Erica teaches college Humanities, Literature, and Writing classes and has a Master's degree in Humanities.
The Sistine Chapel in Vatican City (Rome) is a Vatican chapel that showcases some of the best Renaissance art. The Chapel serves an important function for the Catholic Church because it is where new popes are selected. In addition, the Chapel is also renowned for the breathtaking frescoes that adorn the inside walls and ceiling. Renaissance artists, including Domenico Ghirlandaio, Sandro Botticelli, Pietro Perugino, Cosimo Rosselli, Luca Signorelli, Pinturicchio, and Michelangelo Buonarroti, were commissioned to paint religiously themed frescoes on the Chapel's interior. Perhaps it is because of the special historical, religious, and artistic significance of the Sistine Chapel that five million people visit the Chapel every year!
The Sistine Chapel was first constructed in the 1470s for Pope Sixtus IV at the site of a medieval chapel. Though the external features of the Chapel are rather unassuming, the interior of the Chapel underwent several stages of adornment and restoration by several significant artists. In 1481, the first series of frescoes were painted. Scenes from the Old and New Testament were painted on the Chapel walls by prominent painters of the time: Ghirlandaio, Botticelli, Perugino, Rosselli, Signorelli, Pinturicchio, and their assistants. The ceiling was also painted as a blue night sky full of stars.
The star-filled ceiling didn't last long, though, because in 1508, Pope Julius II commissioned Michelangelo to paint over the ceiling with other biblical scenes. Raphael contributed by hanging tapestries in the Chapel in 1515, but those were looted and destroyed a few years later. At the request of Pope Clement VII and Pope Paul III, Michelangelo returned in 1535 to paint a scene of Christ's second coming in The Last Judgment on the back altar wall of the Chapel. A couple frescoes were repainted later in the 16th century in order to repair some damages.
There were a couple rather controversial changes to the frescoes since their creation. In 1564, some of the nude figures in The Last Judgment were considered indecent, so the genitalia were painted over. This action met a lot of ridicule, so the coverings were eventually removed. In the 1980s and 1990s, the frescoes were extensively cleaned to remove the grime and dirt from the past several centuries. Though some scholars believe that the cleaning was too vigorous, the cleaning revealed colors that are even more stunning and intricate detail.
Walls of the Sistine Chapel
Let's look specifically at each of the walls of the Sistine Chapel. The interior walls were painted in 1481 by the Renaissance artists who were initially commissioned to work on the Chapel (Ghirlandaio, Botticelli, Perugino, Rosselli, Signorelli, and Pinturicchio). They worked together to paint two major biblical stories: the story of Moses (from the Old Testament) and the story of Christ (from the New Testament). The goal here was to show how the Old and New Testaments fit together to tell one cohesive story of God's relationship to humanity. There were also paintings of the popes who had served up to that point to symbolize how the Catholic Church was carrying on the work of Christ and the prophets.
On one wall, we see frescoes depicting The Life of Moses. These scenes include Moses leaving to Egypt, the trials of Moses, crossing the Red Sea, descending from Mount Sinai, punishing the rebels, and the legacy and death of Moses.
On another wall, we see frescoes depicting The Life of Christ that in fact mirror the scenes from Moses' life. These scenes depict Christ's baptism, the temptation of Christ, calling the Apostles, the Sermon on the Mount, the delivery of the keys, and the Last Supper.
On the entrance wall, there are two frescoes featuring a conversation over the body of Moses and Christ's resurrection. The back wall is where the altar is located, and it initially depicted the birth of Jesus and the finding of baby Moses, but they were painted over by Michelangelo's The Last Judgment.
Michelangelo's Work: Ceiling and Altar Wall
As mentioned, Michelangelo painted over the frescoes on the back altar wall in 1535-1541 with a massive depiction of The Last Judgment. In this fresco, Michelangelo depicted a triumphant Christ returning to earth to judge all souls. On Christ's right hand side, the saved ascend into heaven, but on his left, the condemned go down to hell. Some critics say that The Last Judgment sort of throws off the harmony of the rest of the frescoes because of its size and because Michelangelo had to paint over the births of Jesus and Moses in order to depict his fresco. Even so, The Last Judgment is still a stunning work.
Equally if not more stunning is Michelangelo's work on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, which he completed earlier in 1512. The middle of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel depicts nine major scenes from Genesis; these scenes focus on Creation, Adam and Eve, and Noah. The corners of the ceiling depict four other significant biblical stories. Finally, Michelangelo interspersed these scenes with paintings of the ancestors of Jesus, biblical prophets, and sibyls.
Though Michelangelo's work on the ceiling is often the most celebrated aspect of the Sistine Chapel, all of the frescoes that adorn the building are stunning depictions of the relationship between humanity and the divine. The frescoes of the Sistine Chapel serve an important purpose in depicting significant biblical stories--the Creation story, The Life of Moses, The Life of Christ, and The Last Judgment. These frescoes have made the Sistine Chapel an important symbol in the Catholic faith, as well as an incredible example of Renaissance art.
To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account
Register to view this lesson
Unlock Your Education
See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com
Become a Study.com member and start learning now.Become a Member
Already a member? Log InBack