The Sistine Chapel turns 500 years old –

When, 500 years ago, Miguel Angel signed the contract that would bind him forever to the Sistine Chapel, could never imagine, despite his recognized egocentrism, that he would become the greatest work of art that Humanity would have. That May 10, 1508 would be a marked day in the history of world art: the day that Michelangelo Buonarrotti accepted from Pope Julius II to become the architect of an epic work that would be captured on the vault of the Sistine Chapel.

That Chapel could boast of having works by Girlandao, Dalmata and Botticelli, among others, but Julius II, a Pope who knew that he had been marked by the finger of destiny to become a benchmark for the History of Humanity as a recognized patron, wanted something even more grandiose to cover the ceilings of the Chapel, which until then had been painted blue with stars. And he chose for the job Miguel Angel, whom he knew as him, inwardly tormented by his own demons of greatness. And indeed, never, in the 4 years that the painting of that ceiling lasted, the relationship became cordial, but rather was full of encounters and disagreements. However, both needed each other.

However, when Julius II told Michelangelo that he wanted motifs of the twelve apostles to be painted on the ceiling, the Italian painter’s response was resounding and unequivocal: he would be the one to decide the motif to be painted, and despite his initial reluctance, the Pope ended up accepting knowing of the magic of the painter’s hand. Michelangelo took almost a year and a half to make the sketch, despite the fact that he began it that same year of 1508, but when he had it in his hands, he realized the beauty and magnificence of the work that was prepared.

It was 4 years, until 1512, that Michelangelo was up on a scaffold, alone, as he wished, a solitary character if there were any, painting from the main altar, from where his particular world of Creation began to the other side, the Fall and passages from the Old and New Testaments.

At the end of the year 1509, Michelangelo had already finished the first section depicting Noah’s drunkenness, the flood, and his sacrifice, along with Zechariah, Joel, the Delphic Sibyl, Isaiah, and the Eritrean Sibyl plus David and Judith in the corners.

The second section he made it between 1509 and 1510 and in it he painted the Fall and Expulsion, the Creation of Eve, Ezekiel and the Cuman Sibyl.

At that time relations between the Pope and the painter were more tense than ever; So much so that Michelangelo decided to leave him and went to Florence to work for the Medici, but he also had a fight with them and ended up returning to Rome.

The third section It began in 1511 and had the stories of Daniel, the Persian Sibyl, the Libyan Sibyl, Jeremiah and Jonah, plus the Crucifixion of Haman and the Bronze Serpent in the corners.

Although the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel was completed in 1512, and a little later, when Julius II died, Michelangelo himself painted the Last Judgment on the main altar, the Chapel was not inaugurated until October 31, 1541.

Curiosities of the Sistine Chapel

The Sistine Chapel It is known for being the place where the Conclaves in which the new Pope is elected, after the death (or resignation) of the previous one. During the conclave, no outside influences of any kind can be had and all kinds of measures are taken to ensure the privacy of the meeting. In the past, the cardinals could be accompanied by a special servant to attend to their needs during the conclave. Currently, however, the only outside presence allowed during the conclave is that of a nurse or other member of the medical profession, who may accompany one of the cardinals if her delicate health so requires.

For the rest, we try by all means ensure the privacy of the meeting and that no outside person knows what is happening during the conclave. In the last conclave, in which Francis I was elected as Pope, the current media suggested that electronic devices could have been placed to record or retransmit what was happening inside, so the Chapel was thoroughly cleaned and examined in search of this type of device. Also all kinds of computer signals and waves were annulled in the surroundings of the Chapel to achieve total isolation at the time of communication.

However, beyond the conclave, which by its nature is an exceptional event, the Sistine Chapel was usually the private chapel of the popes, where their masses and private devotions were held. The Sistine Chapel continues to maintain this function of the Pope’s Chapel, housing all kinds of religious functions, but its opening to the public has modified the accessibility that the Pontiff has to it, for which reason he has other totally private places within his private rooms in the Vatican Palaces to practice devotional activities whenever you want.

Construction and decoration of the Sistine Chapel began long before Julius II commissioned Michelangelo to paint his frescoes. Before his intervention, the ceiling of the Chapel was a representation of the night sky, adorned with various stars, the work of Piero Matteo d’Amalia. Michelangelo’s intervention caused that today we have nothing left of this simple initial decoration of the vault.

Painting the Sistine Chapel was a challenge on many levels, not only artistic, but also technological. One of the problems that Miguel Ángel had to face was the way in which he could comfortably reach the ceiling in order to carry out his work in the most comfortable and safe way possible. The famous architect Donato Bramante (the famous designer of the main plans of Saint Peter’s Basilica) was called in to solve this problem. Bramante built a scaffolding structure with ropes to facilitate the painter’s movements, making several holes in the ceiling of the chamber, but it was not effective. Finally, Michelangelo created his own scaffolding based on interlocking platforms, which allowed him to access all points of the high vault.

Michelangelo’s work was not even remotely to the liking of all his contemporaries. It was especially the Final judgment the part of it that aroused the most controversy, since many considered that the proliferation of so many totally naked figures was immoral and incited the holy people who were going to pass through to lust and depravity. Michelangelo had the support of the pope, and although the protesters included some of the most powerful figures in the papal curia, the figures remained as the artist painted them.

However, today they do not look totally naked. Years after the death of Julius II and Michelangelo himself, the controversy over nudes continued. Finally, during the Council of Trent, which met after the rise of Protestant movements in Europe, the nudity of religious paintings was condemnedso the painter was ordered Daniele da Volterra to cover the genitals and buttocks considered the most daring in the fresco of “The Last Judgment”, as well as to modify other parts considered very daring in Michelangelo’s work. It was he who painted many of the fabrics that cover the genitals of the figures in the Sistine Chapel. This was the reason why, despite his other works, he has gone down in history with the nickname of “Il Braghettone” (The Underpants Maker). He did not cover absolutely all the genitals of the Chapel, since, at the death of Pope Pius IV, his work was interrupted. In the last restorations of the Chapel, an attempt was made to erase some of the canvases to leave the frescoes as Michelangelo conceived them, but not all of them have been erased.

The Sistine Chapel still has many secrets to discover. Michelangelo’s frescoes are full of symbols and hidden messages that art lovers are eager to discover. For example, there is countless acorns hidden throughout the frescoes. The reason for this is that the patron who commissioned the decoration of the Sistine Chapel from Michelangelo, Julius II, was a member of the powerful Italian family of the Rovere. Rovere means oak and, by hiding the fruit of this tree in his paintings, Michelangelo honored the pope who had entrusted him with such a project. Also, the portrait of Biagio da Cesena, one of the personalities who most criticized the nudes of the “Last Judgment”, appears in hell and Michelangelo painted his own self-portrait on the head held by Saint Bartholomew, among many other curiosities.