One of the most well-known and cherished works by Renaissance sculptor Michelangelo was not actually a sculpture, but a gorgeous painting -- the fresco on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City. What some visitors to the famous chapel may not know is that there are many hidden images in the Sistine Chapel: it's something of a puzzle that Michelangelo left for later generations to solve. The weirdest thing about it, though, is that recent analysis alleges most of the secret imagery actually centers around female anatomy. That seems like a level of inappropriateness the (male) Catholic Church leaders surely would have disapproved.
Michelangelo was born in the late fifteenth century when the Catholic Church was still very male-dominated. A man of science and nature who'd been curious in such things from an early age, Michelangelo had a hard time reconciling his own Pagan beliefs with the decidedly Christian imagery that Pope Julius II had commissioned him to paint for the Catholic Church.
So did Michelangelo really hide feminist imagery in the Sistine Chapel fresco? Check out these old-school feminist clues and see for yourself.
The Rams' Heads Are A Lot More Than Just Rams' Heads
Some researchers who have studied the art in the Sistine Chapel are convinced that the eight rams' heads that Michelangelo placed around the borders are more than just the heads of some sheep. The way their antlers curve suggests that they may represent the female reproductive system, and on second thought, that could make sense. The structure of the head represents the fallopian tubes, uterus, and ovaries, and the reproductive strength of women.
A V-Shaped Arm Says More Than Most Viewers Realize
It may seem very subtle, but the shape of a "V" historically had more to it than meets the eye. To the Pagans, the "V" was the symbol for women, and feminine energy. The best example of Michelangelo's use of the "V" was Eve in the center of the chapel ceiling:
"Eve lifts her arms imploringly, creating a perfect V-shape which the researchers suggest may represent the pagan symbol for the vagina – the chalice from which all life springs."
Upward-Pointing Triangles Are A Pagan Phallic Symbol
The upward-pointing triangles along the ceiling's edge were the direct contrast to the V shapes hidden throughout the painting. It makes sense that if the Pagan symbol for women was a V, then the flipped version would represent men. Researchers believe that the positioning of the upward-facing triangles (touching the bottom of the "uterus skulls"), he was trying to create a symbol for sexual intercourse.
Pagans Cherished The Female Form, Which Was A Threat To The Male-Led Catholic Church
The Catholic Church has always been dominated by male figures; it was quite the opposite for the Pagans, who elevated the power of the female body. Catholic leaders felt threatened by how much the Pagans and Jews cherished women and solely celebrated the female form's ability to create life, thus were determined to eradicate that idea. If the Pope had known how many references to women Michelangelo had included in the Sistine Chapel, he almost certainly would have been upset.