The Papal Conclave, Just Like When Michelangelo Was Alive
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Did we have any idea that the Papal Conclave (where the new pope will be voted on) takes place in the Sistine Chapel? As the international community of cardinals deliberate—or debate or do whatever they do in secret—it is all staged under the ceilings of one of the most famous art works in the western world.
Not surprisingly the whole ordeal is not going down without power struggles, in-fighting and a lot of leaking to the press. Despite sounding a lot like the like the United States congress, this is actually typical in the power grab for the seat of the Holy See. Backstabbing, literal and otherwise, have been a time honored tradition in the history of the Catholic Church. The popes after all, were more often that not, not nice guys.
15th Century, Pope Julius II, dubbed the "Fearsome Pope" (which should tell you something) came to power through some trickery and bribery during the Papal conclave of 1503. From the Vatican he went on to pull the levers of power, manipulating the monarchs of Europe and inciting wars. His Machiavellian techniques were actually the source of Niccolò Machiavelli's The Prince in which Pope Julius II features prominently as the leading enemy of the protagonist prince.
On the bright side, Julius II was a patron of the arts, and not only did he commission many major works from the young Michelangelo including the ceiling and back walls of Sistine Chapel, but from other Renaissance masters including Raphael and Botticelli, as well. The painted portraits shown here are Raphael's.
Following Julius II was Pope Leo the X, the notorious Medici who sold indulgences, racking up money for the church which he spent on lavish parties, which in turn spawned the Protestant Revolution (lead by Martin Luther.)
... which in turn lead to the Roman Inquisition a department of the Vatican responsible for torture, murder, etc... all in order enforce Doctrine of the Faith. This department was most recently headed up by Cardinal Ratzinger of Germany aka Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. You know the guy, he's the one who let sexual abuse of minors run rampant in the priesthood decade after decade all across the globe.
Michelangelo lived through seven Papal Conclaves: after Julius the II was an inept Belgian, another Medici, Paul III who was given to nepotism (but who wasn't?), the pedophile Julius III (no joke he kept a 15 year old in his papal bed), Pope Marcellus who only lasted a month due to the pressures and intrigues of the Papal Office, and Pope Paul IV otherwise known as Cardinal Carafa who originally headed up the office of the Inquisition, which sent Michelangelo into hiding.
When Pope Paul IV took the seat in Rome his first order of business was to cut Michelangelo's church pension and order all of his nudes to be "fig-leafed" reflecting his ultra-conservative views and dislike of all humanistic values that had been embraced by the Renaissance.
The liveliness, humor, satire, religious and political commentary of Michelangelo's Sistine fresco stands in stark relief to the rigid practices and dubious distinction of the Papal Conclave.
A Church that clings to power by all means necessary and fights change to the death hasn't changed much in the last six hundred years... they haven't even updated their fashion since the 14th C.
Although Michelangelo lost favor with the Church at the end of his life he was far from being a non-believer, in fact he was quite devout. From all accounts he loved the Church, yet hated the politics.
In Secrets of the Dead, the PBS series on all things conspiracy, Its believed that Michelangelo burned all of his letters and remaining writings before he died so that there would be no evidence for Pope Paul IV to construe him into a Church heretic. Perhaps Michelangelo was afraid all the the works throughout the Vatican would be removed or covered over if Paul IV got his way.
Thankfully the masters works are still in tact almost as they were when he created them, and so is the Church for that matter. For better or worse.