Sistine Chapel

The Sistine Chapel was constructed between 1475 and 1481 by Giovanni de Dolci who had been ordered by Sixtus IV who needed a chapel for domestic services and is also the location of Papal Conclaves. It was designed by Baccio Pontelli (134 * 43ft.) using ordinary bricks. It is rectangular in shape. Topping 20 meters, the chapel has a barrel-shaped roof (Hirst et. al., 66).

The inside of the chapel is divided into two by a transenna (fence made from marble).Only priests can access the part facing the altar. The two long walls each have 6 large arched windows and three virtual rings with decoration cover the wall. Raphael designed the tapestry floor which showed scenes from the gospels and the Acts. Frescoes are in the middle with scenes from the lives of Jesus and Moses which was meant to visualize the continuity between the old and the new covenant. Next to and between the windows, the top row shows images of the popes (Giudici and Galante 26).

Michelangelo painted the chapel between 1508 and 1512. It took its toll on his health: working on his back, paint centered. He is recognized generally to be one of the greatest artists of all time. He, a universal genius, has visual creativity-painting, architecture, painting, poetry and letter writing. As pope it is hardly conceivable, he should have become as indifferent to the theological implications of the painters program as to give Michelangelo full freedom to paint “what he pleased.” Michelangelo’s assertion that the original plan for the painting of the ceiling was altered and widened at his own request is no doubt a renowned one.

Since the Genealogy of Christ is closely connected with the dedication of the chapel, it was not introduced into the program as an afterthought. It is more likely that it was planned from the commencement since his sketch of the first version, if expanded in proportion to the length of the ceiling, is fully attuned with his view. While expanding he would not have violated the original liturgical sense of the program. All the essential features of the program seem developed from; remain related to, the theme of the Genealogy, the book of generation (Giudici and Galante 27). The theme is expanded in that the Ancestors themselves become relegated to the position of marginal figures; this has the advantage that they can be pictured as homely characters.

St. Antonine of Florence says that, all the names in the Genealogy of Christ express virtues because none but the virtuous could be ancestors of the Savior. Savonarola’s liberal opinion laid stress on the fact that among the persons listed as Christ’s ancestors there are, besides kings and patriarchs, notorious liars and criminals, and that at several points the genealogy deviates from its normal practice of mentioning only the male descendants in order top include an adulteress.

The genealogy was a recurring subject for sermons on the virtues and vices. Many who had heard the sermons could therefore decipher the program by simply looking at the figures and guessing what particular virtue or vice they were meant to represent. His plan, a picture of a vice appears opposite to each picture of a virtue, both of them signified by Hebrews names (Hirst et. al., 69).

Pagnini a Dominican the purveyor of the theological (Hebrew) was Michelangelo’s direct adviser and who’s Knowledge was embodied in the program of the Sistine Ceiling. The thorough character of the doctrine supplies proof against Michelangelo being the inventor of the program. On the basis of these coincidences, the least that can be claimed is that the theological works of Pagnini are worth consulting for the iconography of the Sistine Ceiling.

The complex organization structure of the Ceiling sets up two different axial directions along which relationships are to be traced; the whole is framed and contained the four scenes in the corner pendentives. Therefore his ceiling shares certain organizational principles with the City of God, the first act of creation, and series of antitheses which are more or less balanced and some are set within a hierarchy. An Augustinian scheme for the ceiling can be related to earlier and later history of the Chapel and its decoration. The citizens of the two cities in the lunettes (families are domiciled) and interpenetrating vaults (are settled in the ground) of the Ceiling are to be connected with the names of the ancestors of Christ (Giudici and Galante 29).

The screen which separates the chapel proper (at the altar end), reserved for the pope and cardinals, from the ante-chapel, which was sometimes open to aristocratic laity, under Noah’s Sacrifice is marked in the ceiling as the distinction between Sacred and profane. All the main panels to the east of the screen towards the door show sinful man without God whereas to the West of the screen shows God in his role as creator. Michelangelo iconography reflects ambiguity and as such Christian’s attitude towards sexuality remains.

His homosexuality and fondness for representing nude males rather than females is intensified. The gesture of pointing with outstretched finger denotes power and separation, good as well as evil. The theme of the double serpent which comes from Exodus recurs (Graham-Dixon, 322). Here, the explicit symbol is salvation instead of an explicit symbol of damnation.

Shekhinah a female Holy Spirit (Paraclete) pleads for her people Israel before the Lord. Michelangelo’s exposure to Cabala (tradition and reception) provides a key to the possible meaning and significance of Shekhinah to the Sistine Chapel (Hirst et. al., 62). Cabalas major concern was the mystic’s path of reunion with God, the theme that fascinated renaissance scholars. A setting meant to stress the continuity of religion demanded a ceiling with some Jewish iconography. Two of the main history ages had already been represented in the chapel: the period under the law given by God to Moses, and the period in the state of Divine Grace, the age following the foundation of the Christian Church

The old covenant through Moses and the new covenant through Christ are represented around the walls of the chapel. The main workings of the design are nine scenes from the Book of Genesis. Esther Gordon proposed Egidio da Viterbo as the possible formulator of the ceiling’s program. The program of the Ceiling was formulated at a time when the papal court was demonstrably receptive to Cabala and Hebrew studies (Graham-Dixon, 324).

Michelangelo’s claim of artistic freedom stems from artist and erudite in harmony concerning the content of the program for the Sistine Ceiling. He did not add Latin inscriptions to explain hi scenes. Sefiroth (stages of emanation) are ten in number and described as great lights, realms, jewels, and spheres. Near the time of the Sistine Ceiling, clerics like Egidio were open to the concept of female Holy Spirit and his followers were attempting to prove that the Christian Trinity had been prefigured in the pagan trinities of the past consisting of both sexes.

The importance of the Holy Spirit to the program of the Sistine Ceiling as stressed by Klaczko, Seymour and Sinding-Larsen is invoked in the chapel in countless prayers and hymns.  Klaczko referred to the program as Pentecostal. Sistine Chapel was built to provide Pope Sixtus a more suitable locale for conclaves.

Scholars treat the works selected for series in their artistic and historical contexts; each cycle illustrates a complete set of high quality color reproductions. Sistine Chapel is located in Vatican City entirely surrounded by Rome. On the last Sunday of every month, people can enter and it is free. The Chapel boasts of special cold lights that illuminate without causing damage. The humidity and temperature of the chapel is constantly being monitored by computers to secure that the history of the Sistine Chapel will continue beyond the 21st Century.

Order now

Related essays