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Wednesday, June 15 at 8 p.m. – Secrets of the Dead "Michelangelo Revealed"

(Rochester, NY) – More than five centuries ago, Michelangelo Buonarroti was the darling of the Catholic Church. The Papacy commissioned him to create many of its most important pieces, including the frescos of the Sistine Chapel. He spent his life glorifying the church, etching Catholic ideals into masterpieces that defined religion for the masses. Yet when he died, his body was secretly shepherded to Florence, and the church was denied the opportunity to honor him with a grand funeral in Rome. Historians have long wondered about the mysterious circumstances surrounding his death. Now, art historian Antonio Forcellino believes he has pieced together evidence of a deep rift between the church and the esteemed artist. The cause: Michelangelo’s belief in Protestant ideals and his involvement with a clandestine fellowship trying to put an end to the decadence and corruption of the clergy and reform the church from within.

Secrets of the Dead “Michelangelo Revealed," airing Wednesday, June 15 at 8 p.m. on WXXI-TV/HD (DT21.1/cable 1011 and 11), deconstructs the puzzling discrepancies between the sculptures Michelangelo created and the way he described them, revealing an intricate effort to carve his own beliefs into stone, while protecting himself from the wrath of a powerful cardinal who viewed him as a heretic. Actor Liev Schreiber narrates.    

“What’s remarkable about this story is the intersection of life and art,” says Jared Lipworth, executive producer of Secrets of the Dead. “We usually look at Michelangelo’s sculptures for their exceptional beauty and life-like detail, but Forcellino’s investigation shows how the religious upheaval of the times shaped Michelangelo’s beliefs and his artistic decisions.”

While restoring the famous Moses statues in the tomb of Julius II, Forcellino noticed peculiarities such as an asymmetrical beard and a distorted neck and leg. Given Michelangelo’s normal attention to every detail

of his sculptures, Forcellino began to believe that the artist had altered the Moses after it was completed. But why? Surprised that no other art historians had spotted the incongruities, Forcellino went back to original sources from Michelangelo’s time, and pieced together a web of relationships and shared ideals between the artist, the famous poet and noblewoman Vitoria Colonna and the reformist English cardinal, Reginald Pole. Pole’s followers, later named the Spirituali, were loyal Catholics attempting to reform the church from within to prevent a split with the Protestants. But their reformist ideals were so threatening to conservative Cardinal Gian Pietro Carafa, he had the Inquisition reinstated to persecute them. 

Michelangelo’s involvement with the Spirituali put him at dangerous odds with the church, even while he toiled to exalt it. Forcellino believes this conflict is exemplified in the Moses. He is convinced Michelangelo transformed a monument intended to celebrate a pope into the political and religious manifesto of the Spirituali. By dramatically shifting Moses’ gaze away from the altar, Michelangelo reinforced his belief that man’s direct relationship with God is what mattered, not the role of priests. 

Michelangelo Revealed paints a stunning picture of brave religious expression, personal vendettas, careful cover-ups and a gifted artist desperately trying to reconcile his loyalty to the church with his own personal belief about the road to salvation.

Pictured: The tomb of Pope Julius II, in the church of S. Pietro in Vincoli (St. Peter in Chains) in Rome.

Credit: Courtesy of ©Jemolo

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