The Sistine Chapel, named after its commissioner, Pope Sixtus IV, has stood has an artistic marvel since 1475. In 1481, the Pope called upon the “Florentine painters”, Sandro Botticelli, Cosimo Rosselli, Domenico Ghirlandaio and the Perugian Pietro Perugino. He instructed the men to decorate the walls with frescoes – a rapid method of painting done with watercolor onto a canvas such as a ceiling or wall.
Taking only 11 months, the project was completed by May 1482. Pope Sixtus IV had hoped for the Chapel to serve as his own chapel and the designated site for papal elections, and his dreams came true; to this day, the Sistine Chapel is being used for what it was meant to all along.
Originally, the Sistine ceiling was painted by Piero Matteo d’Amelia in which he painted a star-spangled sky. However, in 1508, Pope Julius II della Rovere called upon the world-famous Michelangelo to paint over the star-spangled ceiling.
Surprisingly, Michelangelo was not happy when Pope Julius II ordered him to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo was occupied with another project of the Pope’s and was scornful to the idea of changing himself into a fresco artist for the Chapel. Nevertheless, the Sistine Chapel ceiling ended up being one of Michelangelo’s most famous and well-respected pieces of work during his life.
The Pope originally asked Michelangelo to start the project off by painting the Twelve Apostles and a few ornamental decorations. However, as he began his work, Michelangelo’s artistic mind blossomed with grander, and more creative, ideas that would soon become complex designs and over 300 figures. He worked on the Sistine ceiling from 1508 to October 31st, 1512. Throughout the span, the Pope provided the artist with intense pressures and unsatisfying scaffolding conditions. The result: Michelangelo’s loss of eyesight. If that isn’t the worst turn of unfortunate events, I don’t know what is.
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Just when he had thought he escaped the torturous conditions of working in the Sistine Chapel, Pope Clement VII called him back in 1535. This time, Michelangelo was asked to paint The Last Judgement onto the altar wall. Unfortunately, Pope Clement died a year after he had asked Michelangelo to paint the piece, so Pope Paul III Farnese, the successor, instructed that he finish the painting quickly. Regardless of the pressures to rush through, the work holds marvels of time through it all.
Artwork to See at the Sistine Chapel
The actual Sistine Chapel itself, from the outside, stands as an ordinary, sand-textured building. It is built at 40.93 meters long by 13.41 meters wide which are replica dimensions of the Temple of Solomon in the Old Testament.
Once inside, visitors should notice the left and right walls that are covered in wall frescoes. Painted, is a fresco cycle that includes scenes from the Old Testament on the left wall and corresponding scenes from the New Testament on the right wall. This is a common theme throughout the history of church art, but Pope Sixtus IV meant a deeper meaning throughout his Chapel. He wanted the art to portray the, “legitimacy of his papal authority”. Basically, he just wanted everyone to know how powerful, and cool, he was.
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Pope Portraits at Sistine Chapel
In the beginning, there were 28 painted popes, in which history says, died as martyrs. But, four of those have been painted over by Michelangelo’s, The Last Judgement. Interestingly, the popes are not painted in chronological order, instead, the pattern they are painted in a zigzag pattern from the north to the south wall. The popes are painted above the biblical scenes which is said to also emphasize the “ancestral line of the popes’ God-given authority”.
The Sistine ceiling, painted by Michelangelo, is made up of nine sections in which the nine stories of Genesis are illustrated. The stories start from the Creation story to the Drunkenness of Noah and begin from the altar wall and travel all the way to the entrance. Not surprisingly, the paintings of nude males on the ceiling were extremely controversial during this time.
Hidden in his works, Michelangelo painted two self-portraits; both of these are in the painting of The Last Judgement, see if you can spot them when you visit!