Last modified on November 7, 2010, at 00:47

Sistine Chapel

The Sistine Chapel

The Sistine Chapel (Cappella Sistina) is a building within the grounds of Vatican City, in continual service today for Roman Catholic religious masses as well as the conclave for the selection of the pope, and known throughout the world as the site of some of the greatest fresco paintings by Renaissance artists Pietro Perugino, Sandro Botticelli, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Cosimo Rosselli, and especially Michelangelo Buonarroti.


Prior to Pope Sixtus IV (papacy, 1471-1484), various masses and conclaves were held within a structure known then as the "Great Chapel" (Cappella Magna), which once stood on the site now occupied by the present Sistine Chapel. Due to a severely-dilapidated condition, the "Great Chapel" was ordered by Sixtus IV to be torn down and rebuilt; to that end he placed the architectural design upon Baccio Pontelli. Supervised by Giovannino de Dolci, the chapel's cornerstone was laid in 1473, with the building completed in 1481. Named for Sixtus, the Sistine Chapel was consecrated and dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary (Our Lady of the Assumption) on August 15, 1483.

Just prior to completion Sixtus had called to Rome the Florentine painters Botticelli, Ghirlandaio and Rosselli, and from Perugia, Perugino. Their commission was to place frescoes on the walls; in addition, the artist Piero Matteo d'Amelia was tasked to paint the ceiling; his work consisted of a blue sky decorated with stars. This project lasted 11 months, finishing by May, 1482.

Julius II (papacy, 1503-1513), decided to partly alter the decoration, entrusting portions of the ceiling in 1508 to the Florentine Michelangelo for a new pictorial decoration - over some protest by Michelangelo, who insisted he was a sculptor, and not a painter. When completed in 1512, nine central stories illustrating episodes of Genesis - from The Creation to The Drunkenness of Noah - formed a centerpiece within a powerful painted architecture. The work was finished in October 1512.

In 1533, Clement VII (pontiff from 1523 to 1534) gave Michelangelo the task of further altering the decoration of the Sistine Chapel by painting the Last Judgement on the altar wall. The Last Judgement, painted between 1535 and 1541, is centered around the dominant figure of Christ, captured in the moment preceding that when the verdict of the Last Judgement is uttered (Matthew 25:31-46). His calm imperious gesture seems to both command attention and placate the surrounding agitation.


The ceiling frescoes of Michaelangelo

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