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Michelangelo movies w/ Elizabeth Lev

By Criteria: The Catholic Film Podcast ( bio - articles - email ) | Sep 01, 2022 | In Criteria: The Catholic Film Podcast

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Catholic art historian Elizabeth Lev returns to Criteria to discuss two films about Michelangelo.

The Agony and The Ecstasy (1965), directed by Carol Reed and starring Charlton Heston as Michelangelo and Rex Harrison as Pope Julius II, is what Italians call an “Americanata”—an unapologetically bombastic, colorful Hollywood transformation of Italian or Roman history. It focuses on the conflict and collaboration between Michelangelo and his papal patron in the project of painting the Sistine Chapel.

Sin (2019), directed by Andrei Konchalovsky, gives us a gritty, filthy Renaissance Florence and Rome and a Michelangelo who is something like a lovable hobo, outstandingly performed by Alberto Testone. Sin takes place in the fallow period of Michelangelo’s career immediately after he painted the Sistine ceiling, in which his work was stalled by the conflict between his two patrons, the Della Rovere and Medici families. Rather than showing Michelangelo making art, it shows his spiritual and economic struggles during this period.

As hesitant as the title Sin might make us, Elizabeth Lev praises it for correctly identifying avarice and pride as Michelangelo’s sins, rather than focusing on the question of his sexuality as many do today. (Though the film is not free of sexual content involving other characters.)

Fifty years ago, Konchalovsky co-wrote the greatest film about an artist: Andrei Rublev (directed by Andrei Tarkovsky). He identifies Sin as a continuation of the themes of Rublev. Indeed, both of these films about Michelangelo share with Rublev the tension between artistic/religious integrity and working for patrons who may be commissioning religious works for worldly motives.


Music is The Duskwhales, “Take It Back”, used with permission.

Criteria is hosted by Thomas V. Mirus and James T. Majewski.

Thomas is Director of Podcasts for and hosts the Catholic Culture Podcast. See full bio.

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