Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo

The Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo is the most celebrated work of art of all time. Through this colossal work Michelangelo realized his own destiny, to become the greatest artist of all time. But, the Sistine Chapel was realization of two giant figures of the Renaissance - Michelangelo and Pope Julius II.

The Sistine Chapel was the vessel through which Michelangelo realized his own destiny. Initially, the relationship between the young Michelangelo and Pope Julius II for whom he painted the Sistine Chapel, didn't get off to a good start.

Commissioned to sculptor the funeral monument for the Pope, Michelangelo spent several months in Carrara searching for the right slabs of marble to create the monument. Having purchased them, and having already commenced work on the monument, the Pope decided to cancel the commission much to the anger of the young Michelangelo.

A year later, Pope Julius II received a letter from Cardinal Solderini, that was an attempt to pave the way to reconciliation between the Pope & Michelangelo. A letter that must have inspired Pope Julius II to choose Michelangelo to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

The cardinal wrote "We certify that he is an excellent young man, and in his own art without peer in Italy, perhaps even the universe. His nature is such that he requires to be drawn out by kindness and encouragement; but if love is shown him and he is well treated, he will accomplish things which will make the whole world wonder".

The Pope heeded these words, and so one of the most fruitful relationships in the history of Art was formed, and in 1508 Michelangelo was called to Rome to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Bramante, the chief architect of the re-building of St. Peters Basilica with his protégé Rafael at his side were speechless when the Pope announced he had chosen Michelangelo, untried at the art of fresco painting, to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. 

Instead of being content and playing safe by following the original design for the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, which called for the painting of the 12 apostles in lunettes with the rest of the ceiling covered in a  decorative design.

Michelangelo proposed to paint the whole ceiling, an idea which the Pope accepted. Realizing the colossal task he had proposed, in a chapel already decorated by masters of fresco art, common sense called for him to hire assistants.  Several were hired, but after a short trial he sacked the lot, condemning himself to a laborious task that would take him four years to complete.

After completing the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo's future became interwoven with the Vatican and the Catholic Church. In 1534, he returned to the Sistine Chapel to paint the Last Judgment and to complete the fresco decorations of the Sistine Chapel. There is a striking difference in style and interpretation between the frescoes decorating the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and Michelangelo's last judgment.

During the 20 or so years between these two incredible works of the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo and his world changed dramatically. In 1527 the sacking of Rome caused the premature end of the Renaissance, and the optimism and beliefs held by Michelangelo were lost overnight sending the world around him into turmoil.

Also Michelangelo's character and religious beliefs were tainted by his experiences at the Vatican. With his own eyes he had witnessed the glamorous lives that the Popes and their entourage lived. For him, a simple man, they did not reflect the lifestyle of someone in the service of God.

Michelangelo joined an underground sect known as the "Spiritualists" that included many senior members of Catholic Church, men who had not been corrupted by the extravagant lifestyle of the Vatican and men that yearned for a new form of spiritualism through which man himself without the aid of the church could speak to God. Obviously, such a concept was treated as treachery by the Church, as it literally implied that the Catholic Church was not the only road to God. In his Last Judgment, painted on the holier than holy walls of Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo let loose all his frustrations and created a masterpiece that could have cost him his life.

Against the deep darkened blue skies,  he depicts the chaos and turmoil created by the sacking of Rome and the end of the world for Renaissance Rome and Italy. But, also within the last judgment he emphasizes through the posture of Jesus and the surrounding mortals the spiritualists idea of man communicating with God directly without need of the Church.

Like a bill-board advertisement for the more liberally minded members of the Catholic Church, when the Last Judgment was unveiled in the Sistine Chapel,  leaders of the Conservative part of the Church accused the artist of defamation. While Michelangelo escaped with his life and continued to work at the Vatican on a fixed salary, other members of the so-called Spiritualist sect were not so lucky!

Even though Michelangelo was aware of the dangers that surrounded him, he still continued to deliver the Spiritualist ideals in other works that he completed with the Vatican. The most celebrated being the Tomb of Pope Julius II that Michelangelo finally completed several decades after his was originally commissioned by the Pope to build his monument.

And when he died, almost in defiance of the Pope and the Catholic Church, those who had the same secret inclinations as Michelangelo transported his body back to Florence to offer him eternal peace far from the corruption of the Catholic Church that so disturbed the artist during his lifetime.

Special Offers

tour thumbnail image

Small Group Dolomites & Cortina Tour

9 hours

Dolomites small group Venice day tours offer the best in Dolomites day tours and excursions to the Dolomites & Cortina on day trips from Venice

(43) Reviews
Was €155.00 Now €93.00
View tour
tour thumbnail image

Small Group Cinque Terre Trip

9 - 9.5 hours

Unique day tours of the Cinque Terre from Florence to Vernazza, Corniglia & Manarola

(36) Reviews
Was €175.00 Now €139.00
View tour
tour thumbnail image

Exclusive Rome to Pompeii & Amalfi Coast Trip

13-14 hours

Pompeii Day Tours from Rome feature guided tours of Pompeii combined with visits to Positano & Amalfi and the scenic Amalfi Coast. Max 7 people

(46) Reviews
Was €289.00 Now €279.00
View tour