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Pope Julius is eager to leave behind works by which he will be remembered. To this end he cajoles Michelangelo into painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. When not on the battlefield uniting Italy, the Pope nags Michelangelo to speed up his painful work on the frescoes. Written by
Ed Stephan <email@example.com>
The Agony and the Ecstasy is the story of the creation of the Sistine Chapel Roof painting, the time and money it took while Pope Julius II was busy establishing his Papacy as a political force.
Back in those days the Pope was far more than the head of the Roman Catholic Church. He ruled a considerable piece of real estate in the center of the Italian peninsula that were called the Papal States. They varied in geographic size depending on how relatively strong the Pope or his enemies were at a given time. The Papal States were the last independent entity to join a united Italy in 1870.
The Borgias had been nibbling away at the Papal States for years and their triumph became complete when one of their's became Pope Alexander VI in 1491. When Giuliano Della Rovere became Julius II in 1503 succeeding Alexander VI he had it in mind to reclaim the states from the Borgias and their backer the French monarchy. Those are the folks you see Rex Harrison fighting at the beginning of the film.
In fact Harrison's identity as the warrior Pope is made clear right at the beginning of the film when after we see this figure on a white horse killing some foes in battle, he takes off his helmet and some attendees put his papal vestments right over his armor.
But Julius II wanted to be known as a patron of the arts as well as the warrior Pope. His uncle Pope Sixtus VI had built the Sistine Chapel which is today the personal chapel of the papal residence. According to Wikipedia its dimensions are exactly what the Bible lays down as the dimensions King Solomon built his temple. But who knows what Solomon had decorating his roof.
It's a big bare spot and who to fill it with something good. Julius II decided on Michelangelo Buonarrati who's got quite a resume of creativity to recommend him even though it's mostly sculpture.
The film is the story of the creative differences between Michelangelo and Julius. Michelangelo is knowing he's created something for the ages, but he won't see the big picture of the here and now of Renaissance European politics which Julius II has to deal with.
Sir Carol Reed directed The Agony and the Ecstasy and does a marvelous job of creating the look and atmosphere of the Renaissance in Italy. Charlton Heston and Rex Harrison playing Michelangelo and the Pope give outstanding performances.
If the film has a weakness is that it really is a two man show with no other characters developed in any way. The rest of the mostly Italian cast just serve as a crowd.
If you're either a patron of the arts or a Catholic who would like to know how the Sistine Chapel acquired its legendary roof than by all means see The Agony and the Ecstasy.
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