12 Dec 2019
Posted in Architecture, Art, Culture, History

A religious experience.

How much do you know about the Sistine Chapel in Rome?

Part of the Vatican Museums, this monument to Christianity contains some of the world’s most treasured art, thanks to a number of master painters.

The chapel was designed by Baccio Pontelli for Pope Sixtus IV, for whom it was named, and it was completed in 1481. Not long after that, its interior was decorated with frescoes by some of the most famous artists of the High Renaissance, among them Botticelli, Perugino, Signorelli, Ghirlandaio, Antonio Tucci, and Cosimo Rosselli. Their work depicting the “Stories of Moses” and the “Stories of Christ” was completed by 1482.

Michelangelo spent four painstaking years,1508-1512, painting the chapel ceiling. (For an excellent version of the story, be sure to read Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling by Ross King.) But his contribution goes beyond the magnificent composition overhead. He created “The Last Judgment” between 1535 and 1541 for Popes Clement VII and Paul III. You’ll find this outsized masterpiece on the altar wall.

Controversy ensued. “The Last Judgment” sparked a bitter dispute between Cardinal Carafa and Michelangelo. Because he depicted naked figures, the artist was accused of immorality and obscenity. Carafa organized a censorship movement (known as the Fig-Leaf Campaign) to remove the frescoes. The Pope’s Master of Ceremonies, Biagio da Cesena, said “It was most disgraceful that in so sacred a place there should have been depicted all those nude figures, exposing themselves so shamefully… It was no work for a papal chapel but rather for the public baths and taverns.” In response, Michelangelo painted da Cesena’s face into the scene as Minos, judge of the underworld. It is said that when da Cesena complained to the Pope, the pontiff responded that his jurisdiction did not extend to hell, so the portrait would have to remain. Michelangelo also painted his own portrait—on the flayed skin held by St. Bartholomew.

The artist Daniele da Volterra (1509-1566) later painted over the genitalia in the fresco. History remembers him by the derogatory nickname Il Braghettone (the Breeches Painter).

If you haven’t been in the Sistine Chapel in a while (or, heaven forbid, never), contact Mariana Tosic, our Europe specialist, about a journey to Rome and beyond. You can find her at mtosic@rcrusoe.com or by calling 888-490-8008.

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