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Nick Owchar, Los Angeles Times Book Review

'The Sistine Secrets: Michelangelo's Forbidden Messages in the Heart of the Vatican' by Benjamin Blech and Roy Doliner
The inclusion of unorthodox symbolism in Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling
May 11, 2008
Los Angeles Times

MICHELANGELO studied the Kabbalah and Talmud? It's all right there, above our heads, as Benjamin Blech and Roy Doliner demonstrate in their fascinating study of the Sistine Chapel, "The Sistine Secrets" (HarperOne: 336 pp., $26.95). I understand the desire to reach Dan Brown's audience with the book's provocative subtitle -- "Michelangelo's Forbidden Messages in the Heart of the Vatican" -- but this book is hardly a "Da Vinci Code" knockoff. The authors, both experts on Judaica, scoured Michelangelo's work and found many oddities, raising such questions as: Why does the serpent in Eden have arms? Why, in that scene, is the Tree of Knowledge a fig tree instead of an apple tree? And, hey, why does the shape of "The Last Judgment" resemble the tablets of the Ten Commandments?

The Florence of the Medicis, the authors explain, was a community receptive to the Jews in a time of tumult and intolerance elsewhere. Jewish philosophy and thought filtered down to the young artist through master tutors, such as Pico della Mirandola. It was the search for an all-embracing religious philosophy, the authors suggest, that led Michelangelo to draw on alternative sources for his biblical subjects and to "brilliantly hide inside these works antipapal messages more in keeping with his true universalistic feelings." Like the best art historians, the authors give us a fresh context for the times, never hesitating to make contemporary parallels: The Medicis, for instance, gave to Florence "the feeling of a new golden age, comparable in many ways to the popular spirit . . . when the Kennedy family brought the feeling of 'Camelot' to Washington." This is a stimulating exploration that makes familiar masterpieces seem strange and new.

Nick Owchar, Los Angeles Times - Syndicated Book Review,0,1470588.story,0,6332615.story,0,647107.story,0,1410006.story

Saturn Booksellers, Gaylord Michigan - Retailer of the Year winner 2007
I kept coming to work kind of stupid while I read this book – it was so fascinating that I gave up sleep to read into the wee hours of the morning. The Sistine Secrets was appealing to my loves of both art history and mysteries, as it explained the symbols, hidden meanings, and outright insults encoded in the intricate frescos on which Michelangelo spent many years reluctantly working. The authors were offered unprecedented and up close access with amazing results. I won't give away much, but Michelangelo managed to insult the very pope who commissioned him with a well-placed cherub giving a well-known gesture behind his head. The book contains many illustrations with which to follow along, and the dust cover itself unfolds into a poster of the whole Sistine Chapel ceiling - very cool. This would pair beautifully with People of the Book, another favorite of mine by Pulitzer Prize winning author Geraldine Brooks.

Enrico Bruschini, Official Art Historian for the U.S. Embassy in Rome

Just as the work of Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel changed forever the world of art, so will this book change forever the way to view and, above all, to understand the work of Michelangelo

Jonathan Harr, author of the New York Times bestsellers The Lost Painting and A Civil Action
This book of astounding revelations is built on careful scholarship, lucid exposition, and it is, above all, compelling reading.