The Buonarroti Code: A real life mystery far more thrilling that fiction!

More than five centuries ago, one of the Renaissance’s greatest artists Michelangelo Buonarroti “el divino” was the darling of the Catholic Church. The Papacy commissioned him to create many of its most important pieces, including the frescoes 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 on February 18, 1564 in one of Rome’s poorest neighborhoods, his body was secretly shepherded off to Florence, and the Church was denied the opportunity to honor him with a grand funeral in Rome. After four and a half centuries historians are still wondering about the intrigues in his later life and the mysterious circumstances surrounding his death, the probable 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.

But now, two TV programs have tried to piece together evidence of a deep rift between the Church and the esteemed artist. The documentaries aim to shed more light on Michelangelo’s history by trying to decipher hidden signs behind two of his artistic creations, a sculpture of Moses and a recently discovered panel painting of the Pieta. The documentaries look at the possibility that Michelangelo was secretly in league with Church reformers who were ultimately defeated by the forces of Counter-Reformation and the Inquisition.Both stories argue that Michelangelo was sympathetic to a 16th-century Catholic Italian reform movement called the Spirituali. Research especially in the Vatican archives have unearthed private letters between Michelangelo and Cardinal Reginald Pole, Cardinal Ercole Gonzaga, and Vittoria Colonna, a noblewoman. The conflict centered around the ever widening religious struggle between the Catholic Church and the reform minded Protestants around the sale of forgiveness and amidst all the moral decadence, wealth and corruption.

The Spirituali movement proposed to reform the Church through a spiritual renewal and internalization of faith by each individual, bearing a striking resemblance to Luther’s movement, although not identical to it. In light of the indulgences controversy, and, influenced by the Spirituali and their Christocentric discussions of reform and renewal, Michelangelo began to focus increasingly on Christ and a direct relationship with God, creating art that brought Christ directly to the people and left the church completely out of the picture. Two of Michelangelo’s creations have intrigued many art historians and have come into focus as proof of his association with the Spirituali, they are the Pieta painting and the sculpture of Moses.

Two TV programs recently airing on Vision TV and PBS that explores the relationship between Michelangelo’s art and his beliefs are: Biblical Conspiracies: Michelangelo’s Angels & Demons and, Secret of the Dead: Michelangelo Revealed, about the Moses statue that makes up part of Pope Julius II’s tomb was shown on the PBS channel.

The vision TV documentary deals with a recently authenticated Pieta painting which has intrigued many art historians and has come into focus as proof of his association with the Spirituali. The “Pieta” from Tonawanda, NY, is potentially one of the art finds of the century. It is a small wood-panel painting depicting an earthy-looking Virgin Mary wearing an intriguing pendant. The composition of the painting is especially intriguing since it depicts Jesus lying below Mary rather than lying on top of her in the typical Pieta position. The previous owner was a German baroness who had sent the painting to America in the hopes of selling it. The painting eventually passed into the hands of acquaintances, and ended up with a Rochester family who hung it for many years above a fireplace, then after the painting fell, its owners stored it behind a couch. The program shows how after years of thorough investigative and technical research art historians finally attributed the panels to Michelangelo.


The PBS program deals with the statue of Moses the centerpiece of Pope Julius II’s funerary complex. The film 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. The film shows how Moses’ head is turned to the left. Originally, the head was to face forward, toward the altar, where the priest says Mass. Michelangelo, supposedly influenced by Spirituali reform, wanted Moses looking away from the celebrant. The great lawgiver is searching for the light — “for a direct contact with God.” The priesthood is de-emphasized. Whether historians’ interpretations of the hidden meaning of the pieta and Moses and the artist’s true spiritual leanings prove true, only time will tell.

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