The Joy of Museums

Finding Meaning in Art & History

Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel Ceiling

Lightmatter Sistine Chapel ceiling2

The Sistine Chapel is the room where the College of Cardinals are locked in and required to decide on the next Pope. The walls and the ceiling are masterfully decorated. The walls are painted with frescoes by various artists and the Masterpiece of the ceiling fresco is painted by Michelangelo.

Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564) is one of the key Renaissance sculptors, painters and architects. He painted the Sistine Chapel from 1508-1512.The many figures painted on the high ceiling when viewed from the ground level look multidimensional and look like the sculptured figures we see in the Laocoön statute.

The figures are depicted with muscular strength to give them a presence that is powerful and at the same time beautiful.

Creation of Adam

Below is the panel showing God in the act of creation of Adam. Michelangelo preferred to be a sculptor and when he painted, he was essentially painting sculpture on a flat surface. This is clearly the case in the Sistine Chapel ceiling, where he painted monumental figures that embody both strength and beauty.

'Adam's Creation Sistine Chapel ceiling' by Michelangelo JBU33

Pope Julius II (reigned 1503-1513) commissioned the 33-year-old Michelangelo to paint the ceiling of the chapel in 1508. The painting stretched over four long years and was one of the longest and most challenging projects Michelangelo undertook. Below is Michelangelo’s despairing poem about painting the Sistine Chapel. It is also known as “When the Author Was Painting the Vault of the Sistine Chapel”.

Michelangelo: To Giovanni da Pistoia – 1509

I’ve already grown a goiter from this torture,
hunched up here like a cat in Lombardy
(or anywhere else where the stagnant water’s poison).
My stomach’s squashed under my chin, my beard’s
pointing at heaven, my brain’s crushed in a casket,
my breast twists like a harpy’s. My brush,
above me all the time, dribbles paint
so my face makes a fine floor for droppings!

My haunches are grinding into my guts,
my poor ass strains to work as a counterweight,
every gesture I make is blind and aimless.
My skin hangs loose below me, my spine’s
all knotted from folding over itself.
I’m bent taut as a Syrian bow.

Because I’m stuck like this, my thoughts
are crazy, perfidious tripe:
anyone shoots badly through a crooked blowpipe.

My painting is dead.
Defend it for me, Giovanni, protect my honor.
I am not in the right place—I am not a painter.

Michelangelo wrote over 300 poems and this poem is his most translated work. The above version is translated from the Italian by Gail Mazur.

The Temptation and Expulsion

Below is the panel showing the Temptation and Expulsion of Adam and Eve.

Forbidden fruit

Along the central section of the ceiling, Michelangelo painted nine scenes from the Book of Genesis:

  1. The Separation of Light and Darkness
  2. The Creation of the Sun, Moon and Earth
  3. The Separation of Land and Water
  4. The Creation of Adam
  5. The Creation of Eve
  6. The Temptation and Expulsion
  7. The Sacrifice of Noah
  8. The Great Flood
  9. The Drunkenness of Noah

Below is a ceiling map of what Michelangelo painted.

Sistine Chapel ceiling diagram overlay composite

Michelangelo’s ceiling has had a strong influence on many artists and Johann Wolfgang Goethe stated: “Without having seen the Sistine Chapel one can form no appreciable idea of what one man is capable of achieving.”

Essential Facts:

  • Media:                          Gold, Paint, Plaster
  • Artist:                           Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564)
  • Dimensions:              40 m x 14 m
  • Location:                     Sistine Chapel, Vatican
  • Created:                       1508–1512
  • Period:                          High Renaissance
  • Museum:                      Vatican Museums

Nagy goodn.ikon

“Faith in oneself is the best and safest course.” Michelangelo

Nagy goodn.ikon


Photo Credit: 1) By By Aaron Logan, from http://www.lightmatter.net/gallery/italy/4_G & Talmoryair (Own work) [CC BY 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons 2) By Jörg Bittner Unna (Own work) [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons 3) Michelangelo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 4) By Sistine Chapel ceiling diagramA1.PNG: TTaylorSistine Chapel ceiling diagram.svg: BegoonCAPPELLA SISTINA.jpg: Michelangelo BuonarrotiFile:Achim ed Eliud.jpg : Michelangelo BuonarrotiFile:Aminadab a.jpg : Michelangelo BuonarrotiFile:Michelangelo – Sistine Chapel ceiling – Lunette “Asa – Jehoshaphat – Joram”.jpg : Michelangelo BuonarrotiFile:Asor und Zadoch (Michelangelo).jpg : Michelangelo BuonarrotiFile:Michelangelo – Sistine Chapel – Lunette Eleazar and Mathan – WGA.jpg : Michelangelo BuonarrotiFile:Michelangelo – Sistine Chapel ceiling – Lunette “Hezekiah – Manasseh – Amon”.jpg : Michelangelo BuonarrotiFile:Jacob – Joseph.jpg : Michelangelo BuonarrotiFile:Jesse – David – Solomon.jpg : Michelangelo BuonarrotiFile:Josiah-Jechoniah-Sheatiel.jpg : Michelangelo BuonarrotiFile:Michelangelo Sistine Chapel ceiling – Naason restored.jpg : Michelangelo BuonarrotiFile:Rehoboam – Abijah.jpg : Michelangelo BuonarrotiFile:Salmon – Boaz – Obed.jpg : Michelangelo BuonarrotiFile:Uzziah – Jotham – Ahaz.jpg : Michelangelo BuonarrotiFile:Zorobabel a.jpg : Michelangelo Buonarrotiderivative work: Begoon [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons