The Sistine Chapel is one of six chapels in the Vatican Palace. It was built between 1475 and 1483 duringPope Sixtus IV della Rovere and designed by Giovannino de’ Dolci. The artists who painted the walls were Sandro Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, Pinturicchio, and Luca Signorelli. The subject matter to be painted was the biblical history of the world divided into three eras: the time between the creation of the world and when Moses received the ten commandments, the time between the ten commandments and Christ’s birth, and the Christian era following Christ’s birth. All the scenes were painted as frescos while the ceiling was painted blue with gold stars.
In 1508 Pope Julius II “requested” Michelangelo paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo did not want to paint the Sistine Chapel ceiling. He considered himself a sculptor, not a painter, and he had never painted using fresco technique prior to the Sistine Chapel. Information that renders his work even more amazing when you consider the detail.
The ceiling dimensions measure 30 feet by 140 feet. The ceiling is curved so that the center is just shy of 68 feet high. This makes the amount of space to be painted around 5000 square feet. Over this space he would paint nine scenes from the book of Genesis, the Creation of Even, The Temptation and Fall of Adam and Eve, and the Flood. Surrounding these in a historical timeline are a variety of old testament prophets and ancestors of Christ–a total of 336 figures. He also used a technique called pozzolana which uses lime, water and volcanic ash to create the “plaster”.
Michelangelo painted from 1508-1512. He wrote a poem when he was finished, expressing his feelings about his work on the ceiling. It’s short and worth the read–quite humorous as he describes the physical consequences of being upside-down for so long.
The Sistine Chapel is truly and amazing work of art, especially the ceiling, and especially when you consider it was painted by someone who didn’t really want to do it.
A small travel tip; we went in August, and all the heads you see in the photo above show the crowds. It was literally wall to wall people in the Sistine Chapel–shoulder to shoulder, packed with people. The only time I’d ever seen anything like that was Jackson Square in New Orleans on New Years Eve. We were told this is the heaviest tourist time for Rome.