A detailed description of the Sistine Chapel’s Ceiling

The Sistine Chapel is one of the most visited locations in all of Europe. Home to the famous fresco ceiling done by the renowned Michelangelo.

The History of the Sistine Chapel’s Ceiling

The Sistine Chapel was built on an ancient foundation of Capella Magna. Pope Sixtus IV commissioned to build this chapel in the 1470s, which is where the name ‘Sistine’ comes from. Numerous painters were a part of the initial decoration, including Sandro Botticelli, Pietro Perugino, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Pinturicchio, and Cosimo Roselli. However, the ceiling was only painted a simple blue to match the sky, with stars scattered within. It was not until 1508 when Pope Julius commissioned Michelangelo to revamp the Sistine.

Michelangelo’s Struggle

When Pope Julius requested Michelangelo to complete the ceiling, he was merely a sculptor. Michelangelo had little experience with painting frescos, preferring to mould his materials. To enthuse him, the Pope commission of 40 sculptures for his tomb in compensation. Despite his reservations, Michelangelo triumphed with the ceiling artwork, which has marvelled visitors throughout its life. Despite his success, the Sistine chapel’s ceiling caused a great strain on Michelangelo’s mental and physical health. As it was a strain to reach the ceiling canvas, he invented a special scaffolding. Installing a wooden platform held up by brackets where he would stand on top of an uncomfortably bend his neck upwards. This caused Michelangelo a continuously strain his neck, with the residue of the painting continuously falling into his eyes. This lasted four years and took such a toll that is created permanent damage to Michelangelo’s eyesight.

The Subject of the Frescos

The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is separated into 33 areas with each individual space being painted with a different scene and meaning. Each area is different in importance and size, with nine centre sections that depict the story of Genesis. In the seven triangular areas neighbouring the central panels are the ancestors of Christ, including Solomon, Josiah, Jesse, Rehoboam, Asa, Uzziah, Hezekiah, and Zerubbabel. The seven square panels illustrate the prophets and sibyls including Jonah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezekial, Isaiah, Joel, and Zechariah. Lastly, the four corner pieces of the ceiling are from the Old Testament. With each being David and Goliath, the worship of the Brazen Serpent, the punishment of Haman, and Judith and Holofernes. The entire piece is an emotional depiction of devotion to God, with both God’s vengeance and love represented in the frescoes.

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