The Sistine Chapel

Beautiful, impressive, massive, with modern day Rock Star status describes the basics of the renowned artworks of Michelangelo’s Papal ceiling. The Chapel is large and during visitor hours it is loud. Guards assigned to help keep on eye on anyone trying to take the forbidden photo, are guilty of making loud and harsh “shushing” noises to no avail.

The mass of people in the Chapel at the time of my visit was as thick as gnarled branches deep in the forest. We, who were admiring Michelangelo’s masterpiece, were toe to toe. I made slow progress toward the north wall where I spotted some benches that were enviously occupied. I had hopes of finding an open spot so that I would not have to fear tipping over as I cranked my head backward to admire the magnificence of the ceiling.  Eventually, I secured a spot, took several deep breaths and tried to block out the cacophony around me.

Yes, the Sistine Chapel ceiling is a marvel, miracle, awesome. However, the feeling of oppression hung over me as I considered the artist. It is said that Michelangelo did not want to paint the ceiling as he considered himself more of a sculptor. Only after several years and many threats from Pope Julius II did he finally agree, and then only with the condition that he would have the freedom to design it as he saw fit.

We have this understanding that Michelangelo placed bits of hidden sarcasm, and mockery into the paintings in an effort to satisfy his personal quibbling with his assigned commission. He is noted for being aloof, socially inept, self absorbed, and extremely gifted. A magnificent blend of color, emotion, and power are words that come to mind as I admire the sanctuary ceiling, which was completed by Michelangelo in four long years, mostly with his head bent in an uncomfortable angle.

The Sistine Chapel holds the noted ceiling and “The Last Judgment” another mind-blowing product of the temperamental Michelangelo. This highly regarded fifteen century Renaissance artist is celebrated for demonstrating masculinity in his works; his human figures express strong musculature offering an affect of emanating energy.

The panel depicting the creation of man is both famous and critical as we see Adam lying listlessly with his hand outstretched with barely the strength to reach toward God. Then we see the powerful hand of God reaching, commanding life into the fragile human figure.

Did Michelangelo feel like this helpless Adam, displaying the lost and listlessness of man without the spark of the God light? A sonnet written by the artist offers insight to his belief that God gave man the gift of intellect.

I did not intuit any particular greater message from my visit to the Sistine Chapel, however, I asked our guide one question and I found the answer curious. I asked about the names listed on the sides where the ceiling starts to curve. The guide shared that those are the names of Christ’s decedents and prophets who foretold the coming of Christ. Of course, I smiled to myself, admired the most famous ceiling on the Earth once more and escaped the crowds through a side door leading to the more quiet spaces at the Vatican. 

 

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