Thanks to the extraordinary talents of Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564), the Sistine Chapel (Cappella Sistina) in Vatican City has become one of the most famous art galleries in the western world.
Michelangelo's famous Sistine ceiling depicts scenes from Genesis in dramatic and moving detail, while The Last Judgment on the end wall is striking and powerful. As if that were not enough, the side walls are covered with important Renaissance frescoes by other artists, depicting biblical scenes and contemporary popes.
But the Sistine Chapel is more than the sum of its artistic wonders: it is a symbolic statement of papal authority and the place in which papal elections in conclave are held to this day.
The Sistine Chapel was commissioned by Pope Sixtus IV, from whom it derives its name, in 1475. It was designed to be - and still is - the pope's chapel and the site of papal elections. The Sistine Chapel was consecrated and dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin on August 15, 1483.
In 1481 Sixtus IV called to Rome the Florentine painters Sandro Botticelli, Domenico Ghirlandaio and Cosimo Rosselli and the Perugian Pietro Perugino to decorate the walls with frescoes. Luca Signorelli may have also been involved in the decoration. The fresco project took only 11 months, from July 1481 to May 1482.
The Sistine ceiling was originally painted by Piero Matteo d'Amelia, who included a star-spangled sky. But in 1508 Pope Julius II della Rovere commissioned Michelangelo to repaint the ceiling.
Michelangelo was called away from his work on the pope's own tomb and was he not happy about the change. He had always insisted he was a sculptor and was contemptuous of fresco painting. The result are glorious depictions of human bodies that could only be created by a sculptor, and the project Michelangelo hated so much (at least at first) ironically became his most well-known work.
Michelangelo was asked to paint the Twelve Apostles and a few ornaments on the ceiling of the chapel. But as he began work on the project, Michelangelo conceived grander designs and ended up painting more than 300 figures.
He worked on the project between 1508 and October 31, 1512, in cramped conditions high on a scaffolding and under continous pressure from the pope to hurry up. The project would permanently damage the artist's eyesight.
Michelangelo was in his 60s when he was called back to the chapel, again against his wishes, to paint The Last Judgment (1535-1541) on the altar wall. The work was commissioned by Pope Clement VII (1523-1534) shortly before his death, and Clement's successor, Pope Paul III Farnese (1534-1549), forced Michelangelo to complete it quickly. It was the largest fresco of the century and is still an unquestioned masterpiece.
For important ceremonies, the lowest portions of the Sistine Chapel's side walls were covered with a series of tapestries depicting events from the Gospels and Acts. These were designed by Raphael and woven in 1515-19 at Brussels.
In recent decades, the Sistine Chapel has been carefully cleaned and restored, beginning with the 15th-century wall frescoes in 1965. The cleaning and restoration of the lunettes, the ceiling and the Last Judgment, a painstaking process using computer analysis, lasted from 1980 to 1994. The restoration included removing several of the "modesty" drapes that had been added over some of the nude figures.
The end result of the restoration has been controversial: Critics say a vital second layer of paint was removed, and argue that many of the restored figures seem flat compared with the originals, which had more shadow and detail. Others have hailed the project for saving Michelangelo's masterpiece for future generations to appreciate and for revealing the vibrancy of his color palette.
