Sistine Chapel art illustrates parallels between Moses and Christ

Published: Saturday, Sept. 3 2011 5:00 a.m. MDT

In this April 16, 2005 file photo, tables and chairs line the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican in preparation for the conclave.

Pier Paolo Cito, AP file photo

PROVO — For too long, the 10-foot-high pieces of artwork illustrating the parallels between the lives of Moses and Christ were literally in the dark.

Until the soot from centuries of burning candles could be cleaned off and the treasures created by a team of Renaissance fresco artists including Botticelli, Rosselli, Signorelli, Ghirlandaio and Perugino could be examined closely, few people recognized the significance of the work on the long walls of the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican.

"For LDS people, the parallels between the lives of Moses and Jesus are logical. The overall schema of these wall paintings makes sense because understand that there was a plan laid down for the world and that signs would be given so people would know (when the real Christ came)," said John W. Welch said in a recent Campus Education Week presentation at Brigham Young University.

Welch is the founder of the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies at BYU (FARMS), editor of BYU Studies and a BYU professor of law who has devoted years to religious research.

Welch said because the paintings were darkened with soot and dirt over time and thus were often overlooked, when he was first approached by his colleagues about his work on these paintings, most of them said, "Is there something on the walls?"

The cleaning of the paintings revealed colors and brilliant correlations that could only have been created purposefully, he said. "The types and shadows are not accidental. Yet it has been hidden. Yet it's there in plain sight."

Welch has stood inside the chapel and worked with high-resolution photographs to study the typology or signs in Mose's life that foretell of Christ's coming and validate the ancient prophesies.

"Moses was a type of Christ. Jesus was, in fact, the one promised," Welch said. "The brilliance of theses paintings in the Sistine Chapel is in their use of this typology."

He has since lined up the "pairs" of pictures and uses them in presentations to students and scholars to explain the numerous parallels he and others have found.

"The connection between the two is something that needs to be brought to people's attention," Welch said. "The Moses typology exists. It's real."

There were originally 16 paintings, commissioned by Pope Sixtus IV on the long walls beneath the famous ceiling and high wall art done by Michelangelo in the late 15th century.

Two were painted over to make way for Michelangelo's painting of the last judgment on the front wall of the chapel. Those two pieces depicted the birth of Moses and the birth of Jesus, which likely compared the fact that both escaped a period of infant killings and both were sent to rescue or save mankind, Welch said.

Two others on the eastern wall have been redone by more modern artists (Hendrick Van den Broeck and Matteo da Lecce) depicting the fight over Moses' body and Christ's resurrection.

The six originals left on either side of the chapel and the newer pair depict seven parallel points in the lives of Moses and Jesus that suggest Moses was sent to foreshadow Christ's coming. They include:

1. Rebirth or regeneration: Circumcision of Moses' Son and the Baptism of Jesus, which both show people who have crossed over to God's side through covenant-making.

2. Testing or trying: Moses in Egypt and Midian is aligned with the Temptation of Christ, which show both Moses and Christ as shepherds and givers of water as well as having conversations with God.

3. Acceptance/reception: The Crossing of the Red Sea and the Calling of the First Apostles, which depict a gathering of people with the Red Sea in turbulence in Moses' time and the peaceful waters of the Sea of Galilee representing the gospel in Christ's time along with Moses helping his people escape bondage and Christ helping mankind escape death.

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