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 In Travel

The Sistine Chapel was named after it’s commissioner, Sixtus IV della Rovere, and built 1473.

I filmed our tour guide, around the Vatican… and I had to share what I leaned, more specifically all about the Sistine Chapel


The Ceiling


Pope Julius (reigned 1503-13) ordered Michelangelo to paint to ceiling of the Sistine Chapel despite his prior refusal to do so, due to his lack of experience – he was a sculptor.

Nevertheless, the Pope specifically asked for Fresco painting – one of the most difficult techniques to be executed. Fresco (Italian for “fresh”) is the method of painting directly onto freshly laid, wet plaster. The time to paint is therefore is extremely limited and you must know the exact composition of plaster and water.

However, during the application of water colours upon plaster, a chemical reaction occurs, where the colour is absorbed by the wet plaster. Therefore, it is not a painting in which is applied to the wall, but the wall itself is painted.

It’s a series of nine scenes, from the book of Genesis, that move across the central panels, which are framed by painted architectural framework.

1. The separation of light from darkness

2. The creation of sun and moon

3. The separation of land from the sea

4. The creation of Adam

5. The creation of Eve

6. The expulsion of Adam and Eve from the garden of Eden

7. The sacrifice of Noah

8. The great flood

9. The drunkenness of Noah

“It’s the story from the Genesis. In the middle, God is separating light and darkness, the moon and the sun, and earth from water. And next, the creation of Adam – the most beautiful, the most famous scene. He is muscular, strong as God gives him the soul, and energy through his fingers. And the creation of Eve, then the downfall of Adam and Eve from the paradise.”


The Creation of Adam

Then all around the perimeter of the ceiling, we see the prophets, sibyls (who predicted the coming of a savior of mankind) and the ancestors of Jesus Christ.

“The figures between the triangles include two different types of figures – Old Testament prophets and pagan sibyls.  Humanists of the Renaissance would have been familiar with the role of sibyls in the ancient world, who foretold the coming of a savior.  For Christians of the sixteenth century, this pagan prophesy was interpreted as being fulfilled in the arrival of Christ on earth.  Both prophets from the Old Testament and classical culture therefore prophesied the same coming Messiah and are depicted here.  One of these sibyls, the Libyan Sibyl, is particularly notable for her sculpturesque form.  She sits on a garment placed atop a seat and twists her body to close the book.  Her weight is placed on her toes and she looks over her shoulder to below her, toward the direction of the altar in the chapel.  Michelangelo has made the sibyl respond to the environment in which she was placed.”



Libyan Sibyl

12,000 square of painting using unfamiliar techniques and 4 years of work, alone – Michelangelo was destroyed. His back was deformed forever.


The Last Judgment


The Last Judgment

Michelangelo began his work on ‘The Last Judgment’ in 1535, 25 years after completing the Sistine ceiling, at 61 years of age. It took 6 years. This work was a departure from conventional Renaissance form, provoking both anger and admiration in Rome.

This dark and dramatic composition is is organised following a single circular movement, including 400 figures. The damned souls descending down to Hell and the saved souls going up to heaven – the angels play their trumpets to awaken the dead, as the Archangel Michael reads from the book of souls to be saved.

Michelangelo included Biagio da Cesena, a Papal Master of Ceremonies, at the bottom right of his work – Hell. Cesena criticised the artists work, saying that nude figures had no place in such a sacred place. But Michelangelo believed that is how God intended beauty to appear. As a result, Michelangelo included him as Minos, the god the underworld, with a serpent wound tightly around his body.

Due to the angels, saints and the damned being painted as naked figures, shortly after the paintings completion, he was instructed to apply clothing to each figure.  A pupil of Michelangelo was hired to begin painting cloths. Over the years, more were added until at the end of the 18th century there had been 40 additions.




Work to restore the Fresco’s began in 1980. The surface was dirty, and severely cracked, as a result of previous restoration attempts. Firstly, the walls were simply cleaned with a damp sponge, and then Japanese paper was applied. A solvent, AB57,  (mainly bicarbonate of soda and ammonia in water) coated the paper. The AB57 then dissolved the grin, which was then drawn into the paper, and removed after 4 minuets.

After 5 years of work, the restoration of the ceiling was completed in December 1989. However, a year later, their work on the Last Judgment began. Using similar techniques, the restorers removed all but 17 of the clothing that was applied to the figures. They were able to remove these without damaging the original Fresco’s due to the use of pigments which didn’t soak into the original fabric.

The lower section of the wall was found to be the most difficult to clean, being closest to the alter lamps and candles – the soot and grime was thicker than anywhere else. This is where the restorers discovered something that I found particularly amusing. Whilst cleaning the figure of Minos (Biagio da Cesena)  the restorers discovered that the serpent is actually biting his… well, delicate area shall we say.


Biagio da Cesena

Mmmm, what a lovely way to end a blog post….

Keep smiling, Lara x

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