Bringing a masterpiece back to life

For centuries, the Sistine Chapel frescoes were characterized by muted colors and dark shadows. Some people even assumed that Michelangelo, who saw himself as a sculptor rather than a painter, was more interested inform than color. But a major restoration project in the 1980s showed what a thorough cleaning can do. Over the course of a decade and in the center of a swirling international controversy, conservators used computer technology and chemical solvents to repair damaged sections and wipe away the accumulated grime. Their efforts uncovered a brilliantly colorful ceiling that revealed Michelangelo's genius anew. When the project was completed in 1990, the New York Times called the result "overwhelmingly beautiful." Restoration of Michelangelo's Last Judgment on the altar wall soon followed.

Mortal hero

Michelangelo's reputation was so immense that contemporaries lauded him as "the divine Michelangelo." But before his death the aging artist wrote to a friend that he was only "a poor man and of little value, a man who goes along laboring in that art which God has given me for as long as I possibly can."

Investigating the past

During the Renaissance, the humanists' efforts to study ancient texts and to purify Christianity [see p. 14] led to a number of groundbreaking discoveries. The classical scholar Lorenzo Valla (1406-1457) proved that the "Donation of Constantine"—a document granting the pope temporal power over the Western Roman Empire—could not have been written by the emperor Constantine but was a later forgery. Valla also shocked the church by arguing that the twelve apostles did not compose the Apostles' Creed and that the Latin Vulgate version of the Bible was full ...

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