Michelangelo S Sistine Chapel Essay, Research Paper
Michelangelo s Sistine Chapel
During the Renaissance period, there were many great artistic achievements that were incredible. Michelangelo Buonarroti was one of the most famous personalities from this era. He was an accomplished artist, sculptor, architect, and poet who created many astounding works. Some of his great accomplishments were his sculptures of David and the Pieta. He is probably most remembered for painting the ceiling at the Sistine Chapel in Rome. It has been called the most incredible achievement in the Western World. Michelangelo began this endeavor in the fall of 1508 to 1512; during this time he painted some of the finest pictorial images of all time.
Pope Sixtus IV, of the della Revere family, is known throughout history as a great scholar who spurred humanistic and religious learning during his reign. One of his greatest achievements was the decision to build a new papal Chapel that was as strong as a fortress. It was named the Sistine Chapel and it became the capital of Western Christendom. It was damaged in 1504 when a collapse in its structure caused a large crack to appear in the ceiling. Pope Julius II, Sixtus nephew, succeeded him in 1503 he decided that the most important Chapel in Christendom must be renovated. He wanted to replace the existing ceiling, which was a galaxy of silver stars on a blue ceiling. Julius decided that Michelangelo would be the one that would repaint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
In April 1508, Julius II summoned Michelangelo back to Rome; he thought the Pope was summoning him to tell him to continue with the statue for Julius s tomb. The Pope didn t want to talk about the project; he had a new one in mind for Michelangelo, a huge fresco painting for the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo didn t want the project because he knew it was an impossible task and one that would require him to forgo his true love, sculpting. Julius s chief architect, Bramante didn t like the idea of Michelangelo being considered for the job. He questioned Michelangelo s lack of experience with painting figures and designing them in foreshortening, which he felt was essential for ceiling decoration. He also questioned whether Michelangelo had the courage to take on such a huge task. After Michelangelo had gotten word of Bramante s negative statements of his abilities and character, he dropped an important fresco commitment in Florence and took on the task of repainting the famed Sistine Chapel. This may have been the start of the Bramante-Michelangelo feud that spanned many years afterwards.
Michelangelo worked on the ceiling from July 1508 to October 31, 1512. He hired five assistants to aid him in the painting process. However the work did not proceed as the master wished, and he soon fired all of his assistants, removed what had already been painted and, between the end of 1508 and January 1509, recommenced the whole enterprise on his own. Michelangelo painted three hundred and thirty-six assorted figures on the Sistine ceiling. This was an incredible feat and in the present, three hundred thirty-five and one-half of these figures still remain. Michelangelo had turned the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel to one of the greatest artistic feats of the Renaissance or any period in time.
The paintings on the ceiling are done in fresco, which is an incredibly difficult process. It has been described by many artists to be the most manly form of great painting methods where only the most confident and talented artists could excel. The fresco method of painting is similar to the lore of Michelangelo, almost mythical and larger than life. The method of fresco painting is somewhat simplistic, but incredibly difficult to master. An area of wet plaster is laid down on a specifically prepared ground and then the artist s paints on it. The colors of the pigments applied to he plaster fuse together while it dries. The result is a beautiful union of colors and plaster that cannot be matched by any other method of painting. Each area of the plaster that is to be painted is called a giornata, a day s work.
The problems of fresco painting are somewhat obvious. The time that the artist has to apply the paint is very limited and it usually means that the artist has only one attempt to successfully accomplish their objective before it dries. The artist s first brushstroke is incredibly important because of this major time constraint. Fresco is obviously not suited for the faint hearted. The advantages of fresco must be seen first hand to truly understand its beauty. Michelangelo was a master of fresco painting because of the skill and efficiency of his technique.
