Why is the Sistine Chapel so important?

Italy’s most treasured landmark lies in the heart of Vatican City; The Sistine Chapel. It brings millions of travellers to its doors every year, being one of the most visited landmarks in all of Europe. But what makes this old chapel so important to both locals and the rest of the world?  

The History of the Sistine Chapel

The Sistine we know today was actually built on the basic foundation of a much older chapel, the Capella Magna. It was commissioned by Pope Sixtus IV in the 1470s, which is how the Sistine Chapel got its name, for in Italian it was pronounced ‘Sisto.’ Numerous artists were commissioned to do the inside paintings, including Sandro Botticelli, Pietro Perugino, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Pinturicchio, and Cosimo Roselli. During this time, the spectacular ceiling the chapel is famous for today was merely painted in a deep blue sprinkled with stars.

It was not until 1508 when Pope Julius II commissioned the ceiling to have a revamp did the inside change, and it wasn’t completed until 1512. The pope instructed the famous artist, Michelangelo, to redo the ceiling in detail, which led to one of the most magnificent examples of Renaissance art in the world.

The Decoration of the Sistine Chapel

At first, Michelangelo was resistant to the ceiling project. He was a sculptor at heart, preferring to mould materials rather than using a brush, with very little experience with painting. To persuade him to do the piece happily, the Pope offered Michelangelo a commission of 40 sculptures for his tomb. Before Michelangelo started with the ceiling, he asked his painter friends to help teach him. However, after seeing their style of painting, he quickly dismissed them and created his own. He also dismissed the first design of the ceiling which was meant to be the twelve apostles. But Michelangelo created his own design thinking the twelve apostles were not grand enough.

He then designed a vast painting of three hundred figures, all coming together to illustrate Man’s time on earth before the coming of Jesus Christ. Each section of the ceiling is covered, with different sections including the centre ceiling series, the pendentives, prophets, and the ancestors. Each section displays a part of the overall story, for example, the centre of the ceiling depicts a series of nine scenes, Illustrating the Story of Creation, the Downfall of Humanity as well as the Story of Noah.

Although many thought Michelangelo painted the ceiling on his back, he never worked in this position. Instead, he designed and created a unique scaffolding system sturdy enough to hold enough workers and materials and high enough to reach the ceiling. The scaffolding curved at its top, which imitated the curve of the ceiling. Due to the design, Michelangelo often had to bend backwards and paint over his head, which caused permanent damage to his eyesight.

It wasn’t until 1535 that Michelangelo started to create The Last Judgment. Both pieces are prized possessions in Italy, as some of the most recognisable paintings throughout the world.

The epic history and astonishing artwork have made this chapel one of the most important landmarks in Europe. The history and religion of the chapel represent Italy’s rich culture, and the art has played a significant role in past and present artists. Inspiring and motivating history’s great artists to produce their prize pieces.

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