Maulana Wahiduddin Khan | Speaking Tree Blog | Jan 25, 2021
In 1509 Michelangelo (1475-1564), painter, sculptor, architect and poet, was commissioned by Pope Julian to design and paint the frescoes for the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. The project was completed in 1512. In the 450 years that have elapsed since then, the original colours used by Michelangelo have become considerably subdued and, therefore, distorted. One reason for this was that a coating of animal glue was spread over the surface of the fresco in the 17th century to keep the plaster from flaking. This glue then collected centuries of soot from the torches used to illuminate the chapel before the advent of electricity.
Under Pope John Paul II, the Vatican has ordered restoration of the fresco. Renovation has revealed some startling things about Michelangelo’s original work. The master was previously believed to have used subdued, twilight colours, but it now appears that the colours he used were so vibrant that softer lighting would be needed when the cleaning was finished. Art historians had to revise their whole concept of the Florentine school, which Michelangelo represented, for the Florentines had been considered masters of design but not of colour. George Armstrong writes in The Guardian Weekly (February 16, 1986) that the axiom of Tintoretto (1518-1594) “Draw like Michelangelo, paint like Titian” – “has been thrown off balance by the Sistine’s restored colours.” The renovation, Armstrong says, has revealed “Michelangelo in a new light.”
In very much the same way, the nature of true religion has become distorted over the centuries. Originally, religion was revealed by God and taught in its pure form by the prophets. Then, when it fell into the hands of ordinary men, they corrupted its true message, making it conform to their own desires. Whereas religion had originally been based on belief in the hereafter, it later became an instrument for the acquisition of worldly wealth and power. True faith, as painted by the prophets, springs from the heart, but religion in its corrupted form becomes a mere accumulation of rites and ceremonies, devoid of any true spirit. Religion in its pristine form breeds love and submission to God and humility in its followers, which fosters human unity. However, when religion becomes distorted, it becomes a source of pride, with one group using it to assert their superiority over another.
When this happens, it means that grime and dust have collected on the face of true religion. Its true colours have become distorted and it is in need of restoration to its original form. When the renovation is completed, it will be revealed that religion is something quite different from what men have made it out to be. Theologians will be exposed as misleading in their interpretations, just as the public has been misguided in its opinions.