Saturday, July 4, 2009

The look in the eyes of Saint Peter: What did Michelangelo mean it to mean?

Doctor Robert Moynihan again from the newflash quoted in an earlier post:

"Inside the Pauline chapel are two enormous frescoes which Michelangelo did just after he finished the Sistine Chapel. One depicts the crucifixion of Saint Peter. The other depicts the conversion of Saint Paul. And these two frescoes are among the most powerful works Michelangelo ever executed. (Many artists would have depicted the death of Saint Paul alongside the death of Saint Peter; or the conversion of St. Paul alongside the the calling of St. Peter; but Michelangelo chose to depict the Conversion of Paul and the Crucifixion of Peter - the beginning of faith, and its end in persecution and martyrdom).

The striking thing is that Michelangelo painted the face of Peter in such a way as to have Peter's eyes look directly towards the doorway. When a Pope comes into that chapel, he has to look into Peter's eyes. And what does he see there? Well that is the question.

The director of the Vatican Museums, Antonio Paolucci, in this morning's press conference, spoke about the look in Peter's eyes. He said the look was angry. And he said Peter's expression contained doubt about the meaningfulness of his sacrifice, his willingness to be executed for Christ.

I don't see any doubt in Peter's eyes. I do see a challenge. The challenge is to those walking into the chapel, including every Pope. The challenge is: 'Be ready to be as strong as I am, as I have to be, to die for the faith. Don't even think about holding back. Give everything, as I am doing.' "

As soon as I read these two responses to the look in St. Peter's eyes, I knew they said more about the faith of Paolucci and Moynihan than anything else, except perhaps the genius of Michelangelo, that his work stimulates such widely differing reactions. Everyone who goes into that chapel, Pope or not, has to face what his or her faith really means. Michelangelo has to have faced it himself as he painted the fresco. His work has spared no Christian from the same challenge since his brushes were dry.

I dread and long at the same time, to see a detail of St Peter's eyes from this fresco. Frankly the prospect terrifies me.
I continue to ponder it.

More about the altar later I hope.


pelerin said...

Jane on Fr Ray's site there is a short video which shows a close up of St Peter's face on the cross. So much can be read into it.

Jane said...

Thanks Pelerin!

NLM has a series of still photographs, including one of St. Peter's eyes.I enlarged it and printed it off. Pope Benedict referred to the frescoes in his homily at Vespers to mark the chapel's reopening, Once the Vat website puts up the English translation, I'll try to post again on the subject.

pelerin( said...

Thanks Jane - shall have a look at NLM. I don't remember ever seeing pictures of these frescoes during my two years at art college.

(Any sign of Bruno yet?)

Anonymous said...

Of course, Michelangelo had every reason for depicting Peter as angry with Sixtus V, as if saying, "Don't you see that this is what it is all about, don't you?"

And anyway, I've found some of the guides at the Museums to be horrifically ideological and anti-Catholic. One had the nerve to say that the Catholic Church was founded in the sixteeth century, after the Protestants.

Father George bloggingMERCY

Jane said...

Hello Father: Ca va? (sorry no cedilla)

Forgive my ignorance but why Sixtus V? Do explain.

As for the guides, why are people like that employed there?