Michelangelo, one of most prominent figures of the Renaissance’s A-List, is famous for his sculptures and his frescoes, nearly all of which depicted religious themes. The ceiling and walls of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican are possibly his most well known and celebrated works (perhaps rivaled only by The David.) Commissioned by and under the close supervision of Pope Julius II, Michelangelo was essentially acting as an agent of the Catholic Church. What I find most interesting though, is that when we carefully look at his art, we find depictions and representations of things that are *not* part of the theological tenants of Catholicism, but are in fact congruent with certain teachings and beliefs of Mormonism.
The first and most obvious thing is the corporeal depiction of God. The ethereal and bodiless nature of God had long since been accepted as true Catholic Doctrine since the council of Nicaea, yet Michelangelo shows us a physical bearded man surrounded by children. While Mormon doctrine does suggest divine attributes that transcend the bounds of physical and biological scopes, a fundamental tenant of the faith is that God possesses a physical and resurrected body. Also, in the “Creation of Adam” panel, we see a woman under God’s left arm, who we very well may assume is Eve, “on deck” to be created herself. The way this is presented strongly implies the concept of a pre-existence; that Eve existed in a non-earthly state before her physical creation.
Several scholars have noted that the shape of the cloth behind God and his entourage is a very accurate silhouette of the human brain. Mormons might easily draw the connection, “the Glory of God is Intelligence (D&C 93: 36),” an idea that certainly would not fare well with the Catholic church of the era. (Galileo?)
Going backwards one panel, we can examine the creation of the universe. God the Father is prominently featured commanding the elements to organize, perhaps in a “Let there be light” moment. Joining him on his right is a young child, who is very likely a depiction of the antemortal Christ. If this is true, then Michelangelo is telling us that Christ had a collaborative role in the creation. This idea finds support in Mormon teachings (as well as Biblical support) but does not jive well with many doctrinal proposals of Catholicism and Protestant Christianity, who conjecture that spirits are created at conception, and have no premortal existence.
If we look closely at the face depicted between God and Christ, it seems that the painting job is not finished. There seems to be no top of the head, and facial detail is in large part lacking. It has however, been suggested that this face is the same face as Adam’s:
If this is true, most temple going Mormons should immediately catch the significance of having God, Jesus and Adam, a.k.a. Elohim, Jehovah, and Michael, jointly involved in the creative process.
If we look at the wall, where the magnificent “Last Judgment” scene is, we see a depiction of the bodily resurrection:
Mormons would typically be comfortable with the way the resurrection is shown here, but I can image that a few Catholics and evangelicals might be squeamish.
I suppose this doesn’t prove anything, really. Michelangelo never made any prophetic claims, so no corroborative conclusions could be made if his version of these events match up with those of prophets who were informed through revelation. However, it does make one wonder, if Michelangelo was really a product of his time and culture, where did he get these ideas from? It would seem quite unlikely that he got them from the Pope, but who knows, the Pope may have been more independently inspired than we give him credit for! Or perhaps Michelangelo himself was tuned in to a spiritual frequency that gave him some kind of inspiration and enlightenment.
To be fair, there is much depicted in the Sistine Chapel that is completely at odds with Mormon teachings, like angels with wings, etc. In fact, Michelangelo felt compelled to use his last ceiling panel to feature “The Drunkenness of Noah,” a very unflattering and embarrassing episode in a prophet’s life, the likes of which most Mormons would rather just keep buried in the dusty unread pages of the Old Testament.
No matter what, most people will agree that the art of the Sistine Chapel has untold cultural and historical value. It stands at a testament to the strength of the European Church of the time, and illustrates the power and timeless nature of the Biblical narrative. And given the way that many of the stories are portrayed, Mormons should be able to get added enjoyment from it.