Inching along beneath the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome, a scaffold carries restorers, painstakingly cleaning Michelangelo’s magnificent frescoes. Since 1980, exposure of unexpected luminous colors in the master’s beloved biblical scenes has alarmed some people who fear that Michelangelo’s final pigment layers are being removed. In this issue, art historians John and Jane Dillenberger ask and answer the question “To Clean or Not to Clean?” and accompany their on-the-scaffold observations with dramatic before and after pictures.
The Dillenbergers live in Berkeley, California, where Jane is professor emeritus in the visual arts and theology at the Graduate Theological Union. A prolific writer on religious themes in art, she is the author of “Images of God in Western Art,” BR 01:02 and “Dual Impressions—Looking for Style and Content in Christian Art,” BR 03:04. John was formerly president of Hartford Seminary in Hartford, Connecticut, and professor of theology at Harvard University. His books include The Visual Arts and Christianity in America (Scholars Press, 1984) and, with co-author Jane, Perceptions of the Spirit in 20th Century American Art (Indianapolis Museum of Art, 1977).
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