Where Is the Sistine Chapel?
The Sistine Chapel is in the Vatican, the center of the Vatican City (State della Citta del Vaticano), which is the official residence of the Pope and the spiritual center of the Roman Catholic Church. It is situated in the heart of Rome, Vatican City and covers 109 acres. It was granted absolute independence in 1929 by the Lateran Treaty signed by Pietro, Cardinal Gasparri and Benito Mussolini, then dictator of Italy.
The Sistine Chapel stands on the site of a chapel built by Pope Nicholas III. It was built by Giovanni dei Dolci, under commission from Pope Sixtus IV (1414-1484), who was a great patron of architects, painters, sculptors and scholars, and a great builder and restorer of churches. The frescoes in the Chapel were painted by Perugino, Pinturicchio, Ghirlandaio, Botticelli and Signorelli.
Under Pope Julius II, Michelangelo was commissioned to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. This magnificent work tells the story of Genesis from the Creation to the time of Noah, and took from May 1508 until August 1511 to complete. This ceiling is one of the world’s masterpieces. The Sistine Chapel is open to the public in the mornings, except on Sundays and Feast Days.
The Sistine Chapel originally known as the Cappella Magna, has served as a place of both religious and functionary papal activity. Today it is the site of the Papal conclave, the process by which a new pope is selected. The fame of the Sistine Chapel lies mainly in the frescos that decorate the interior, and most particularly the Sistine Chapel ceiling and The Last Judgment by Michelangelo.
During the reign of Sixtus IV, a team of Renaissance painters that included Sandro Botticelli, Pietro Perugino, Pinturicchio, Domenico Ghirlandaio and Cosimo Rosselli, created a series of frescos depicting the Life of Moses and the Life of Christ, offset by papal portraits above and trompe l’oeil drapery below. These paintings were completed in 1482, and on 15 August 1483 Sixtus IV celebrated the first mass in the Sistine Chapel for the Feast of the Assumption, at which ceremony the chapel was consecrated and dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
Between 1508 and 1512, under the patronage of Pope Julius II, Michelangelo painted the chapel’s ceiling, a project which changed the course of Western art and is regarded as one of the major artistic accomplishments of human civilization. In a different climate after the Sack of Rome, he returned and between 1535 and 1541, painted The Last Judgment for Popes Clement VII and Paul III. The fame of Michelangelo’s paintings has drawn multitudes of visitors to the chapel ever since they were revealed five hundred years ago.
To be able to reach the ceiling, Michelangelo needed a support; the first idea was by Julius’ favoured architect Donato Bramante, who wanted to build for him a scaffold to be suspended in the air with ropes. However, Bramante did not successfully complete the task, and the structure he built was flawed. He had perforated the vault in order to lower strings to secure the scaffold. Michelangelo laughed when he saw the structure, and believed it would leave holes in the ceiling once the work was ended. He asked Bramante what was to happen when the painter reached the perforations, but the architect had no answer.
The matter was taken before the Pope, who ordered Michelangelo to build a scaffold of his own. Michelangelo created a flat wooden platform on brackets built out from holes in the wall, high up near the top of the windows. Contrary to popular belief, he did not lie on this scaffolding while he painted, but painted from a standing position.
Michelangelo used bright colours, easily visible from the floor. On the lowest part of the ceiling he painted the ancestors of Christ. Above this he alternated male and female prophets, with Jonah over the altar. On the highest section, Michelangelo painted nine stories from the Book of Genesis. He was originally commissioned to paint only 12 figures, the Apostles. He turned down the commission because he saw himself as a sculptor, not a painter.
The Pope offered to allow Michelangelo to paint biblical scenes of his own choice as a compromise. After the work was finished, there were more than 300. His figures showed the creation, Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and the Great Flood. The painted area is about 40 m (131 ft) long by 13 m (43 ft) wide. This means that Michelangelo painted well over 5,000 square feet (460 m2) of frescoes.