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Separating Michelangelo the Man and Artist from the Myth
Five hundred years ago today, Michelangelo unveiled The Sistine Chapel Ceiling to Pope Julius II. The next day, All Saints’ Day 1512, the Pope inaugurated the newly decorated chapel with grand pomp and circumstance. With half a millennium between us and that momentous debut, it’s hard to imagine what went through the minds and hearts of those who first viewed perhaps the greatest single work of art in human history. They discovered Michelangelo’s greatness that day in a way we may be incapable of today, mired in the myth of Michelangelo. In William E. Wallace’s Discovering Michelangelo, a renowned Michelangelo expert guides us through the masterpieces, zooming in on fine details and sharing now-ancient stories to bring forth Michelangelo the man and giving us that chance to discover the artist with new eyes.
Discovering Michelangelo helps focus the mind of the viewer on the act of discovery by using die-cut windows and overlay pages to put the fine details of a work under Wallace’s critical microscope. Wallace’s Michelangelo: The Complete Sculpture, Painting, Architecture remains my go-to Michelangelo reference shelf book, so I had high hopes for this new, slightly differently targeted book. Discovering Michelangelo met and exceeded my expectations for a book that would not only introduce the artist to new audience, but also re-introduce works to those who thought they knew them but never knew how little they really knew. Step into Dr. Wallace’s classroom and be prepared to learn, no matter who you are.
Before diving into the stories of the art itself, Wallace first gives us Michelangelo’s story. Calling Michelangelo “one of the best-documented artists of all time,” Wallace explains how this “wealth of information offers a fresh perspective on his life and relations with family, friends, patrons, and professional associates. In contrast to the romantic conception of the artist as a lone genius, contemporary scholars tend to view Michelangelo’s life and work within a broad historical and social context.” Whereas previous scholars tended to tear the artist from his time, Wallace follows the contemporary trend of putting Michelangelo in his proper place, where he shines brighter than ever with no risk of getting lost in the Renaissance crowd. Wallace’s short biography of Michelangelo provides just enough information for a neophyte to hit the ground running when it comes to the images, while whetting your appetite for learning more. Unashamedly affectionate for his subject, Wallace twins Michelangelo the artist and aristocrat in a way that makes him unforgettably royal.
When you finally get to the art itself, arranged in chronological order to show Michelangelo’s growth, the humanity of the work is unmistakable. Wallace’s wealth of anecdotes adds layers of human interest to these spiritually charged, otherworldly pieces. I’ve looked at the Pietà countless times and even seen it in person, but I’d never noticed the horizontal line scored into the Virgin Mary’s forehead, which, as Wallace points out, “coincide[ed] with the edge of shadow cast by her wimple-like head covering” thus allowing “the light to suggest the presence of a thin, translucent veil” sculpted out of solid marble. Michelangelo’s Risen Christ takes on a whole new feel when you learn from Wallace that contemporaries admired this savior’s sublime knees, with Sebastiano del Piombo remarking that “the knees of the Risen Christ are worth all of Rome.” Such tiny tidbits quickly amass into a mountain of information serving as a tribute to the artist as much as to the scholar.
In addition to the content of the book, Wallace’s writing itself will entertain and inspire. Writing of The Creation of Adam from The Sistine Chapel Ceiling, Wallace muses, “Never has the second commandment—not to make any likeness of God—been so obviously and successfully contradicted.” “As God created man,” Wallace offers, “so has Michelangelo boldly invented God from his how imagination. Godlike, the artist forged the image of the deity for all western Christianity.” Even when Michelangelo played God in creating the “face” of God, Wallace manages to bring that higher power down to a human level, albeit the rarely attained level of Michelangelo. In the end, the message of Discovering Michelangelo is that we can discover in Michelangelo’s art aspects of his creativity, his boldness, his passion, and his faith in ourselves.
Goethe said in 1787 that “Without having seen the Sistine Chapel, it's not possible to have an idea of what one man is capable of doing.” Without reading Discovering Michelangelo by William E. Wallace, it may not be possible to have an idea of what Michelangelo the man—not the myth—was capable of doing. Looking through these die-cut windows at over-familiar artwork in Discovering Michelangelo is the perfect window onto Michelangelo’s beautifully human, artistic soul.
Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti get stuck in an infinite wedding time loop.
- Two wedding guests discover they're trapped in an infinite time loop, waking up in Palm Springs over and over and over.
- As the reality of their situation sets in, Nyles and Sarah decide to enjoy the repetitive awakenings.
- The film is perfectly timed for a world sheltering at home during a pandemic.
China moves to Russia and India takes over Canada. The Swiss get Bangladesh, the Bangladeshi India. And the U.S.? It stays where it is.
What if the world were rearranged so that the inhabitants of the country with the largest population would move to the country with the largest area? And the second-largest population would migrate to the second-largest country, and so on?
A recent analysis of a 76-million-year-old Centrosaurus apertus fibula confirmed that dinosaurs suffered from cancer, too.
- The fibula was originally discovered in 1989, though at the time scientists believed the damaged bone had been fractured.
- After reanalyzing the bone, and comparing it with fibulas from a human and another dinosaur, a team of scientists confirmed that the dinosaur suffered from the bone cancer osteosarcoma.
- The study shows how modern techniques can help scientists learn about the ancient origins of diseases.
Centrosaurus apertus fibula
Royal Ontario Museum<p>In the recent study, the team used a combination of techniques to analyze the fibula, including taking CT scans, casting the bone and studying thin slices of it under a microscope. The analysis suggested that the dinosaur likely suffered from osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer that affects modern humans, typically young adults.</p><p>For further evidence, the team compared the damaged fibula to a healthy fibula from a dinosaur of the same species, and also to a fibula that belonged to a 19-year-old human who suffered from osteosarcoma. Both comparisons supported the osteosarcoma diagnosis.</p>
Evans et al.<p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The shin bone shows aggressive cancer at an advanced stage," Evans said in a <a href="https://www.rom.on.ca/en/about-us/newsroom/press-releases/rare-malignant-cancer-diagnosed-in-a-dinosaur" target="_blank">press release</a>. "The cancer would have had crippling effects on the individual and made it very vulnerable to the formidable tyrannosaur predators of the time."</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The fact that this plant-eating dinosaur lived in a large, protective herd may have allowed it to survive longer than it normally would have with such a devastating disease."</p><p>The fossilized fibula was originally unearthed in a bonebed alongside the remains of dozens of other <em>Centrosaurus </em><em>apertus</em>, suggesting the dinosaur didn't die from cancer, but from a flood that swept it away with its herd.</p>
Dinosaur fibula; the tumor mass is depicted in yellow.
Royal Ontario Museum/McMaster University<p>The new study highlights how modern techniques can help scientists learn more about the evolutionary origins of modern diseases, like cancer. It also shows that dinosaurs suffered through some of the same terrestrial afflictions humans face today.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Dinosaurs can seem like mythical creatures, but they were living, breathing animals that suffered through horrible injuries and diseases," Evans said, "and this discovery certainly makes them more real and helps bring them to life in that respect."</p>
Join the lauded author of Range in conversation with best-selling author and poker pro Maria Konnikova!
UPDATE: Unfortunately, Malcolm Gladwell was not able to make the live stream due to scheduling issues. Fortunately, David Epstein was able to jump in at a moment's notice. We hope you enjoy this great yet unexpected episode of Big Think Live. Our thanks to David and Maria for helping us deliver a show, it is much appreciated.