When the ceiling is analyzed, it is obvious that Michelangelo was incredibly efficient with his limited brushstrokes. For example, the famous reclining Adam took only four giornate while The God who made him only took three. It was also obvious that Michelangelo worked with great speed, which is probably the most impressive aspect of the ceiling. One of the reasons that Michelangelo was able to paint so quickly was a result of things that he didn t paint such as the fact that he left the white of Adam s eye unpainted in order for the white color of the plaster to give it life. The famous little penis of Adam consisted of only two brushstrokes and must have taken him no more than a couple of seconds to complete it. The ceiling of the Chapel was painted in two parts. The first of the ceiling took Michelangelo about three years to
complete. By the end of August, 1510 the first half of the ceiling was finished and the second half took about fourteen months. This is quite a difference in time and a very interesting situation. It seems that Michelangelo was able to finally view his masterpiece in the proper conditions after the first half of it was finished and have a better idea of how to make it better. He could see how the figures looked in the proper lighting and from the distance that other people would view the ceiling. It is here at this point that a radical change of style can be seen in the ceiling. One change is the discontinuation of the use of gold in the paintings. In the first half of the ceiling, Michelangelo used gold in many of the paintings. In the second half, no more gold was used at all and this can be seen between the Creation of Eve and the Creation of Adam. The other obvious change was the time it took to paint the second half. It took him about half the entire time that it did for him to finish the first half. Michelangelo described his plans for the start of the paintings in a letter. He was to paint the whole ceiling, which included the lunettes above the window arches and the vaulted triangles, which connected the lunettes with the vault. This basically meant that there was no area of the ceiling of the Chapel that was to uncovered with paint. Michelangelo did a lot of research into physical anatomy for his paintings in the Chapel. There are various sketches around the world where it shows how Michelangelo did rough sketches of body parts or facial expressions that were later included in the ceiling. He did not just create these paintings with a free hand; he had a grand scheme for everything. Many factors were taken into account, most importantly the physical structure of the ceiling. It was not a flat surface, so preparations and planning must have been made in order for the figures to be correctly expressed.
All the paintings on the ceiling were all connected to the Bible. The idea of Salvation underlies the whole ceiling. He devised an intricate system of decoration that included nine paintings which then consisted of three trilogies, the History and the Creation of the World, the History of Adam, and the History of Noah, the second Adam. The pictures in the lower spheres account the history of Man under the Law of God. On the thrones were the Prophets and Sibyls, who God chose to foresee and announce Salvation. The Ancestors of Jesus Christ were painted in triangles of the lunettes, which included the generations from Abraham to Joseph. They were painted in the same order that was detailed in the Genealogy of Christ in Saint Mathews s Gospel. They were all connected with the Virgin Mary whom the Sistine Chapel was actually dedicated to. In the last areas of the ceiling, the concave triangles in the corners were the four miraculous salvations of the Chosen People from great perils. These were the stories of David, Judith, Harman, and the Brazen Serpent, which are all symbols of the promised Salvation. All of these paintings infer this religious idea of Salvation. It presented a new sense of nature and the supernatural, of image-form and vision. It provides a sense of unity rather than an interchange between the Old and New testaments that were on opposite sides of the Chapel. This was basically the scheme of Michelangelo in his desire to decorate the ceiling.
When one enters the Sistine Chapel, the paintings on the ceiling do not follow a chronological order. Actually, the first image that comes to the eye is The Drunkenness of Noah, which is last image of the sequence. The last composition that is seen is The Separation of Light and Dark, which is the first image in the sequence of the Genesis. So what one sees is the reverse order of chronological events which eliminates the sense of time and focuses more on the context of ideas present. This system gives a step by step account of a literary epic (the Bible), but does it in a way so that the person gets a sense of the motifs and messages in a unified whole. Time is not a factor so there is no end and no beginning; the viewer is just allowed to concentrate on the content of the paintings.
The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel took Michelangelo four years to complete. That just seems like too short a time period for him to accomplish such a huge and remarkable feat. It is even more incredible if other factors are considered, such as the interruptions and delays that plagued the painting of the ceiling: the fresco method of painting which requires much patience and planning, accidents and their repair, illness of painters, the absence of the Pope from Rome such as in the fall of 1510, and Michelangelo stopping work in order to get the payment from his patron in February of 1511. The durability and almost mystical nature of fresco painting is very much a part of the essence of the ceiling. The efficiency of Michelangelo s painting technique is yet another factor. The whole basis for the content of the paintings and the system in which they would be arranged is a whole story in itself. It is obvious though that the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is one of the greatest works in the history of art. I feel that it is Michelangelo Buonarotti s greatest achievement considering, that he also sculpted the Pieta and the David. I have never seen the Sistine Chapel in person but I think that it would be an incredible sight to behold. I think that it is one of the greatest accomplishments in the Renaissance era and it is also a testament to the greatness of its creator, Michelangelo.