What the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the Vatican?
Saint Peter’s Basilica, from which the pope still gives his addresses?
The Vatican Museums and its unparalleled artistic collection?
For many, the answer is the Sistine Chapel.
Built in the last quarter of the 15th century, even in its own day the Sistine Chapel was one of world’s great wonders. The chapel was named after the pope who commissioned it, Sixtus IV (1414 – 1484), converting it from its former incarnation as the Vatican’s cappella magna (Great Fortified Hall).
Drawing inspiration from the Second Temple of Jerusalem, whose dimensions the Sistine Chapel is said to preserve, the chapel was designed so it could still serve as a fortification. Indeed, with tensions always bubbling away between Rome, the Medici Family in Florence and Turks threatening Italy’s west coast, the popes never knew when they might have to use it.
Few people know the name of the chapel’s architect, Giovanni dei Dolci, but everybody has heard of the Sistine Chapel’s main artist – Michelangelo Buonarotti. His famous frescoes of the Last Judgement and the ceiling’s biblical scenes are the main attractions that draw many multitude of visitors, rendering it one of the greatest artistic and architectural achievements on the planet.
Keep reading to discover all about it.
The structure of the Sistine Chapel was completed in 1481. It took the form we recognise today, with rectangular, six arched windowed walls and barrel-vaulted ceiling, but the interior did not quite match the splendour. The Sistine Chapel still needed a rich artistic programme to match its architecture.
This is where Florence's Renaissance Masters came in.
Michelangelo painted the major biblical scenes in specific locations.
In the center, we find the Book of Genesis. Down the left side of the chapel (facing the altar), we find parts of the Old Testament, and down the right side we find scenes in the New Testament. The Last Judgment, another fresco by Michelangelo, covers the entire wall behind the altar.
Central to the ceiling decoration are nine scenes from the Book of Genesis, of which The Creation of Adam is the best known. Having an iconic standing equaled only by Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa, the hands of God and Adam have since reproduced countless imitations of Michelangelo's original work.
The complex design includes several sets of individual figures, both clothed and nude, which allowed Michelangelo to fully demonstrate his skill in creating a huge variety of poses for the human figure and which have provided an enormous book of models that have inspired artists ever since.
Remarkably, this was Michelangelo's first attempt at painting. But he mastered these skills quickly, as the central figure of Adam was completed in just four days, and God only took three.
In total it took Michelangelo from 1508 to 1512 to complete the 300 figures that trace the Biblical history of man before the coming of Christ. But there is much controversy over the recent restoration, where 500 years of dust and grease were cleaned away, and the vibrant colors restored.The Vatican sometimes ornates the walls of the Sistine Chapel with the tapestries of Michelangelo's great rival, Raphael. The intricacy of these stunning designs is matched only by the sublime Raphael Rooms, another must-see attraction within the Vatican that we visit on our Early Morning Vatican tour.
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