Sistine Chapel

One of the world’s most famous chapels, the Sistine Chapel is located in Vatican City in the Italian capital of Rome within the Pope’s residence, the Apostolic Palace. It is especially famous for its ceiling which was painted by the artist Michelangelo between 1508 and 1512 and is revered as among his best painting. The chapel was refurbished in 1480 by Pope Sixtus IV when its name changed from Cappella Magna to Sistine Chapel. It continues to host religious and papal functions today and is the site of Papal conclaves (site where the College of Cardinals elects subsequent popes).

Designed by Baccio Pontelli, the Sistine Chapel replaced the Cappella Magna whose walls were slanted and in nearly ruined condition. Upon completion, Pope Sixtus IV commissioned several important artists to decorate the interior of the chapel with religious frescoes. Botticelli and Perugino are two of the artists who contributed artwork to the chapel. Perugino’s Christ Giving the Keys to St. Peter is particularly noteworthy.

The chapel’s exterior is rectangular in shape and comprised of bricks. In many ways it is unlike historic churches of the Middle Ages or the Renaissance as its structure and façade are simple and largely unadorned. Instead, the chapel was built largely to replicate the Temple of Solomon as it was described in the Old Testament. While the outside of the chapel is noted for its simplicity, the interior is historically famous for its unsurpassed artwork and priceless decoration.

The walls of the chapel, during important events, are covered with tapestries designed by the artist Raphael. The tapestries depict scenes from the lives of the apostles Peter and Paul. Raphael’s original tapestries, however, were destroyed during the sack of 1527. The lower tier of the walls is predominantly decorated with silver and gold wall hangings. The middle tier contains paintings showing scenes from the life of Jesus as well as Moses. The top tier is divided in two. One section contains the Gallery of Popes; the other showcases the Ancestors of Christ which was painted by Michelangelo.

The ceiling of the chapel was commissioned by Pope Julius II. Upon it Michelangelo painted nine paintings that depict God’s Creation of the World, The Lord’s Relationship with Man, and Man’s Fall from Grace. Michelangelo’s paintings comprise twelve thousand square feet of the ceiling. The artist designed and built his own scaffold for the enormous commission. The artist initially turned down the project, but was persuaded when he was allowed to paint biblical scenes of his own choosing. The ceiling is striking for its magnificent execution as well as for its striking colors. Michelangelo also painted the wall behind the altar with his masterpiece The Last Judgment (1535-1541).