Vatican Museums

Before recent cleaning, the prophet Joel’s vibrant appearance was muted beneath centuries of accumulated grime (shown here, compare with image of restored painting).

Not everyone agrees that the Vatican’s cleaning program is revealing the true Michelangelo; some argue that the master himself was responsible for the somber palette that came to be his hallmark. But the authors’ recent visit to the restorers’ scaffold convinced them that we are now seeing Michelangelo as the great colorist he was—formerly known only to his contemporaries in the first decades of the sixteenth century.

The full painting of Joel, one of seven Old Testament prophets on the Sistine Chapel ceiling, appears center, bottom in the detail at the end of “Understanding the Sistine Chapel and Its Paintings.”