to See - The Sistine Chapel
Though named after Pope
Sixtus IV, who originally commissioned the chapel's
construction, the Sistine Chapel was given everlasting fame by Pope
Julius II. After all, it was he who commissioned Michelangelo
di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, known to centuries of art
lovers simply as Michelangelo,
paint a few frescoes to cover the 10,000 square foot ceiling.
But on the way to see that famous ceiling, which I was lucky enough to
see in 1965, there are many other delights for visitors to
and Vatican City,
of which the Sistine forms only a part. The chapel is
near to the Vatican
Museum, itself worth a day or two. St. Peter's Basilica
is also not far away with another Michaelangelo masterpiece, the Pieta
not to mention the dome of the basilica itself.
Many might consider the chapel itself to be on the small side, as it is
only 41m (135 ft) by 13.4m
(44ft). Within these close walls, however, are works of art that would
acquired by any of the major art museums in the world. All of these
benefited from a large restoration project carried out from 1979 to
Many famous names are represented and many others that should be better
known. There are several Botticelli
works here, including the 1482 Life
of Moses and The
Punishment of Korah. Alongside and nearby are
master artists of the period.
Of course, the main attraction - and properly so - remains the Sistine
Ceiling itself. Formerly decorated only with a bland covering of
stars, after four years of quite literally back breaking labor,
transformed it into the glorious nine-panel magnum opus it is
Drawing inspiration from well-known stories found in the Old Testament,
Michaelangelo festooned the
ceiling with Sibyls,
obscure nude males, and - not
least - Jehovah
giving the spark of life to Adam
with the touch of a finger.
Lovingly and carefully cleaned and restored in the 1990s, the ceiling
shows the magnificent
colors of one of the five greatest painters the world has ever seen.
"Without having seen the Sistine
Chapel one can form no appreciable
idea of what one man is capable of achieving."
Spending four years on a specially constructed scaffold, the paint
of the period nearly blinding him, the great artist had to devise and
dozen innovations. Just as one example, an entirely new plaster -
still in use today - was created to resist mold and hold the
Though the main sections of the work were completed in 1512,
to the work more than 20 years later to paint the Last Judgment,
beginning in 1535 and finishing the work in 1541. It too is not to be
missed. Nor can it be, really, since it covers the entire wall behind
the altar of the Sistine Chapel.
Among other fascinating aspects is the depiction of St. Bartholomew, a
self-portrait that shows the figure having his skin flayed.
Michaelangelo was heavily criticized at the time, and by powerful
figures, for his frequent depiction of nude figures. Though he won a
temporary victory, the depictions of male genitalia were later painted
Even those not usually interested in fine art commonly come away from
Sistine Chapel with a sense of awe. No visit to Rome is complete
without a viewing of this site of so many masterpieces.
the Eternal City