SAT Critical Reading - Paired Passages, Question #4
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The passages below are drawn from two articles that discuss the recent restoration of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
One shudders to contemplate Michelangelo's reaction if he were to gaze up today at the famous frescoes* he painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel over four centuries ago. A practical man, he would no doubt be unsurprised by the effects of time and environment on his masterpiece. He would be philosophical about the damage wrought by mineral salts left behind when rainwater leaked through the roof. The layers of dirt and soot from coal braziers that heated the chapel and from candles and incense burned during religious functions would-prior to their removal during restorationlikely have been taken in stride as well. But he would be appalled at the ravages inflicted on his work by the recent restorers.
The Vatican restoration team reveled in inducing a jarringly colorful transformation in the frescoes with their special cleaning solvents and computerized analysis equipment. But this effect was not, as they claim, achieved merely by removing the dirt and animal glue (employed by earlier restorers to revive muted colors) from the frescoes; they removed Michelangelo's final touches as well. Gone from the ceiling is the quality of suppressed anger and thunderous pessimism so often commented on by admiring scholars. That quality was not an artifact of grime, not a misleading monochrome imposed on the ceiling by time, for Michelangelo himself applied a veil of glaze to the frescoes to darken them after he had deemed his work too bright. The master would have felt compelled to add a few more layers of glaze had the ceiling radiated forth as it does now. The solvents of the restorers, in addition to stripping away the shadows, reacted chemically with Michelangelo's pigments to produce hues the painter never beheld.
Of course, the restorers left open an avenue for the reversal of their own progress towards color and brightness. Since the layers of animal glue are no longer there to serve as protection, the atmospheric pollutants from the city of Rome gained direct access to the frescoes. Significant darkening was already noticed in some of the restored work a mere four years after it was completed. It remains to be seen whether the measure introduced to arrest this processan extensive climate-control systemwill itself have any long-term effect on the chapel's ceiling.
The question lingers long after one contrasts the areas of the Sistine Chapel's ceiling still shackled by grime with the colorful splendor of the frescoes that have been cleaned: how could Michelangelo's masterpiece have been allowed to fall into such ruin? The amount of responsibility shouldered in restoring such a work is daunting to even the most ambitious of experts, naturally, but this does not explain the inaction. Rather, we had come to believe from centuries of habituation to the darkness of the ceiling that Michelangelo had actually desired it to be part of the effect. The courageous work of the restorers has wiped away not only the dirt but alsopainfully for those in certain circlescherished myths as well.
(*) a style of painting on plaster using water-based pigments.
The armament of the restorer has expanded in recent decades beyond artistic sensibility and historical knowledge. A chemist on the Vatican restoration team identified the composition of the layers covering Michelangelo's original colors. Since there was a stratum of dirt between the painting and the first layer of glaze, it was clear that several decades had elapsed between the completion of the ceiling and the application of the glaze. This justified the use of cleaning solvents that would lift off all but that final layer of dirt, which was kept for the sake of protection of the frescoes. The particular solvent employed, AB 57, was chosen because of the overall neutral action of its two chemicals on pigments: one temporarily tones them down, but the other livens them up to the same degree. Thus the colors that emerged from the shadows are truly what Michelangelo intended to be seen.
One member of the team asserted that the cleaning brought to light a painting that can be considered "the equivalent of a treatise, not written but painted, on the art of fresco painting." The luminous figures are without doubt the work of a master craftsman who executed typical Renaissance painting techniques to perfection. This is the source of the difficulty critics have with the restoration: the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel no longer seems to be the fruit of the wayward genius, defiant of Renaissance fresco-painting protocol, that Michelangelo was thought to be. They balk at the fact that the painter seems, like a vagabond given a good scrubbing, to be a complete stranger, rational and traditional and devoid of fearfulness and anger. But the veil that led to the misperceptions of Michelangelo has now been lifted, and we may better acquaint ourselves with him.
The author of Passage 1 implies in the first paragraph that the deterioration of Michelangelo's frescoes
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