Vatican Museums III - The Sistine Chapel

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Vatican Museums III - The Sistine Chapel:

Tips:

Bring along binoculars so you can see the details better.

Sistine Chapel is the last part of the tour of the Vatican Museums, about 250 m after the entrance.

There are many signs pointing to it. The museum is one way so follow the crowd and you’ll eventually get there.

You enter through a door at the altar end.

The visit is around 20-40 minutes.

There are several security guards ensuring that: you do not (under any circumstance) take pictures.  Don’t speak too loud. Leave as soon as possible so more eager tourists can come in.

Strict dress code is imposed.

There are benches at either side of the chapel.

Beware that the chapel is closed on religious holidays and some other random days.

Beware when the chapel is the most crowded: Saturdays, free Sundays, rainy days and days before a religious closure. Best on afternoons or Wednesday mornings before 11 am.

Skip the line and buy your tickets online (And yes, there is a line and it is LONG!) (See Vatican I blog).

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Take the short walk (signposted) directly to the Sistine Chapel, as early as possible, and see it first with the fewest visitors. You then follow the route to the exit and before you go down the circular stairs to the exit, you can slip back into the entrance area and complete the tour at a more leisurely pace. There is a cafe just before the Chapel. It may be a good idea you go in, so we stopped for a drink and a cake to give us time to refuel yourself - before entering the Sisteen Chapel. Be prepared that the crowds will really take away from the experience. To ensure the respect due to a sacred place, explanation is not permitted within the Sistine Chapel, even if visitors are provided with Group Tour radio systems. Explanation may be offered prior to entry in the Chapel, using the dedicated panels on display throughout the museum itinerary.

The chapel is a high rectangular building, for which absolute measurements are hard to ascertain, as available measurements are for the interior: 40.9 metres (134 ft) long by 13.4 metres (44 ft) wide, the dimensions of the Temple of Solomon, as given in the Old Testament. It is about 25m long and about 15m wide. Its a heavily guarded room where the ceiling is painted by the master of all masters: Michelangelo. It is an oblong large painting with several portions within one painting, depicting his celestial vision of the bible, Roughly in the middle of the ceiling ou see The Creation of Adam part; where God touching finger with Man. The frescoes on the ceiling were painted when Michelangelo was 33 years old. He finished them 4 years later.  The Last Judgement can being also the highlight as the detail in it is amazing. Michelangelo came back in his fifties and painted The Last Judgment which you find on the wall on the right hand side. Michelangelo considered himself a sculptor, not a painter. While in his 30s, he was commanded by Julius II to stop work on the Pope's own tomb and to devote his considerable talents to painting ceiling frescoes (an art form of which the Florentine master was contemptuous). Michelangelo labored for 4 years (1508-12) over this epic project, which was so physically taxing that it permanently damaged his eyesight. All during the task, he had to contend with the Pope's incessant urgings to hurry up; at one point, Julius threatened to topple Michelangelo from the scaffolding -- or so Vasari relates in his Lives of the Artists. It's ironic that a project undertaken against the artist's wishes would form his most enduring legend. Glorifying the human body as only a sculptor could, Michelangelo painted nine panels, taken from the pages of Genesis, and surrounded them with prophets and sibyls. The most notable panels detail the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden and the creation of man. The Florentine master was in his 60s when he began the masterly Last Judgment on the altar wall. Here, Michelangelo presents a more jaundiced view of people and their fate; God sits in judgment and sinners are plunged into the mouth of hell. A master of ceremonies under Paul III, Monsignor Biagio da Cesena, protested to the Pope about the "shameless nudes" painted by Michelangelo. Michelangelo showed that he wasn't above petty revenge by painting the prude with the ears of a jackass in hell. When Biagio complained to the Pope, Paul III maintained that he had no jurisdiction in hell.

On the side walls are frescoes by other Renaissance masters, such as Botticelli, Perugino, Signorelli, Pinturicchio, Roselli, and Ghirlandaio. Unfortunately, because they compete with Michelangelo's artistry, they're virtually ignored by visitors. The twisting ignudi or male nudes that decorate the corners of the ceiling were terribly controversial when executed.

The restoration of the Sistine Chapel in the 1990s touched off a worldwide debate among art historians. The restoration took years as restorers used advanced computer analyses in their painstaking and controversial work. They reattached the fresco and repaired the ceiling, ridding the frescoes of their dark and shadowy look. Critics claim that in addition to removing centuries of dirt and grime -- and several of the added "modesty" drapes -- the restorers removed a vital second layer of paint as well. Purists argue that many of the restored figures seem flat compared with the originals, which had more shadow and detail. Others have hailed the project for saving Michelangelo's masterpiece for future generations to appreciate and for revealing the vibrancy of his color palette.

