Alexander Eliot – The Sistine Chapel Restoration

The left foot of Michelangelo’s Jonah on the Sistine Chapel ceiling, as it was before restoration (left), and after restoration (right), in the course of which the shadow cast by the foot was removed. Note the loss of other shadows and the changes that occurred to the design of the draperies.

A record of the original Sistine Chapel survives. In 1967/8 the writer, painter and former art critic of Time, Alexander Eliot and his film-maker wife, Jane Winslow Eliot, spent over 500 hours on the scaffold making The Secret of Michelangelo, Every Man’s Dream, in the course of which film they noted that:

With the exception of the previously restored Prophet Zachariah, almost everything we saw on the barrel vault came clearly from Michelangelo’s own inspired hand. There are passages of the finest, the most delicately incisive draughtsmanship imaginable.”

Someday, the Eliots’ film (made for ABC Television) might be re-shown, but meanwhile, Alexander Eliot’s testimony is now on the record in a new full-length film/DVD biography, A Light in the Dark: The Art and Life of Frank Mason, in which he and other early campaigners against the restoration (including the late painter, Frank Mason, and the late Professor James Beck) are given voice on the Sistine Chapel restoration. Not least of the delights among this film’s precious and historical footage, are Tom Wolfe’s account of his lessons in Frank Mason’s painting classes at the Art Students League, New York, and the sight of the former Metropolitan Museum of Art director, the late Thomas Hoving, belligerently boasting that he himself had helped sponge from the ceiling the “filth” that was in truth the last stages of Michelangelo’s painting.

The 500th anniversary of the completion in 1512 of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling paintings has gone almost entirely un-celebrated. On October 31st, in a small “in-house” service marking the 500th anniversary of Pope Julius II’s service celebrating the completion of the ceiling, Pope Benedict XVI asked a group of cardinals, Vatican employees and guests to imagine what it must have been like 500 years ago, adding that contemplating the frescoes renders them “more beautiful still, more authentic. They reveal all of their beauty. It is as if during the liturgy, all of this symphony of figures come to life, certainly in a spiritual sense, but inseparably also aesthetically.” Apologists for the transforming 1980-90 restoration of the ceiling are nonplussed by the missed opportunity for a mega-beano half-millennium art celebration.


The Secret of Michelangelo: Every Man’s Dream – Alexander & Jane Eliot

Written by Alexander Eliot, The Secret of Michelangelo: Every Man’s Dream an hour long special, appeared on ABC prime time television Dec. 6, 1968 9:30-10:30 p.m. Christopher Plummer and Zoe Caldwell narrate this documentary on Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel frescoes.

In this promotional intro, you can see Jane and Alex climbing the scaffold to the ceiling.

Alexander Eliot – Alan Harrington

My lanky, sallow, saturnine friend Alan Harrington had the distantly bemused air of a desert dweller. Alan’s mother was an anthropologist, working among  America’s Southwest Indian tribes, so I wondered whether he might be half Indian. If so, he never mentioned it. Continue reading “Alexander Eliot – Alan Harrington”

Alexander Eliot – Eros & Psyche

I spent my writing time at the beautifully restored Rubenshuis, sitting on a bench in the old master’s garden, with its low hedges, little gates, blackish trellises, straight paths, white and yellow flowers, and yellow-billed blackbirds calling sweetly back and forth.

Rubens adorned his garden with baroque statues of Minerva the Roman goddess of wisdom, and Mercury the guide of souls. He also set a small temple of Hercules — the only pagan hero to achieve godhood — in its midst. Hercules wore a lion skin, with the lion’s head hooding his own. The champion’s observant face gazes sympathetically from under the kingly beast’s muzzle.



(Excerpt from Alex’s forthcoming memoir, to be published by WriteSpa Press)

Alexander Eliot – Free at Last

300 Years of American PaintingDuring my early years at Time I had nothing but black and white “cuts” of artworks to illustrate my section. Finally, Dana Tasker succeeded in establishing a regular “art-color page”, with me choosing the material and writing the copy.

Soon afterward, Tack left Time to join Look magazine.

At fifty-two issues a year, it wasn’t long before Time accumulated a color reproduction “electroplate” equity worth millions of dollars.

Then one day in January, 1956, over lunch at the Century Club, I fell into fateful conversation with a visiting French critic.

I happened to mention my enthusiasm for American art.
Exuding Continental courtesy, the critic carved the air with his hands: “Mais, oui.  Pre-Columbian sculpture.”

“No,” I said, “I mean painting.”

“Vous avez raison. Jackson Pollock!”

“Aren’t you aware of any other art on our side of the water?

“Alors. Nothing to pause over.”

I gaped at the man, thanked him kindly for getting my all-American goat, rose from my chair, and scurried back to Time. There I scrolled a sheet of paper into my typewriter and banged out an urgent memo to my bosses.

Time Inc, I wrote, ought to publish an art book authored by myself and designed to re-cycle over two hundred American  paintings in our color-reproduction bank. We could, for the first time, firmly establish American painting on the world map.

(Excerpt from Alex’s forthcoming memoir, to be published by WriteSpa Press)