Michelangelo’s fresco Last Judgment, famously painted on the entire altar wall of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican, contains hundreds of figures. 360 characters in all! Amidst this expressive human cacophony, it is believed, Michelangelo hid a self-portrait. It is to be found in the folds of the flayed skin of St. Bartholomew. An important clarification is in order: in the composition, St. Bartholomew holds his own flayed skin – the way one would hold an overall after taking it off. Except that this body-bag of skin is complete – head to toes. And it is in the folds of St. Bartholomew’s face that experts recognize Michelangelo’s own facial features.
What does this mean?
Any time you hear a question like this – “What does this mean?” – you need to ask at least one more clarifying question: “What does it mean to whom?”
What it meant to Michelangelo is one thing. What it means to me or you is an entirely different matter. And, frankly, the former is of little interest to me. But the latter – what this means to you and I – is of most immediate relevance. You and I – the Reader and the Writer – I hope – are still alive. The meaning that we hold is a living meaning. And, as such, it takes precedence over the meaning of those who have gone before us.
Meaning – in case you haven’t noticed – is a gerund. It has an “-ing” to it. It is a noun that verbs … and re-verbs … in its present-tense continuity. Meaning is a process - a process of assigning and re-assigning significance. Meaning is always a work in progress. An ongoing interpretation of What Is.
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