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The Sistine Secrets: Michelangelo's Forbidden Messages in the Heart of the Vatican Paperback – Bargain Price, May 12, 2009

4.1 out of 5 stars 163 customer reviews

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Paperback, Bargain Price, May 12, 2009
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Editorial Reviews


“Fascinating.... Benjamin Blech and Roy Doliner appear to have few equals when it comes to the history and detail of the fresco.... a readable and informative piece of work.” (Manchester Evening News (U.K.) )

“Just as the work of Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel changed forever the world of art, so will this book change forever the way to view and, above all, to understand the work of Michelangelo!” (Enrico Bruschini, Official Art Historian for the U.S. Embassy in Rome )

“The journey of analysis of the complex images rewards the reader with many profound insights about the artwork and the complex nature of Michelangelo’s ideas....fascinating and engaging!” (The Jewish Press )

“This book of astounding revelations is built on careful scholarship, lucid exposition, and it is, above all, compelling reading.” (Jonathan Harr, author of the New York Times bestsellers The Lost Painting and A Civil Action )

“…(a) fascinating study of the Sistine Chapel. […] Like the best art historians, the authors give us a fresh context for the times, never hesitating to make contemporary parallels. […]This is a stimulating exploration that makes familiar masterpieces seem strange and new.” (Los Angeles Times )

About the Author

Rabbi Benjamin Blech is an internationally recognized educator, religious leader, author, and lecturer. A recipient of the American Educator of the Year Award, he has been a professor of Talmud at Yeshiva University since 1966. He is the author of eleven books and has written for the New York Times, Newsweek, and Newsday. He lives in New York City.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: HarperOne; 1 edition (May 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006146905X
  • ASIN: B003B6532U
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (163 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,136,430 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Fascinating speculation fills this book. It can be fun as light conspiracy-theory reading, and as an introduction to Michelangelo and the Vatican.

What's wrong with it? To begin with, factual errors on embarrassingly simple subjects.

Zerubabel was not the king blinded during the sack of Jerusalem (that was Zedekiah); he is associated with the building of the second temple, not the destruction of the first.
The Book of Jonah is not read at the closing (ne'ila) service on Yom Kippur, but at the beginning of the afternoon service (mincha).
Jonah does indeed have his own book in the Jewish Bible. The fact that it's referred to as one of the twelve short books is true of the books of Joel and Zechariah as well.

This is stuff that an eighth-grader in Jewish day school would know. In a book that wasn't edited carefully enough to catch these errors, all assertions become doubtful, and the force of the argument is gone.

Equally bothersome is how overblown the argument is. A little less bluster would make the book a lot less exasperating.

Then why three stars? Because it's a fascinating premise; because many of the questions it raises are worth exploring; because some of the explanations it offers do make sense.
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Format: Hardcover
This book describes many of Michelangelo's high Renaissance artworks in the Vatican City, Florence and elsewhere and claims Michelangelo was directly influenced by Jewish religious teachings of the Talmud, Midrash and Kabbalah in his subject matter as well as deeper symbolic messages of Christian religious art, particularly in the Sistine Chapel.

The authors note that Michelangelo was virtually adopted by Lorenzo de Medici and educated in an intellectual environment of the de Medici court that included Renaissance scholars and philosophers who were proponents of ideals of unity of religious and philosophical thought. Among other sources, the authors claim these studies included Jewish teachings and philosophical works based on Jewish teachings. The authors argue that the Jewish component of those intellectual discussions at the "School of Athens" in the de Medici family palace must have been picked up and internalized by the young Michelangelo as a lifetime intellectual influence and a sympathy to Jewish religious and mystical thought. This tenuous speculation about his early education is the basis of the central claim.

In order to accept the theme, one has to accept the central speculation about Michelangelo's alleged fascination with the Jewish teachings.

Several detailed observations, subjective interpretations and speculations about the artworks in the Sistine Chapel and elsewhere are then provided in the book to validate these claims. These interpretations of the artworks are the strength of the entire argument. The authors provide skimpy evidence of this alleged fascination in Michelangelo's letters and poetry, his known associates, or in any accounts of his contemporaries.
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Format: Hardcover
We all love a good yarn about Vatican secrets. What are those wacky prelates up to now? But what a great tale it would be if one the Vatican's own treasures -- Michelangelo's bravura painting of the Sistine chapel ceiling and front wall -- was laden with anti-Catholic messages and secret insults against popes?

That's the idea behind Sistine Secrets. The book sets the stage by discussing little-known tales of artists embedding secret messages in their art. How many know, for instance, that sculptor Daniel French's Lincoln Memorial statue show Abe's forming the initials "A" and "L" in sign language? And what are the strange openings in the leafy canopy to either side of the head of the central figure in Botticelli's "Primavera"? Could the artist, in an age in which human dissection was taboo, have surreptitiously revealed his participation in this illicit practice by embedding the outline of human heart and lungs into his painting? I'm not sure what art historians make of this this theory, but it certainly got my attention.

Having established the fascinating possibility that artist embed "secrets" into their art, the authors move on to their main thesis. Michelangelo's tumultuous family life and apparent homosexuality come in or scrutiny. The story of how he snuck in at night to carved "Michelangelo made this" on the band across the Virgin's chest (in badly-spelled and ungrammatical Latin) was fun and accurate as far as I know.

But from here, things got dodgy. Michelangelo, taken in by the de Medici family, is supposedly instructed in the ways of the Kabala as well as neo-platonic teachings supposedly banned by the Church. I'm no scholar, but Church teaching took Plato quite seriously, seeing in his theory of the ideal forms an echo of divine perfection.
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Format: Hardcover
I have read all of the reviews on Amazon. None of them attack the factual accuracy or historic background contained in this book. The insights and evaluations are precisely delineated. Opinions are clearly separated from facts. The scholarship and erudition shown cannot be put down as passing off "a fantasy as history". It is disingenous to denigrate the book as an attempt to duplicate The Da Vinci Code formula. This book contains an enormous amount of accurate historic background that is not generally known but derived from intense, careful research. It is a page turner as well. Kudos for the excellent pictures. The eye sees what it sees. Pointing out that the right side of the brain is accurately reflected in the image of the creation is a stunning observation. There are many more illustrations that bear out the accuracy of the text. Instead of putting this masterwork down as a hoax it should be studied and enjoyed by all who want to understand the Sistine Chapel Ceiling and its creator more fully.
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