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Bergmann, M.S. (1993). Michelangelo's Sistine Ceiling: A Psychoanalytic Study. By Jerome Oremland. Madison, CT: Int. Univ. Press, 1989, 322 pp., $40.00.. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 41:886-892.

(1993). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 41:886-892

Michelangelo's Sistine Ceiling: A Psychoanalytic Study. By Jerome Oremland. Madison, CT: Int. Univ. Press, 1989, 322 pp., $40.00.

Review by:
Martin S. Bergmann, Ph.D.

Michelangelo's frescoes on the ceiling of the Vatican's Sistine Chapel are probably the most imposing work of art created by one individual. They have evoked awe in every generation. The combination of sublime style and profoundly spiritual content seems beyond human capability. The ceiling was considered the peak of the Renaissance golden age (Tolnay, 1945). With the ceiling restored, we are fortunate to have an excellent psychoanalytic guidebook, both well-written and well-illustrated.

What gives substance to Oremland's suggestion that we look upon the ceiling as a dream is the freedom with which Michelangelo disregarded both artistic tradition and scripture in these paintings. They seem to follow his inner personal vision. Contrary to the biblical account, Michelangelo represented Noah's sons naked like their father, emphasizing that it was not Noah's nakedness per se that horrified his sons, but the difference between their own young bodies and Noah's aging one. In the Deluge, as Tolnay observed, there are no signs of external catastrophe, making the deluge an inner catastrophe. In the Fall it is not the traditional Eve offering Adam the apple, but Adam himself stretching out his hand to pick the forbidden fruit. There are many similar misreadings, but what is utterly novel and amazing are the different portrayals of the deity. It is this aspect of Michelangelo's genius that has evoked the deepest awe and encouraged speculation as to what the ceiling represents.

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