Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Botticelli, the Sistine Chapel and the power of Art

Art can touch your soul, it can talk to you without words, and even make you cry.

While in Rome, I saw many, many wonders of art, and some stay with me more than others.
This one is called "Scenes from the life of Moses", by one of my favorite painters: Botticelli.  He came from Florence to Rome, commissioned by the Pope to paint several frescoes on the wall of the Sistine Chapel.  He worked for less than a year on these paintings, between 1481 and 1482, about 27 years before Michelangelo started on the repainting of the ceiling.

While I was standing there, in the Sistine Chapel, which was unusually quiet, almost empty because I was there so early in the morning, I suddenly felt I felt overwhelmed by the art, the story, the history within these walls.
I was thinking of all those centuries of visitors who have stood under this vaulted ceiling,
it was as if there was a whisper all around me.
I couldn't stop staring at the paintings, and I kept coming back to this particular one.
It is on the south wall, to the right when you come into the chapel.  Botticelli has painted different scenes from Moses' life in one single frame.
The central part is were Moses helps Jethro's daughters getting water for their sheep.  One of the daughters, supposedly Zipporah, is the figure that struck me the most.
A typical Botticelli woman, with a melancholic grace that touched something within me.  It was almost like her face expressed some of my own unspoken and maybe even unthought words, it felt as if this 500 year-old painting wanted to tell me something, and while I stood there, on top of those few stairs in the west end of the chapel, while the room slowly filled with more and more people,  I could feel tears trickling down my cheeks.


  1. I thought you might be interested to know that this painting of Zipporah is the one Swann is reminded of when he looks at Odette in A la Recherche du temps perdu, and as he already loves Botticelli's original image, he is able to fall in love with the woman who looks like her (even though, as Proust informs us, she's not really his type...).

  2. Thanks! That is really interesting. I guess this Sandro has got something then, a gift of being able to touch people!

  3. I can also tell you (though sadly it's not as interesting as the Proust reference, even though it does involve memory) that when I was a child my mother used to take me to a barber who always told her I had Botticelli hair, because it's the same colour as the figures in Botticelli's paintings. The barber was an odd little man who gave me the creeps, but I quite liked this observation as, though neither my mother nor I knew who Botticelli was, it seemed to confer some distinction on me (or my hair, at least), though I did for a long time have a slight reservation about the 'botti' part of the artist's name.

  4. Ha ha. Being Norwegian, I never had that association with the name, but I can see why you had a reservation!

    To tell you that you have Botticelli hair, is indeed a compliment!
    I just saw a Madonna and Child by B. in Paris, in a small museum. There is just something about his paintings, about his persons, I just end up gazing for the longest time.


I appreciate your comments!