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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.
A man's skeleton, found facedown with his hands bound, was unearthed near an ancient ceremonial circle during a high speed rail excavation project.
- A skeleton representing a man who was tossed face down into a ditch nearly 2,500 years ago with his hands bound in front of his hips was dug up during an excavation outside of London.
- The discovery was made during a high speed rail project that has been a bonanza for archaeology, as the area is home to more than 60 ancient sites along the planned route.
- An ornate grave of a high status individual from the Roman period and an ancient ceremonial circle were also discovered during the excavations.
Foul play?<p>A skeleton representing a man who was tossed face down into a ditch nearly 2,500 years ago with his hands bound in front of his hips was dug up during a high speed rail excavation.</p><p>The positioning of the remains have led archaeologists to suspect that the man may have been a victim of an ancient murder or execution. Though any bindings have since decomposed, his hands were positioned together and pinned under his pelvis. There was also no sign of a grave or coffin. </p><p>"He seems to have had his hands tied, and he was face-down in the bottom of the ditch," <a href="https://www.livescience.com/iron-age-murder-victim-england.html" target="_blank">said archaeologist Rachel Wood</a>, who led the excavation. "There are not many ways that you end up that way."</p><p>Currently, archaeologists are examining the skeleton to uncover more information about the circumstances of the man's death. Fragments of pottery found in the ditch may offer some clues as to exactly when the man died. </p><p>"If he was struck across the head with a heavy object, you could find a mark of that on the back of the skull," Wood said to <a href="https://www.livescience.com/iron-age-murder-victim-england.html" target="_blank">Live Science</a>. "If he was stabbed, you could find blade marks on the ribs. So we're hoping to find something like that, to tell us how he died."</p>
Other discoveries at Wellwick Farm<p>The grim discovery was made at Wellwick Farm near Wendover. That is about 15 miles north-west of the outskirts of London, where <a href="https://www.hs2.org.uk/building-hs2/hs2-green-corridor/" target="_blank">a tunnel</a> is going to be built as part of a HS2 high-speed rail project due to open between London and several northern cities sometime after 2028. The infrastructure project has been something of a bonanza for archaeology as the area is home to more than 60 ancient sites along the planned route that are now being excavated before construction begins. </p><p>The farm sits less than a mile away from the ancient highway <a href="http://web.stanford.edu/group/texttechnologies/cgi-bin/stanfordnottingham/places/?icknield" target="_blank">Icknield Way</a> that runs along the tops of the Chiltern Hills. The route (now mostly trails) has been used since prehistoric times. Evidence at Wellwick Farm indicates that from the Neolithic to the Medieval eras, humans have occupied the region for more than 4,000 years, making it a rich area for archaeological finds. </p><p>Wood and her colleagues found some evidence of an ancient village occupied from the late Bronze Age (more than 3,000 years ago) until the Roman Empire's invasion of southern England about 2,000 years ago. At the site were the remains of animal pens, pits for disposing food, and a roundhouse — a standard British dwelling during the Bronze Age constructed with a circular plan made of stone or wood topped with a conical thatched roof.</p>
Ceremonial burial site<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzMTk0Ni9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NDgwNTIyMX0.I49n1-j8WVhKjIZS_wVWZissnk3W1583yYXB7qaGtN8/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C82%2C0%2C83&height=700" id="44da7" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="46cfc8ca1c64fc404b32014542221275" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="top down view of coffin" data-width="1245" data-height="700" />
A high status burial in a lead-lined coffin dating back to Roman times.
Photo Credit: HS2<p>While these ancient people moved away from Wellwick Farm before the Romans invaded, a large portion of the area was still used for ritual burials for high-status members of society, Wood told Live Science. The ceremonial burial site included a circular ditch (about 60 feet across) at the center, and was a bit of a distance away from the ditch where the (suspected) murder victim was uncovered. Additionally, archaeologists found an ornately detailed grave near the sacred burial site that dates back to the Roman period, hundreds of years later when the original Bronze Age burial site would have been overgrown.</p><p>The newer grave from the Roman period encapsulated an adult skeleton contained in a lead-lined coffin. It's likely that the outer coffin had been made of wood that rotted away. Since it was clearly an ornate burial, the occupant of the grave was probably a person of high status who could afford such a lavish burial. However, according to Wood, no treasures or tokens had been discovered. </p>
Sacred timber circle<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzMTk0Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2MDAwOTQ4Mn0.eVJAUcD0uBUkVMFuMOPSgH8EssGkfLf_MjwUv0zGCI8/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C149%2C0%2C149&height=700" id="9de6a" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ee66520d470b26f5c055eaef0b95ec06" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="An aerial view of the sacred circular monument." data-width="1245" data-height="700" />
An aerial view of the sacred circular monument.
Photo Credit: HS2<p>One of the most compelling archaeological discoveries at Wellwick Farm are the indications of a huge ceremonial circle once circumscribed by timber posts lying south of the Bronze Age burial site. Though the wooden posts have rotted away, signs of the post holes remain. It's thought to date from the Neolithic period to 5,000 years ago, according to Wood.</p><p>This circle would have had a diameter stretching 210 feet across and consisted of two rings of hundreds of posts. There would have been an entry gap to the south-west. Five posts in the very center of the circle aligned with that same gap, which, according to Wood, appeared to have been in the direction of the rising sun on the day of the midwinter solstice. </p><p>Similar Neolithic timber circles have been discovered around Great Britain, such as one near <a href="https://bigthink.com/culture-religion/stonehenge-sarsens" target="_blank">Stonehenge</a> that is considered to date back to around the same time. </p>
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Research reveals a new evolutionary feature that separates humans from other primates.
- Researchers find a new feature of human evolution.
- Humans have evolved to use less water per day than other primates.
- The nose is one of the factors that allows humans to be water efficient.
A model of water turnover for humans and chimpanzees who have similar fat free mass and body water pools.
Credit: Current Biology
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