The Sistine Chapel Ceiling

The Sistine Chapel ceiling is one of the most outstanding pieces of High Renaissance art. This painting was done by Michelangelo between the years 1508 and 1512 during the commissioning of Pope Julius II. The ceiling depicts a perfect image of the large Papal Chapel which was built in theVatican between the years 1477 and 1480 by Pope Sixtus IV whom the chapel is named after . The approach taken by Pope Julius II as the leader of the Catholic Church will go down in history as an aggressive campaign for political control all in an overall attempt to empower the Catholic Church in Italy. He achieved this mainly by investing in symbolism that displayed his temporal powers as well as that of his predecessors.

In 1506, Pope Julius II commenced the project to paint the Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The walls of the Chapel had earlier been painted in such a manner that the lowest parts of the walls resembled draping. The middle level of the Chapel had complex schemes of frescoes that illustrated the Life of Christ on the right with the depiction of the Life of Moses on the left. On the upper levels of the wall were windows which are painted systematic niches that symbolize the forts thirty two popes.

Initially, Michelangelo had shown some reluctance in taking up the work going by the fact that he was originally a sculptor and not a painter. At the same time, Michelangelo was also in charge of another sculptural commissioning which was the Pope’s Tomb. However, the Pope would not take no for an answer and Michelangelo had no choice but to take up the work. The initial proposition by the Pope was that the pendetives should be occupied by twelve large figures of the twelve apostles. However, Michelangelo requested the Pope to accord him to structure the painting as per his wishes, a request he was granted.

Michelangelo commenced working on the painting by designing his own scaffold which is a flat wooden platform built on the wall instead of the initial suggestion of having it on the floor. According to some historians, this work was carried out at a vey uncomfortable position with some stating that Michelangelo had to work with his head tilted upwards. The technique applied in the painting is that of Fresco where paint was put to wet plaster. In this, Michelangelo used the wash technique where he applied broad areas of color and then add a more detailed and linear shade of it as soon as the initial broad colors became drier. The first three scenes of the painting containing the story of Noah have smaller figures than the other scenes in the painting. This is considered to be influenced by the subject matter that was the ‘fate of humanity’.

The overall subject matter of the painting is perceived to be the doctrine of humanity and the need for salvation form God for all humankind which was later accomplished through Jesus Christ. The painting is designed drawing its major components from the Book of Genesis. The narrative aspect of the painting is that the world was perfect as it was created by God, but the separation form God by Humankind led to the falling and punishment by death of human. A further sink into sin led to the punishment of humanity by God through the Great Flood. The pictorial scheme used in the painting is composed of scenes form the Book of Genesis, creation, Adam and Eve, story of Noah, Shields, Twelve Prophetic Figures, Prophets, Sibyls, Pendetives, Ancestors of Christ, Treatment and Ignudi.

The restoration of the painting was carried out in 1999.The colors, which now appear so fresh and spring-like with pale pink, apple green, vivid yellow and sky blue against a background of warm pearly grey, were so discolored by candle smoke, that made the pictures look almost monochrome and got critics arguing that the painting lost its original touch during the restoration.

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