The History of the Sistine Chapel

Pope Sixtus IV della Rovera commissioned the Sistine Chapel (hence its name), restoring the old Capella Magna. 

Other influential artists also have contributed to the chapel, but the painted works by Michaelangelo is what made this chapel famous.

The Structure of the Sistine Chapel

Although it looks as if there are wooden panels lining the walls and separating out the scenes, these are painted by Michaelangelo. The ceiling consists of a barrel shape and windowless walls. Most of these scenes focus on the old testament, the most famous being the “Creation of Adam”

Michaelangelo’s Influence on the Sistine Chapel

Michaelangelo was a famous sculptor by the time he was commissioned with the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo was in the middle of another commission, when the Pope changed his priorities, switching his focus to the chapel. This made Michaelangelo so angry, he left Rome. The pope eventually convinced (perhaps somewhat forcibly) that Michaelangelo should return and paint the frescoes for the chapel. The walls of the Sistine Chapel were painted in four years, with Michelangelo rushing in an attempt to return to his previous commission.

The Last Judgement

The final piece commissioned for the Sistine Chapel was painted years after the walls and ceiling were finished. This fresco, which spans one side of the chapel took six years to complete. This fresco was a large undertaking requiring Michaelangelo to cover previously commissioned work.

Instead of relying on the depiction of hell as physical torture, his figures express spiritual torment. Christ is at the center of this piece, rising the souls of the dead from the earth. The figures are in the nude, which showcased Michaelangelo’s belief that the human body was sacred. However, many of his contemporaries disagreed with this stance, resulting in bits of cloth being added after Micahelangelo’s death. (This was commonly done in various stages of the church, though it remains controversial since less talented artists often were the ones applying these changes retroactively).

Fun Fact:

There is a self-portrait hidden in this piece. When looking to the right of Christ, viewers can see the apostle Bartholomew holding a piece of flesh. However, the skin from that face belongs to Michaelangelo. It was Michangelo’s way of depicting his unworthiness. Through this image, he is showing, he is not worthy of being resurrected with his body, which is an important concept for the fresco.

Visiting the Sistine Chapel

We recommend purchasing tickets to the Vatican Museum in advance. This lets you skip the lines! The Sistine Chapel is included in the Vatican Museum and is one of the last rooms you’d explore as you make your way through.

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