Sistine Chapel, Vatican Museums

Of all the attractions in Vatican City, the Sistine Chapel is arguably the most famous. This iconic building owes most of its fame to Michelangelo’s masterpieces on its ceiling.

Millions of people travel from all corners of the globe to view these magnificent artworks and you will undoubtedly understand this the moment you set foot in the Sistine Chapel.

  • The Frescoes within the Chapel

    Sistine Chapel, Italy

    What’s curious about the frescoes within the walls of the Sistine Chapel is that Michelangelo’s works were the very final additions to the already-exquisitely painted interior. Under the watchful eye of Pope Sixtus IV, after whom the chapel was named, the hands of Sandor Botticelli, Pietro Perugino, Pinturicchio, Domenico Ghirlandaio and Cosimo Roselli brought the walls of this building to life. It was only once the walls had reached completion that Michelangelo was commissioned to complete the chapel’s aesthetic by working on the ceiling. All of this took place several decades after the original construction of the chapel in 1473.

    While most people who haven’t visited the Sistine Chapel will think of Michelangelo’s most famous depiction of ‘The Creation of Adam’, the ceiling is actually comprised of a total of nine panels, each telling a biblical story from the book of Genesis. The stories begin with the creation of the world by god in the ‘Separation of Light from Darkness’ and ‘Creation of the Sun, Moon and Planets’. The paintings then move on to the easily-recognisable ‘Creation of Adam’ in which the fingers of god and Adam meet across the expanse of ceiling. The next panels tell the story of the demise of Adam and Eve and their expulsion from the Garden of Eden. The final panels depict the stories of Noah. What is truly remarkable about these images is the level of detail and definition on each figure and object. They appear almost 3D and as though they were sculpted into the ceiling rather than painted upon it. Each of the panels is separated by columns but the way the characters in each scene interact with their respective borders makes them appear to jump from the scene.

    Either side of the 9 panels are images of the Sybils and prophets that are said to have predicted the coming of Christ. A Sybil is an ancient Roman pagan soothsayer that can see forward into the future. Each Sybil is placed in a different pose and interacts with the scene in a different way.

    In the 1980s and 1990s, the paintings within the Sistine Chapel went through a significant restoration scheme that brought new life to Michelangelo’s work. The cleaning removed centuries of grime and candle smoke and revealed a colour palette that had been hidden for generations. The work of Michelangelo had, of course, been widely praised up until this point but after the cleaning, his incredible use of colour was finally revealed. Lighting has also been utilised to highlight and boost the incredible paintings as much as possible.

  • The Last Judgement

    The Last Judgement

    Along the altar wall at the back of the chapel is another of Michelangelo’s paintings, The Last Judgement. This was painted between 1537-1541 and is a far darker piece compared to the optimistic and colourful pictures of the ceiling that he completed in 1512. When Michelangelo painted The Final Judgement, the Protestant Reformation was underway, the church was under attack and there was much turmoil.

    Michelangelo’s painting is set on a bright, blue background and contains Christ at its centre. Either side of him are saints and biblical figures and below him are the blessed on one side and the damned on the other. The souls of the blessed are being woken by golden trumpets to ascend into heaven whereas the damned are being delivered by boat to the mouth of hell. When looking at the painting, try to locate the ‘Damned Man’, a character that is covering half of his face with his hand as he is being pulled down toward hell. The incredibly intense look on his face is as though he is realising his fate and the eternity he is to spend in hell. This whole scene is said to reflect the times and the uncertainty of the church. The figures throughout this painting display an impressive musculature common in the work of Michelangelo and will leave you in awe of his talents.

  • The Architecture of Sistine Chapel

    Sistine Chapel

    Though there are as many as 54 museums in the Vatican, and around 1400 rooms full of art in the city, nothing quite compares to the Sistine Chapel. While it may be known best for its artworks, and rightly so, there is a lot more to this building. In fact, the building itself is a work of art in its own right. Designed by Giovanni of Dolci, this magnificent building was brought to life. What makes this so fascinating is that even though this is one of the world’s most iconic buildings, it is the only structure that Giovanni is known for.

A number of ceremonies are held in the Sistine Chapel as well. The Papal Conclave, which is the process that takes place when selecting a new Pope, is the most significant of the ceremonies that takes place here. This makes the Sistine Chapel one of the most important buildings in the Vatican City.

To visit the Sistine Chapel truly is an experience like no other, and while it may be absolutely packed with visitors from all over the world, you can still get lost in the marvellous frescoes which line the walls and ceiling. This building and all that it contains is the epitome of the Vatican’s artworks.

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