The Sistine Chapel is a chapel in the Apostolic Palace, the Pope’s official residence in Vatican City. The Sistine Chapel, once known as the Cappella Magna, is named after Pope Sixtus IV, who supervised its reconstruction between 1477 and 1480. (Salvini 144). Since then, the Chapel has been used for both functionary papal action and numerous religious ceremonies. The Sistine Chapel is also the location of the Papal Conclave, the method of naming a new Pope. The fame of the Sistine Chapel derives largely from the frescoes that cover the bulk of the chapel’s ceiling, interior, and the “Final Judgment” (Salvini 145). During Sixtus IV’s reign, a group of Renaissance painters, which included Pietro Perugino, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Sandro Botticelli, Cosimo Roselli, and Pinturicchio created several frescos portraying the Life of Christ and the Life of Moses, offset above by papal portraits and below by trompe l’oeil drapery (Hooper 135). Such paintings got completed in the year 1482, and Sixtus IV performed the first mass celebrations “the Feast of the Assumption ” in the Sistine Chapel on the 15th of August 1483. Being the first ceremony in the Sistine Chapel, the chapel was consecrated or blessed and dedicated to the Virgin Mary (Hooper 136).
From the year 1508 to 1512, painter Michelangelo, under Pope Julius II’s patronage, painted the chapel’s ceiling, a scheme which significantly transformed the course of Western art and marked one of the greatest artistic achievements of human civilization (Salvini 148). Michelangelo returned later in a different environment of the Sack of Rome and painted The Last Judgment for both Pope Clement VII and Pope Paul III between the years 1535 and 1541. The distinction and uniqueness of Michelangelo’s paintings have attracted millions of visitors to the Sistine Chapel since their revelation about five hundred years ago (Salvini 149).
Additionally, the Sistine Chapel is in the form of a rectangular brick structure with six curved windows on both sides of its two primary walls. It also has a barrel-vaulted ceiling and its exterior dull and unadorned. However, its interior ceiling and walls are decorated with frescoes, courtesy of various Florentine Renaissance masters, including Michelangelo (Hooper 137). The frescoes on the chapel’s side walls got painted between 1481 and 1483, while the north wall has six frescoes showing events from Christ’s life as painted by Pietro Perugino, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Sandro Botticelli, Cosimo Roselli, and Pinturicchio (Hooper 138). The chapel’s south wall also has six frescoes, which depict the events from Moses’ Life as painted by Pietro Perugino, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Sandro Botticelli, Cosimo Roselli, and Pinturicchio. The chapel also has other smaller frescoes between its windows portraying different popes. The lowest portions of the chapel’s side walls got covered with several tapestries to depict events from the Acts of the Apostles and the Gospels. Such tapestries got designed by Raphael and woven at Brussels between 1515 and 1519 (Hooper 139).
The frescoes on the ceiling and the west wall, just behind the altar, by painter Michelangelo stand as the chapel’s most important artworks. The ceiling’s frescoes are collectively referred to as the Sistine Ceiling and were commissioned in 1508 by Pope Julius II before being painted between 1508 and 1512 by Michelangelo (Salvini 151). The Sistine Ceiling depict personages and events from the Old Testament. Painter Michelangelo also painted the Last Judgment fresco on the chapel’s west wall for Pope Paul III between 1534 and 1441. The Last Judgment fresco depicts Christ’s second coming and His judgment of all humanity (Salvini 153). The blessed are portrayed to be on the right side and are meant to go to heaven while the dammed on the left side and are destined to hell for torture by demons. Several Catholic and Biblical characters appear in the Last Judgment fresco, including the Biblical Eve and several Catholic saints (Salvini 154). The chapel’s Sistine Ceiling and the Last Judgment frescoes, therefore, form part of the most significant accomplishments of the Western painting. Moreover, the chapel has a unique chimney for broadcasting the voting status of the Cardinals. White-black smoke indicates that none of the candidates got a two-thirds majority vote, while white smoke signals a successful election of a new pope (Salvini 156).
In overall, the Sistine Chapel is not only an outstanding artistic masterpiece but also a site for important religious and papal activities. The chapel has been the gathering venue for the College of Cardinals during the election of a new pope since the year 1492. Besides, the chapel is famous for its Renaissance art, particularly the Sistine Ceiling, which draws over five million visitors from different parts of the world each year.
Hooper, Patricia. “A Brief Visit to The Sistine Chapel.” The Hudson Review 54.2 (2001): 235-241. Web.
Salvini, Roberto. “THE SISTINE CHAPEL: Ideology and Architecture.” Art History 3.2 (1980): 144-157. Web.