bronchial tube hidden in the tree trunk in the panel showing Eve's Creation.
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