Overview and HistoryAll roads lead to Rome, the capital of Italy, current football world champions, where western civilization really got cookin' and Christianity gained its foothold on an empire.According to legend, the city was founded on the Palatine Hill by Romulus and Remus, just after they finished wiping wolf's milk from their lips. Romulus killed his brother Remus in a fight over who had the right to name the city, hence "Rome" and not "Remo". He attained divine status after his death, being given the name "Quirinus," the root of which you can see in the Quirinale Palace.The Quirinale Palace is the home of the President of the Italian Republic. Its fountain has two ancient statues of Castor and Pollux, sons of Zeus, the famous twins of the Gemini constellation.Rome is famous for its seven hills: Aventine, Caelian, Capitoline, Esquiline, Palatine, Quirinal, Viminal. Vatican City is on Vatican Hill which is not one of the seven hills. It's its own state, too, not technically under the authority of Italy. It's also the smallest country in the world.Within Vatican City you can find the Pope of course, the Basilica of St. Peter and also Michaelangelo's masterpiece -- the painted ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. This painting is a fresco, which means the paint is part of the actual plaster. The painter mixes plaster and pigment at the same time and had to finish the work before the plaster dried, and by the way he was laying on his back to do it. Call me crazy but I think the requirements for being an artist have declined in their stringency of late. Vatican City has an insane amount of pure-gold artwork as well.Since Rome predates the Christian era, you will find many examples of gods and goddesses who were worshipped in the Pantheon, or, "Temple to All the Gods." This is the oldest domed building still standing in Rome, dating to 35 B.C and first reconstructed in 126 A.D. It's been in continuous use since it was built, and has been a Catholic church since 700 A.D.Students of history may also enjoy the Roman Forum, around which the ancient city first developed. This area included the Senate and Republican government, and a central marketplace where everyone came for news, supplies, gossip and everything else. It's between Palatine hill and Capitoline hills, a swampy spot that was drained during the Forum's construction. Doomed to repeat history, or fascinated by its roots? Take your pick.All roads lead to Rome except this one, it leads to the Colosseum. Forget Youtube, Netflix and getting laid. REAL entertainment comes from the Colosseum. Do you know why we have popcorn and movies today? Because first they had Bread and circus at the Colosseum, baby! Fake pirate battles in an ocean of real blood! Two vs. one gladiator ambushing with Neptune's tridents and deadly spiked nets! Here's the interior.If this is what you see around you, you'd better hope to find a sharp sword in your hand to go with it.Now nevermind all that old stuff, welcome to the Hippodrome, race fans! Besides being the coolest panorama on the whole site, the Circus Maximus was where they had the chariot races and judges who knew how to take a bribe for pole position.But let's zoom back out for a second. Rome is located on the Tiber river. Crossing the Tiber are many bridges dating back several centuries, for instance Ponte Cavour, Ponte Umberto, and the Saint Angelo bridge.Rome offers an enviable array of Renaissance and Baroque architecture due to its luck; like Prague and only a few other cities, it escaped major damage during WWII.Now here are a few little things to get you there so you can investigate the more than 2500 years of history which continue to seep into out modern times.Getting ThereFiumicino Airport provides international access for flights into Italy. You can connect to it by bus, train or taxi. The train takes about thirty minutes and costs five euro or so.There's a smaller airport called Ciampino, which handles mostly charter flights, and has a bus line running to meet the Metro.TransportationThe historic center of Rome is less than two miles from the central Colosseum and Piazza di Spagna, so you might as well walk there. The bus network is very extensive but the Metro is probably easier to get your head around. It's called the Metropolitana and it makes a loop around, rather than through, the city. Basic tickets cost one euro. Night buses run between midnight and four am when the metro stops.You can also hop onto one of the many tourist buses for a guided ride around Rome. These prices are a lot higher than the metro, but it's an activity more than just a ride.Now if you really want to do as the Romans do, rent yourself a Vespa scooter and drive it one-handed, shouting.People and CultureYou don't have to have a lot of money to have good style. That's Italian culture in a word.I'll go up against Paris right here and say that Italians have style all sewn up. Rocking a scooter in a red dress and stiletto heels? Come on.Here are a few piquant expressions which further the idea:"Finish that pasta so Nonna doesn't have to put it away.""It's sugar sweet and as big as your hand.""People do not age at the table."And concerning the stereotype that Italians all talk with their hands:"Mathematics is not a matter of opinion."Just imagine how funny it was, the first time that one sprung out.Things to do & RecommendationsFirst of all, go back and see all the panoramas in the top section. After you've been through the places and back, try these:Modern art at Gallery Nuovo Pesa.Worm through the Aseq esoteric library on your way to Limonaia Cafeteria for lunch.After lunch, pick up a few things at the most popular market in Rome, Piazza Vittorio.Be glad you're there and not eating only memories in the Traianei Market ancient Roman market.Some other gems in the city: the Trevi Fountain and its marketplaceFor a little more religious history, visit the 18th century Rococo style Plaza of St. Ignacio. Saint Ignacio was the founder of the Jesuits or Society of Jesus, the largest male religious order in the Catholic church.There are also some beautiful green spaces in Rome, like the historic park Il Pincio and Villa Borghese parks. Look at those cherry blossoms!For music lovers, the Auditorium is the main music hall in Rome.Text by Steve Smith.