If frescoes uncover celebrated doctrine, then the Sistine Chapel in Italy is where you will unearth the best illustration of artistic history. Settled inside the Apostolic Palace in Vatican City, Sistine is both a chapel and the official residence of the bishop of Rome. It took its name, Cappella Magna, after Pope Sixtus IV, who reinstated the chapel in the fourteenth century. On the day of the election, white steam is discharged from the centre of the ceiling, making Gods and the civilisation become aware of the succession. But, what makes this church the most-visited landmark in the Roman Vatican City, is the eternal urge of pursuing the tracks of its exquisite frescoes.
Presume you are in Rome and you have made it to the Vatican Museums, stepping down long corridors, fording paths with frescoes, towering columns, statues and a lot of other things. At last, after marching a long-drawn passage, a double helix spiral staircase and a door, you are at the outset of the Sistine Chapel. What are you anticipating? A musical ensemble of singers, a peeping narthex? Sistine does not really have any of that! Instead, ring up the curtain and literally, as, in Sistine Chapel, you are girded by painted tapestries, that besides keeping you warm during long masses, are also the primary accent of this church, expressing the grand theatre of life.
And this theatrical unfolds in the paintings of the Sistine Chapel in three stages, representing characters that resonate with each of us in an engaging story embracing the entire world. So if Sistine Chapel was constituted 548 years ago as an apostolic man cave of a small group of affluent, educated Christian priests who wanted to pray and elect their pope in solace; why does it attract millions of tourists now? Because knighted by modern political perimeters, this confined space saw a dramatic explosion by delivering one of the most renowned works of art in history while lauding the ancient revivalist culture.
The inception of a private church by few elites ultimately amplified into a more comprehensive idea of uniting international audiences. This idea advanced in three stages, each linked to a historical event. The first one betokened the Italian renaissance, the second, sought inspiration from the revolutionary voyage of Columbus that altered worldly landscape and the third illustrates, well underway era of exploration when the church scaled the trials of going international. Initial illustrations of this church display a more modest world with its overelaborate scenes that tell the stories of the lives of Jesus and Moses, explaining the evolution of Jews and Christians.
To produce these designs, PopeVI culled, Florentine artists with the likes of Domenico Ghirlandaio, who went on to become the future painting teacher of Michelangelo. These male artisans covered the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel with Tuscan landscapes and Roman monuments in pure, unadulterated colour. Nearly all of these landscapes depict the social group of the pope, making these paintings a perfect illustration of a small conservative court catering to Europe. However, as the new world emerged to light in 1492, horizons variegated, and so did the Sistine Chapel.
By dint of Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, the then 33-years-old mastermind, Sistine Chapel saw a remarkable narrative. Although at the time he was appointed to paint this 12000 sq ft ceiling, the offer ricked against him. Despite having tutored in painting, Michelangelo desired to pursue sculpting. This upset the leaders of Florence. However, when a sculptural project fell through in Rome, Michelangelo was left with no choice but to paint the twelve apostles of the Sistine Chapel. The idea left him disquieted as he thought that this too would resemble every other painted ceiling in Italy. Irrespective of the odds, Michelangelo stood the challenge to chart new artistic outposts.
His inner visionary began to paint chapters of emergence that could be conjectured from 62 feet beneath. Instead of appointing the space with excessive details, Michelangelo used a chisel and a hammer to slash the marble to bare the painted figures. You see, there was nothing subtle about Michelangelo! He was one of the few who expressed his narratives through dynamic staging, and Pope Julius II kindly welcomed his genius designs. Together, they created an incomparable legacy of art! For they envisioned Vatican Museum to be eternally akin to artistic glory. Even if that meant including an exceptional collection of unchristened Rocco Roman sculptures.
This collection undershot the seed of the world’s first modern Vatican Museum. Since Michelangelo was exceptionally devoted to his work, he spent a large part of his time reaching above his head to decorate the ceiling with the stories and got the job done within three and a half years. His storytelling persisted in a way that relates to the whole world with rare artistic allusions. The storytelling opens to nine panels that couple a cast of colourful biblical characters with sculptural perspectives.
Stand at the far end of the eastern entrance, abstracted from the altar, and you will notice a series of clustered illustrations from one side to the next. You begin to stare into its expansiveness to discover a beginning. That’s when you discern that this large canvas is dotted with space at intervals, implying that perhaps, Michelangelo halted to appreciate his own work. Although legends have it that, throughout the painting process, Michelangelo not once stood on the floor to contemplate his work. Instead, he operated from a large platform that blanketed half the chapel.
Despite that arrangement, he contrived perfection into the vast landscape. Look over the eastern wall – here you will find the first panel comprising the Drunkenness of Noah, tailgated by Original Sin, The Flood, the Sacrifice of Noah and Banishment from the Garden of Eden. Concluding the sequence is Creation of the Sun, Moon and Vegetation, Severance of Land from Sea and the Parting of Light from Darkness. The panels are surrounded by Ignudi, the 20 muscular nude statues. On the opposite wall, you will find Giudizio Universale, explicating Christ in the centre.
Near the substructure is Biagio de Cesena, a man with donkey ears shrouded by a snake and Saint Bartholomew securing his excoriated skin. The prime spot of the ceiling is marked, by the Entirety of Everything, like someone befalling into our expanse, from outer space. This figure embodying the resurrection of humanity, I think, is the most critical juncture of this scene where ancientness meets newness. For the crowds that visit the museum from all faiths, this one right here makes the distant past confront the pressing reality. And that brings us to the cavernous archway from where you can observe the 1534-painted Last Judgement based on the change the world sought then!
It’s incredible to watch his paintings embrace the Islam household and Ottoman empire as much as the chapel. That an artist who never travelled beyond Venice managed to address the new world with his art. Wheeling his imagination, he drew “The Destiny,” a painting describing mortal love to regard the legacy of excellence. Then comes the Last Judgement, the end of the world, conferred in expressions of Christianity. In this illustration, Michelangelo renders a profound story. On an unexpected Vinette, you will heed a black and a white man drawn concomitantly into human concord. The other side features men and women posturing nude as athletes. In Michelangelo’s eyes, these people surmounted affliction like any one of us.
Presiding atop this Vinette rests Jesus Christ, undergoing pain on the cross but delineated by glory in heaven. Michelangelo has documented in his paintings how difficulties do not restrict distinction, only nurture it! However, in an attempt to apply an artistic style to the human body in the most sincere manner, a large part of art in the Sistine Chapel turned up nude. Primarily because, rather than conferring righteousness he acquired from Pope Julius II, Michelangelo chose to display the inner dynamism as the external strength. Not many understood his vision, and since his rare paintings were too graphic to not, attract contention, so they did!
Some even called his masterpieces of human drama; pornographic. Today the same art is visited by over 5 million visitors annually, resulting in 80 million Euros of revenue. In a fascinating turn of events, when you stand, ensnaring between the beginning and the end, Sistine Chapel compels you to glance at its surroundings like that of a mirror. By the time you leave this haven of uplifting idealism, you will find yourself seeking the answer to life’s most important question, “Who am I, and what part do I play in this transcendent theatre of life?” Sistine Chapel is not just a church that holds long masses, it’s a journey within.