Ceiling:

The ceiling rises to 20 metres above the main floor of the chapel. The vault is of quite a complex design and it is unlikely that it was originally intended to have such elaborate decoration. Pier Matteo d'Amelia provided a plan for its decoration with the architectural elements picked out and the ceiling painted blue and dotted with gold stars, similar to that of the Arena Chapel decorated by Giotto at Padua.[26]The chapel walls have three horizontal tiers with six windows in the upper tier down each side. There were also two windows at each end, but these have been closed up above the altar when Michelangelo's Last Judgement was painted, obliterating two lunettes. Between the windows are large pendentives which support the vault. Between the pendentives are triangularly shaped arches or spandrels cut into the vault above each window. Above the height of the pendentives, the ceiling slopes gently without much deviation from the horizontal.[26] This is the real architecture. Michelangelo has elaborated it with illusionary or fictive architecture.

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The ceiling is basically four topics:

  • A central spine depicting nine scenes from the Book of Genesis.
  • Prophets and sibyls on the sides.
  • Lunettes and spandrels with the ancestors of Jesus.
  • The pendentives with scenes of the people of Israel.

The central spine Stories:

The first group shows God creating the Heavens and the Earth. The second group shows God creating the first man and woman, Adam and Eve, and their disobedience of God and consequent expulsion from the Garden of Eden where they have lived and where they walked with God. The third group of three pictures shows the plight of Humanity, and in particular the family of Noah.

The scenes should be read from the altar to the back of the chapel, starting with the Separation of Light from Darkness and ending with the Drunkenness of Noah.

Scene 1: Separation of Light from Darkness.

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Scene 2: Creation of the sun, moon and plants.

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Scene 3: Separation of Land from Sea.

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Scene 4: Creation of Adam.

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Scene 5: Creation of Eve.

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Scene 6: Original Sin and the Banishment from the Garden of Eden.

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Scene 7: Sacrifice of Noah.

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Scene 8: The Flood.

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Scene 9: Drunkenness of Noah.

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The prophets and the sibyls

Being the first to predict the coming of Jesus, the prophets and sibyls are represented with a text label below them. The prophets saw the coming of Christ for the people of Israel, while the sibyls, not really Christian but pagan, are there to symbolically extend this grace over all mankind.

Michelangelo's Prophets and Sibyls painted in the Sistine Chapel are commanding works of art in their own right. These figures, are the largest on the Vault of the Chapel. Around the center of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel are twelve prophetic figures all representing the coming of Christ. Seven of these are Israeli Prophets, and the remaining five are the female Sibyls of the Classical World. The alternating male and female figures are seated on thrones and are depicted reading manuscripts, books or scrolls.

The pagan Sibyls have been included to symbolize that the Messiah was to come for all the people of the world and not just the Jews. They are: Jonah,

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Jeremiah,

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Persian Sibyl,

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Ezekiel,

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Erythraean Sibyl,

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Joel,

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Zechariah,

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Delphic Sibyl,

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Isaiah,

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Cumaean Sibyl,

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Daniel,

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Libyan Sibyl.

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The lunettes and spandrels

It is unclear still whether the figures in the triangular spandrels are part of the ancestors of Christ as named below in groups of three on the lunettes.

Ancestors of Christ: figures:

Salmon as a child (?):

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Jesse as a child (?):

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Rehoboam as a child(?):

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Uzziah as a child (?):

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Hezekiah as a child (?):

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Shealtiel as a child (?):

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Zerubbabel as a child(?):

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The pendentives

Michelangelo decided to illustrate four Biblical passages related to the salvation of Israel in these triangular areas at the corners of the ceiling.

The chapel has four triangular pendentives in each of it's corners. These curved shapes have been decorated with stories depicting the salvation of the Jewish people.

The four are:

The Brazen Serpent

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The Punishment of Haman

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David and Goliath

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Judith and Holofernes (I read that the head of Holofernes is a self-portrait of Michelangelo).

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The Last Judgement - the Front Wall:

The mighty composition, painted by Michelangelo between 1536 and 1541, is centred around the dominant figure of Christ, captured in the moment preceding that when the verdict of the Last Judgement is uttered.

 

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North Wall (right from the entrance): The stories of Christ, dating to 1481–1482:

Baptism of Christ by Pietro Perugino and assistants

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Temptation of Christ by Sandro Botticelli

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Vocation of the Apostles by Domenico Ghirlandaio

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The Sermon on the Mount, attributed to Cosimo Rosselli

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The Delivery of the Keys by Pietro Perugino

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The Last Supper by Cosimo Rosselli

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South Wall (left from the entrance): The Stories of Moses, painted in 1481–1482. Starting from the altar, they include:

Moses Leaving to Egypt by Pietro Perugino and assistants

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The Trials of Moses by Sandro Botticelli and his workshop

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The Crossing of the Red Sea by Cosimo Rosselli, Domenico Ghirlandaio or Biagio di Antonio Tucci

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Descent from Mount Sinai by Cosimo Rosselli or Piero di Cosimo

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Punishment of the Rebels by Sandro Botticelli

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Sandro Botticelli - the punishment of Korah and the stoning of Moses and Aaron detail

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Testament and Death of Moses by Luca Signorelli or Bartolomeo della Gatta

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Entrance Wall: This wall has frescos of the two final episodes of the cycles of Moses and Christ: the Resurrection of Christ and the Discussion over the body of Moses:

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