Sistine Chapel

Sistine Chapel (Cappella Sistina) in Vatican City is one of the most popular art galleries in the western countries depicted by the talented Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564).

Michelangelo's world renowned Sistine ceiling depicts occasions from Genesis in dramatic and moving account, while The Last Judgment on the end wall is remarkable and powerful. The side walls are decorated with important Renaissance frescoes by multiple artists, representing scenes and contemporary popes.

But the Sistine Chapel is much more than the manifestation of its artistic beauty. It is a symbolic manifestation of papal authority and the place in which papal elections in conclave are held to this day.

History of Sistine Chapel

The Sistine Chapel was deputed by Pope Sixtus IV, from whom it got its name, in 1475. It was crafted to be - and still is - the pope's chapel and the location of papal elections. The Sistine Chapel was sanctified and dedicated to the acquisition of the Virgin on August 15, 1483.

Involvement of Multiple Painters

In 1481 Sixtus IV brought to Rome the Florentine painters Domenico Ghirlandaio, Sandro Botticelli, Cosimo Rosselli and the Perugian Pietro Perugino to decorate the walls with frescoes. Luca Signorelli was also contributed in the decoration. The fresco assignment took only 11 months, from July 1481 to May 1482 to complete.

The Sistine ceiling was initially painted by Piero Matteo d'Amelia, encompassing a star-gemmed sky. But in 1508 Pope Julius II della Rovere assigned Michelangelo to repaint the ceiling.

Involvement of Michelangelo

Michelangelo was asked to stay away from his work on the pope's own tomb and was very upset about the change. He was a great sculptor and was disdainful of fresco painting. The outcome are classic depictions of human bodies that could only be designed and crafted by a sculptor, and the project Michelangelo disliked so much (at least at first) ironically as his most well-known work.

Michelangelo was assigned to paint the Twelve Apostles and some ornaments on the ceiling of the chapel. But as he started work on the assignment, Michelangelo conceptualized grander designs and ended up painting nearly 300 figures.

He executed his project between 1508 and October 31, 1512, in incommodious conditions high on scaffolding and under continuous pressure from the pope to wind up early. The project would permanently ruin the artist's eyesight.

For prominent events, the lowest areas of the Sistine Chapel's side walls were posted with a series of tapestries depicting occasions from the Gospels and Acts. These were conceptualized by Raphael in 1515-19 at Brussels.

Restoration of Sistine Chapel

In recent decades, the Sistine Chapel has been thoroughly cleaned and restored, beginning with the 15th-century wall frescoes in 1965. The cleaning and renovation of the lunettes, the ceiling and the Last Judgment was a clumsy process leveraging computer analysis, lasted from 1980 to 1994. The renovation encompassed pulling down many of the "modesty" drapes that had been incorporated over some of the nude figures.

Controversies Involved

The outcome of the restoration process has been debatable. Critics say a prominent second layer of paint was taken away, and argue that many of the renovated figures seem flat compared with the originals, which had more impacts and intelligence. Others have considered the project for saving Michelangelo's masterpiece for coming generations to praise and for divulging the vibrancy of his color palette.

The Sistine Chapel was basically divided into two equal parts, a nave for the laity and an edifice for the clergy, by a marble screen and the design of floor mosaics. Later on, the screen was shifted to make the nave smaller and the presbytery much bigger. The walls are embellished with frescoes by Renaissance heroes and are segregated into three horizontal sections.

Wall Frescoes

The wall frescoes, nevertheless often skipped by visitors captivated by the ceiling, are fabulous in their artistic taste and fascinating in their expression. The fresco cycle includes scenes from the Old Testament on the left wall that relate with scenes from the New Testament on the right wall.

Ceiling Frescoes

The famous Sistine ceiling is segregated into nine parts in which nine stories of Genesis - from the times of Creation to the Drunkenness of Noah - are manifested. The scenes begin from the altar wall and stretched toward the entrance; Michelangelo painted them in transpose order as he begun from the section near the entrance wall. The twisting ignudi or male nudes that embellish the edges of the ceiling were immensely disputed at the time. On an average, Michelangelo's work on the Sistine Chapel comprises of:

  • 9 sceneries from Genesis
  • 4 corner pendentives
  • 5 sybils
  • 8 bronze nudes overe the pendentives
  • 8 triangular architecture with pairs of bronze nudes
  • 20 ignudi
  • 7 prophets
  • 10 medallions