Rome

    16/11/2022

    When was the Sistine Chapel painted and other curiosities

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    In this article, we explore the Sistine Chapel, one of the main event in the itinerary of many tourists from all over the world.

    The Chapel, located inside the Apostolic Palace, and attracts an incredible amount of people from around the Globe, on a daily basis. It’s frescos, the altar, and the monumental ceiling, are a gem not only religiously, but also historically and artistically. Sit along one of the walls, and just take in all the beauty. We guarantee you will be awestruck. Because it really does leave you speechless: the intricacy behind a true work of art that connects you with a higher power.

    But when was the Sistine Chapel painted?

    Let’s start by saying that the Sistine Chapel is named after Pope Sixtus 4th, whom is responsible for its early restorations between 1473 and 1481. From that moment on, the Chapel was bound to be dedicated, inside the Vatican City life, to the celebration of the acts and papal ceremonies.

    For the grand restorations the Pope has summoned the most illustrious renaissance artists.

    For the historical moment of the Renaissance-era, the artists who answered the call were: Sandro Botticelli, Luca Signorelli, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Pinturicchio and the Perugino.

    These artists were in charge of the frescos on the walls of the Sistine Chapel: a series of panels representing the life of Moses (on the walls on the left) and the life of Jesus Christ (on the walls on the right). Along with the protagonists from the Old Testament, the panel portray men from back at the time and every Pope who sat on the throne of Peter, up until then.

    The paintings were all finished in 1482 and in occasion of the Holy Assumption, Pope Sixtus 4th celebrated mass there for the first time, consecrating the beautiful Sistine Chapel to the Virgin Mary.

    On the death of Sixtus the 4th, the new Pope elected was his nephew, Giulio the 2nd della Rovere, also called “the warrior Pope” because of his vengeful spirit, his thirst for power and warmonger nature. He was even often the one to lead the army in battles.

    When you prepare to visit the Sistine Chapel, you will notice that the connection of this place with the famous Michelangelo is quite strong.

    Sistine Chapel and Michelangelo

    It all started in 1505, when Pope Giulio 2nd lead Michelangelo to Rome and to whom he commissioned a majestic tomb.
    But the two had opposing thoughts and their both rebellious nature would eventually reduce their relations to a certain (quite unholy) curse word, in a very Italian fashion, the artist screamed right at the Pope’s face, before making return to his homeland in Florence.

    Meanwhile the Sistine Chapel was severely damaged due to the structure’s instability, reporting several cracks, because of which the frescos on the ceiling (that were a “simple” beautiful and enormous starred sky at the time) needed to be completely redone. Obviously the Pope immediately though of Michelangelo to take the restorations in hand, but he did need quite a bit of convincing to do, for obvious reasons.
    In fact, Michelangelo declined the Pope’s invitations several times, even mentioning the fact that he was not at all interested in painting something that resembled nothing less than a roof of a barn, to him. He was talking about the Sistine Chapel.

    Luckily for the history of humanity, the artist accepted in the end…And starting painting the Ceiling between 1508 and 1512.

    The Artist wasn’t pleased by his job in the beginning. In fact, he declined the Pope’s requests at first, not only for their differences, but because it was extremely challenging. A work of gigantic proportions. And he was also convinced that his colleagues at the time, motivated the Pope to make sure he would accept the Chapel’s renovations, only because they wanted Michelangelo to fail.

    The technique used to paint the frescos, didn’t allow mistakes or setbacks. And the painters had to work rapidly, because the fresco technique implied the use of fresh stucco to allow the colors to crystalize once the painting was dry, which happened very quickly. So once they started, there was no turning back. It was very hard work. And the surface that Michelangelo was able to cover is around 460 square meters, which is an outstanding accomplishment. Even if physically exhausting.
    In fact, he once wrote his friend Giovanni da Pistoia, in 1509, telling him that his works on the Sistine Chapel were taking a toll on him, physically and mentally.
    As he wrote ironically in one of his poems “I’m already suffocating in this torture” and continued saying that his stomach was squeezed under his beard, his face was the perfect palette for paint, his skin was melting underneath him and his spine was tied into knots.
    He concluded that he had to change his day job: “I am not in the right place-I’m not a painter”.

    But Michelangelo’s works on the Sistine Chapel took place in different periods in time: like The Universal Judgement on the walls behind the altar. This was painted only after he painted the ceilings, between 1536 and 1541 for the Popes Clemente 7th and Paul 3rd.
    The Area dedicated to the Universal Judgement was “unveiled” on October 31st 1541, leaving everybody speechless. But not for long. It seems that the beautiful painting wasn’t at all appealing to the moralists who found the frescoes obscene. Possibly because the fresco included hundreds of nudes. The accusations of heresy and obscenity were so strong that they forced Michelangelo to take a step back from the Holy Office for a few years.

    Daniele da Volterra and the cover of the nudes painted in the Last Judgment

    Only after Michelangelo’s death the Council of Trento ordered in 1563 that all the nudes painted in the Judgement were to be covered. Daniele da Volterra was commissioned the work, and his job consisted of covering the men’s obscenity with undergarments. From that moment on Daniele da Volterra was known as the “Bragotte”, literally means undergarments.

    He was the man in charge of painting underwear on the people in the painting!
    Daniele da Volterra was also a student and admire of Michelangelo, so he learned from the master all the techniques to use for these type of frescos. To paint the underwear, he used a method that consisted in dry tempera, leaving the original painting intact and undamaged underneath.
    While the scene of Holy Biagio and Caterina were chiseled completely, because the position they were placed in was found unacceptable.

    In 1994 a massive restoration was necessary, because of centuries of candle smoke and incense that attacked the walls of the Sistine Chapel. And the nudes were revealed once more. But the restoration supervisors decided to leave a few figures in undergarment, as testimony of the mid 1500s Counter-Reformation.

    Curiosities about the Sistine Chapel

    One of the many curiosities about the Sistine Chapel and Michelangelo’s work, is how he changed the representation of God: before then, He was portrayed in a Hand, the Hand of God, that breaks through the clouds. Thanks to Michelangelo, God was represented for the very first time in the Sistine Chapel in a human form, a muscular body to highlight His Power and a long white beard, some say that it recalls the Greek God Zeus.

    Another curiosity is that from the 1870s to this day, the Sistine Chapel is designated to the election of the new Pope, where the Cardinals gather to cast their vote. And once the new Pope is made, he is conducted in the Crying Room, a small room behind the Universal Judgement. Fun fact about this room, it is called crying room because it is traditionally where the elected Pope gathers his thoughts and allows himself to cry, tears of joy of course.

    The Sistine Chapel is included in the Vatican Museums’ itinerary. That’s why we always recommend a professional guide for this experience.

    Visit the Sistine Chapel with a private guide and it would be like the cherry on the cake. The highlight of your trip. You will walk through numerous halls of the Vatican, filled with beautiful artifacts, sculptures and Masterpieces from every era. And at the end of the itinerary, you will finally reach the beautiful Sistine Chapel. It will be highlight of your day.

    The benefit of a guide includes many things, the incredible explanations, the most interesting facts and history and also a great guide to walk through the museums vast halls and rooms without risking to lose yourself. If you are considering a morning tour, you could enjoy having breakfast inside the Museums, for an extra special treat.

    Visit the Sistine Chapel to learn all about the beautiful structure, when it was painted and other curiosities. A day to remember.

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