The Sistine Chapel gets its name from Pope Sixtus IV who, in 1475 decided to have the main chapel in the Vatican Palace decorated. The building itself is often overlooked, but is a very harmonious piece of Renaissance architecture, particularly appreciated when seen from the roof of neighbouring St. Peter's.
Sixtus IV employed a number of the greatest artists of the time to work on his frescoes, including Perugino, Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, Roselli and Signorelli. They did their work from 1481 to 1483, mostly on the wall panels of which there are 12. These paintings, so often overlooked in favour of Michaelangelo's later more famous work, have a depth of colour and perspective that were ground-breaking in their day.
In 1508 Pope Julius II employed Michaelangelo to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. It took four years, with Michaelangelo laying on his back on specially constructed scaffolding. The 9 central panels depict the events of the Book of Genesis - most famously The Creation with God reaching out a finger to Adam, one of the great icons of western civilization. Around the outside of this main story Michaelangelo chose to paint Ancestors of Christ, Old Testament Prophets and (at the time controversially) the Sybils from Greek mythology who were said to have fortold Christ's birth. Finally in the corners are four scenes from the Old Testament.
As Michaelangelo neared the end of his life, he found himself back in the Sistine Chapel, this time under the instructions of Pope Paul III Farnese and he began work on his masterpiece, The Last Judgment, which takes up the whole of the the end wall of the Chapel (which had been rebuilt slanting inwards to stop dust settling on the picture). It took Michaelangelo seven years to complete the fresco, which he did in 1541.
Recent years have seen complete restoration of the paintings in the Sistine Chapel which now shine with a lustre and life which they probably haven't since Michaelangelo's last brushstroke almost 500 years ago.
Photo - Andrew J. Müller
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