The Sistine Chapel in Rome - Touching the Eternity

A real gem among the masterpieces of the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel, is the crown of Michelangelo’s creations and the place of pilgrimage of about 5 million people a year. Let’s find out what makes this chamber so precious and have a look at some interesting historical facts about Capella Sistina and Michelangelo Buonarroti.

Interesting Facts About the Sistine Chapel

  • When people want to visit the Sistine Chapel in Rome in fact they intend to see the two outstanding masterpieces known all around the world. These are, firstly, the ceiling fresco (with nine scenes from the Genesis) and, secondly, the wall fresco behind the altar, called "The Last Judgement". The gap in time between the first and the second frescoes is 25 years. 
  • The Sistine Chapel’s ceiling is covered with a fresco depicting only the stories from the Old Testament, which is very unusual for the Catholic tradition.
  •  In the middle of the ceiling fresco you can see one of the most recognizable images in the world, which is called “The Creation of Adam”.
  • The name of the Sistine Chapel derives from the name of the person who commissioned this work – Pope Sixtus IV.
  • Capella Sistina (Italian name) is the true heart of the Vatican City. Since 1482 Cardinals have gathered here to elect a new pope. The Chapel is 536 years old!
  • The Sistine Chapel is all done in frescoes, which means that the artist was painting it directly on the ceiling and walls. Applying frescoes is a labor-consuming and very subtle process. The artist doesn’t see the real colors at the moment of painting, because they are changing while getting dry and he has to know how exactly each color will behave at the end. Moreover, correcting a fresco is not easily done either. When we talk about a chamber of such size, the hard-to-get surface of the ceiling, the overall volume of work and its complexity the Sistine Chapel becomes even more unfathomable. 
  • When Michelangelo was painting people he was using models who posed for him. The artist was completely preoccupied with making each character look real, dramatic and sculpturelike. 
  • The artist’s way of depicting people, angels and God was revolutionary for those times. All of the figures, bad and good, appeared powerful, feasible and nude. 
  • For the first time God himself was depicted as a strong man with powerful muscled and human body. 
  • The second Michelangelo's masterpiece in the Sistine Chapel was created 25 years later after the ceiling fresco had been finished. “The Last Judgement” fresco took the artist seven long years to complete. Unlike the ceiling fresco, the center of the wall fresco is Jesus Christ.
  • This wall fresco signs fading of the Renaissance period in art. Unlike the fresco on the ceiling “The Last Judgment” is not filled with this airy feeling of harmony, ideal proportions and divine beauty. It is of different nature.
  • The amount of naked figures and the realism with which they were executed was so innovative for those times that one of the popes Pius IV commissioned another artist to ad drapery to the naked bodies on the frescoes and conceal their genitals (1565). The prior dispute about whether to do it or not was held for 20 years. 
  • Thanks to Marcello Vinusti, who made a miniature copy of the original Sistine Chapel, today we know how it looked like before all the naked figures were draped.
  • Another intriguing fact about the Sistine Chapel is that Michelangelo hid his own self-portrait in "The Last Judgement" fresco. Interestingly, the artist depicted himself through the image of St. Bartholomew who was skinned alive and was holding his own skin in the left hand. This is exactly where you can find Michelangelo’s face - on this hanging flayed skin. The reason to this poignant self-depiction is that working on the Sistine Chapel was the artist’s gloomiest periods in life. He was almost 70 years old; he considered himself a sculptor in the first place and right when the Vatican suddenly commissioned him to work on the fresco in the Sistine Chapel in Rome, he was about to complete the tomb he had started. Michelangelo could not decline this offer, which made him feel trapped for five long years. 
  • As we can see in the fresco “The Last Judgement”, St. Bartholomew is in the center of the fresco and Christ is looking right at him. As the upper part of the fresco depicts people who have gone to paradise, the part below depicts those who have gone to hell. However, the flayed skin of St. Bartholomew with Michelangelo’s self-portrait on it is hanging right in the middle. Due to this fact many historians believe that what Michelangelo really wanted to depict was his own moment of the last judgement. The artist was not sure whether he was going to go to heaven or to hell. 
  • During the time of working on "The Last Judgement" fresco and also for many years after it was completed, Michelangelo was endlessly criticized and censored by cardinals, popes and other people. Nonetheless, due to the enormous respect of Michelangelo's divine talent not only the fresco survived those hard times, it has gone through 5 centuries and still can be seen today in the Vatican Museums. 

After visiting the Sistine Chapel many people admit feeling awed and speechless. They say "You don't expect this space above your head to be so meaningful and divine". In this direct contact with the eternal masterpiece you realize both the treasure of the moment and the true value of Michelangelo's art. 

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