This Day in History: November 1st

Today in History: November 1, 1512

Sistine_ChapelOn All Saint’s Day, November 1st, Pope Julius celebrated Mass in the Sistine Chapel for the first time in four years. Those in attendance were dumbfounded by the magnificent frescoes telling nine stories from the book of Genesis. The most memorable of these is a painting called “The Creation of Adam,” where God and Adam are stretching their arms toward each other, index fingers extended.

All present must have had incredible self-control to pay attention to the Mass considering the dazzling masterpiece above their heads, and the graceful statues perched on or draped over the incomparable architectural details surrounding them.

The artist responsible for this stunning achievement, Michelangelo Buonarroti, grew up in Florence, Italy, which was a hot spot of the early Renaissance movement. Displaying uncommon talent by age 13, Lorenzo de’ Medici, the ruler of Florence and renowned patron of the arts, became his sponsor. After creating the sculptural masterpieces the “Pieta” (1498) and “David” (1504), he was called to Rome to work his magic on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

Michelangelo labored on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel from May 1508 to October 1512, lying flat on his back cramped in a small space between the scaffold and the ceiling. The physical strain took its toll on him, and arguing constantly with Pope Julius didn’t make his working conditions any more enjoyable. Bottom line was Julius wanted the job done fast, and Michelangelo wanted the job done right.

The story has come down through the ages that, aside from allowing assistants to grind his colors, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel was completed solely by the great master. In reality, he had help from several artists he knew well from Florence, including his childhood friend Francesco Granacci, and others he had trained with.

The myth that Michelangelo had performed this Herculean task in complete solitude was the invention of his biographer Visari, who conveniently waited until all his assistants were dead to remember this tale of heroism. He tells how:

“…closing himself inside the chapel, he [Michelangelo] would not open it to them [the assistants] or even see them at his home. And when they thought this joke had been carried far enough, they made up their minds and returned to Florence in disgrace. Then Michelangelo made arrangements to do the whole work by himself, and he readily brought it to a very fine conclusion with diligent effort and study; nor would he ever see anyone, to avoid having to reveal his work, and, as a result, everyone’s desire to see it grew greater every day.” (Vasari, Life of Michelangelo, trans. Bondanella, p. 440)

Twenty years later, Pope Paul III called upon Michelangelo and his talents again to paint another Fresco behind the Sistine Chapel’s altar. This massive painting, entitled “The Last Judgment,” is another masterpiece he’s left for humanity to enjoy through the ages.

Michelangelo continued to create, draw, sculpt and paint right up until his death in 1564.

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  • “Displaying uncommon talent by age 13, Lorenzo de’ Medici, the ruler of Florence and renowned patron of the arts, became his sponsor. … Michelangelo labored on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel from May 1508 to October 1512, laying flat on his back cramped in a small space between the scaffold and the ceiling. … Twenty years later, Pope Paul III called upon Michelangelo and his talents again to paint another Fresno behind the Sistine Chapel’s altar.”

    I have rarely left comments criticizing the cases of improper grammar and misspelling that can be found at TIFO (in abundance), because there are so many “whiners” that lack the maturity to accept corrections. In the sentences quoted from the above article, however, there are three “whoppers” that cannot be ignored.

    The first sentence has a terrible dangling participle, which makes it seem as though Medici displayed great talent by the age of 13. The second sentence has the inexcusably erroneous word, “laying,” instead of “lying.” The third sentence has “Fresno” instead of “fresco.”

    Rhetorical questions: Why are the writers of these articles unwilling or unable to re-read and correct their own essays? Why, because of that unwillingness/inability, do the owners of the site not employ a professional proofreader/copy editor to cleanse the site and review future pages before they get posted? Is it a “don’t-care” attitude? Is it that they don’t/can’t shell out a few dollars? It is just so sad, because many young people come here to read, and they undoubtedly adopt the grammar and spelling errors that they find here. [I speak as the proofreader of a book that has sold over 400,000 copies.]

    • Daven Hiskey

      @J.F. Gecik: It’s a “don’t have the money” attitude. Highly researched articles are insanely expensive due to the extreme time they take to produce. We offer them for free.

      In order to make much off of ad revenue, you need an amazing number of people to actually read an article. You’ve proofread a book that sold over 400,000 copies. Translating that to ad revenue rates, rather than book sale rates, that book would have earned about $400-$1000 total before any expenses. They wouldn’t have been able to afford a professional proofreader either, even if they were producing all digital versions, rather than print, and with no publisher taking a cut. 😉

      The authors on this site do go over their works several times before submission. But as you no doubt are well aware, nobody is very good at catching typos and the like in their own works, even professional proofreaders in my experience, though they are at least better than most. I then read through the articles several times, at first lightly looking at grammar, typos, general readability, and flow, but also trying to get a general sense of the piece and the information it contains. Then I re-research the topic myself, keeping in mind what I just read to try to find factual errors and correct them where necessary. After a few cycles of that, I do one final read-through looking at grammar, typos and the like more in depth, and also trying to make sure the piece makes sense from a final content standpoint. We’ve at this point become temporary experts on the topic at hand. So it’s important at this stage to try to read it from the perspective of someone who knows nothing about the topic to make sure one isn’t making references that are confusing or leaving some key piece of information out.

      On the grammar side, I assure you, after years of publishing online, there is nary a facet of grammar I’m not well aware of thanks to the legions of Grammar Nazis the world over. Or as I like to say, Grammar Nazi’s. 🙂 So I do catch a lot of the mistakes. But, again, as you no doubt are aware, the more you read something, the harder it is to spot such things, and the longer the work, the more likely these mistakes are going to occasionally slip through. The latter point is why first editions of any book always, without exception, contain numerous grammatical errors and typos, no matter how many professional proofreaders the publisher threw at it.

      For 1000-2000 word articles, unlike book-length works, it is definitely possible to avoid grammatical errors and typos the vast majority of the time if enough effort is put into it. If I had time to come back a few days later and re-read the piece solely focusing on grammar and looking for typos, then the problem would be largely solved. But unfortunately, I already work way too long of hours and we produce an awful lot of content. 🙂

      In the end, we care far more about accuracy of facts than catching all typos or grammatical errors. In a perfect world, we could afford to do both and after I was done with the fact-checking stage, I’d send the article over to a fresh set of eyes, and someone whose job was solely to focus all their brain power on looking at grammar and catching typos. And if people want to throw money at us for that purpose, we’re more than willing. 🙂 But for right now, if we turn up the grammar/typo focus light bulb, that would mean turning down the fact-checking light bulb. An awkwardly worded sentence or apostrophe where no apostrophe has any business being is preferable for a site like ours to an incorrect fact. Neither are avoidable all the time, but we really put our money in the latter to be as accurate as humanly possible. If this site was in a different genre, that might not be the case. But we make our living off our reputation for being correct.