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Film showing welcomes new Art Department Head

Staff Writer

Published: Monday, October 11, 2010

Updated: Monday, October 11, 2010 12:10


The art department celebrated its new Head, Lawrence Jenkens,’ appointment last week by showing a film on Michelangelo.  The event was sponsored by the Student Art League which functions as a discussion forum for art majors to organize activities. 

The film, titled “Agony and the Ecstasy,” was made in 1965 and stars Charleton Heston as Michelangelo.  It was adapted from novel to screen by Irving Stone and chronicles Michelangelo’s journey and transition from a tomb sculptor in Florence up to his painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.  All though he was a self-classified sculptor, the chapel was considered his greatest work of art. 

The chapel was painted in a fresco style, which in the art world refers to a mural painting done on walls or ceilings, usually consisting of plaster with a charcoal appliqué.  “Agony” follows in close detail a project that took roughly four years to complete.   As a result, the chapel features detailed figures of the natural world; the most notable of these figures being Michelangelo’s portrayal of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.  He painted nine stories from the Book of Genesis as well as the many ancestors of Christ. 

The film version shows Michelangelo having an epiphany about what to paint on the ceilings after he tried to paint what would be considered proper figures of the church.  He finds inspiration in natural world and decides to create a contrast between God and man and their meeting point.  In the film, his medium for the fresco ceiling is the Bible.  The film offered great insight for people who don’t frequent the art scene or know much about it.  Following the film, Jenkens lead a discussion where participants were encouraged to ask questions and debate the historical accuracy of the film.  

As with many history to book to film adaptations, there were some historical points that missed the mark, but that wasn’t the main idea that Jenkens wanted people to come away with.  “The Sistine Chapel is Michelangelo’s greatest work – his manifesto,” he remarked, post-film discussion.  Jenkens’ goal in showing this film was not to gripe with historical accuracy, but rather, to flesh out this idea of a manifesto.  A manifesto is often referred to as a public declaration of beliefs – thus, the idea of a manifesto as art is what Michelangelo, Jenkens argues, tried to achieve throughout his career.

Michelangelo strived to put everything he had into his art, which meant sacrificing his personal and familial life – no matter what it was, the making of art was more important to him.  “Michelangelo was a man that stood up and defended his art,” Jenkens affirmed; he was also part of a huge cultural shift in the art world because of the idea of manifesto.  Artists were no longer seen as “just an artist,” but rather an artist of God, doing the work of the Divine.  “In the world of art, artists are simply the tools.  This means that they are the ones who are able, through their passion and creativity, to make a statement about the divine, create a manifesto, or simply allow their voices to be heard,” said Jenkens.

“Agony and the Ecstasy” is one of the last novel-turned-films that harbor a strong focus on the divine spirit.  Shortly after this movie was made, the 1960’s emerged as the hip, new genre, with a single artist at the forefront – Andy Warhol.  Warhol started a movement where anything could be considered art, and likewise, any art could be reproduced.  The authenticity of the art world was beginning to come into question at this time, and still is today, especially with the huge shift from portraits to more the contemporary art of today.

To close, Jenkens offered these thoughts on Michelangelo: “The definition of art is the divine.  The artist is seen as the bearer of creation, and Michelangelo was at the forefront of art.  His peers referred to him as the ‘divine Michelangelo.’  He is certainly someone to be deeply appreciated and admired.”

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