By Abbie Digel
Editor, Big Sky Weekly

As an English major in college, I took an interest in
the works of Italian poet and political figure Dante
Alighieri. He was influential in Italian culture,
and his heartbreaking relationship with a woman
named Beatrice fascinated me.
In March 2008, I spent time in Florence and Rome
studying the connection between Dante’s Divine
Comedy, a work I largely focused on at Colorado
College, and Michelangelo, the great Renaissance
In between visits to museums and churches, I hovered
over textbooks and wrote long entries in my
journal, trying
to figure out the
artistic influence
and connections
between Dante’s
visceral Commedia
and Michelangelo’s
while sneaking
chocolate pastries and many carafes of house vino.
Art history was not my forte. I preferred pouring
over long literary texts, reading sentences out
loud and taking notes in the margins, lingering on
certain words. Analyzing art was difficult for me;
the painter has already done the work for you, I
thought, so it seemed like watching the movieversion
of a book. Where’s the imagination in
Then one evening, my class had the rare opportunity
for a private viewing of the Sistine Chapel
in the Vatican. We arrived at twilight, and
three Vatican guards and a few policia ushered
us through the Vatican gates and through the
Chapel entrance.
I’d read in my textbooks about Michelangelo’s depiction
of the Last Judgment through a narrative
sequence of biblical figures, and I entered with a
preconceived notion of the fresco.
We spent over an hour in silence,
shuffling around the open, empty
space, enchanted. Our necks craned
toward the ceiling as we admired
one of Michelango’s most famous
First, I took in the Last Judgment
scene, which looms heavy behind
the pulpit, the larger-than-life
depiction shows humans during
their last hour, Jesus Christ, hands
braced in the air, damning some
to hell, and others slowly making
their way to heaven, bearing
My feet ached
from standing
and staring at
art for the past
two weeks.
Adjacent to
this scene are
the ignudi.
Michelangelo coined this phrase
to describe the 20 nude males he
painted that have no correlation to
the bible and a candid similarity to
the bodies of modern super-heroes.
Alongside them are the sibyls—
prophetic women holding scribes. They are said to
have predicted the birth of Christ.
More human-like than the biblical figures painted on
the ceiling and in the Last Judgment, these figures
encompass what some of my textbooks called, “the
human realm,” and what I like to call “our space.”
These frescoes were easier to see—thus easier to
relate to and more accessible to my inadequate artviewing
It must have been easier for Michelangelo to paint
these human figures. They were replicas of live
humans containing fleshy bodies and intact souls. I
wanted to touch them. The way they were painted,
with faint sunlight shining on the curves of their
muscles and long faces, their skin seemed warm and
soft to the touch.
The Biblical stories depicted on the ceiling of the Chapel
were painted with a different style than the ignudi
or sybils. I recognized most of them with my faint
knowledge of Bible stories, and from the post cards
and figures street vendors sell around the city. I found
Adam, Eve, Noah, and the famous scene of God giving
life to Adam, their arms outspread, fingers about to
touch, as if sparks were about to fly.
After a couple more moments lingering on the fleshy,
huge bodies of the men and women and Michelangelo’s
limbo, I came down from my thoughts, my head
spinning. I felt my feet on the ground, touched my
fingers to my forearm, licked my lips. Flesh, but not
quite divine.