Air Date: Friday, May 02, 2008
Time Slot: 8:00 PM-9:00 PM EST on ABC
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New Book Says Michelangelo Embedded Hidden Messages in the Sistine Chapel Frescoes

For centuries, people of all faiths have visited Rome to see Michelangelo's stunning masterpiece, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. It is arguably the most revered religious painting in Christendom. But is it possible that Michelangelo's art work in the Sistine Chapel contains insults aimed at the Pope? Martin Bashir reports on whether there are secrets in the paintings that nobody noticed until the ceiling's recent restoration. He travels from Florence to Rome, interviewing renowned Michelangelo scholars, theologians and the authors of a controversial new book, The Sistine Secrets: Michelangelo's Forbidden Messages in the Heart of the Vatican, to examine whether hidden meanings could exist. The report airs on a special edition of "20/20," "Secrets of the Sistine: Michelangelo's Mystery," FRIDAY, MAY 2 (8:00-9:00 p.m., ET) on the ABC Television Network.

Bashir travels to Florence, where Michelangelo grew up in the Palace of the great Renaissance leader, Lorenzo de Medici, to discover Medici's influences and to learn about the artist's first passion, sculpting. According to The Sistine Secrets authors Roy Doliner, a Vatican tour guide, and Rabbi Benjamin Blech of Yeshiva University, the Medici scholars studied an ancient form of Jewish mysticism, Kabbalah. Doliner and Blech believe these teachings are behind many of Michelangelo's hidden messages. They also say that Michelangelo was furious when Pope Julius II commissioned him to paint frescoes instead of sculpt, and think that his anger with the papacy at that time led him to paint hidden references on the Sistine ceiling.

According to Dr. Arnold Nesselrath, the curator of the Vatican Museums, people flock to the Sistine Chapel because "it's one of the greatest works of mankind that were ever produced, and it's one of the greatest treasures of art." But Doliner and Blech's book provides a new way of looking at Michelangelo's work. Bashir travels to Rome to examine the frescoes first hand. Are the panels of "God's Creation of Man" and "Adam and Eve" filled with hidden references to Kabbalah? If not, then why is there a fig tree instead of an apple tree in the Garden of Eden? And if Michelangelo wasn't angry with Pope Julius II, why does it look like an angel is giving the Pope the Renaissance equivalent of "the finger?" Nesselrath dismisses the hidden references to Bashir, saying, "Well, we have all to remember that this is the palace chapel, the main chapel of the Vatican palace, and whatever Michelangelo is painting here had to be discussed with the Pope and his advisors." Other experts weigh in about whether there is a new interpretation of the masterpiece that everyone thought they knew.

Rudy Bednar is executive producer of "Secrets of the Sistine: Michelangelo's Mystery." Ann Reynolds is the senior producer. This program is broadcast in HD with stereo sound.

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