The Sistine Chapel is one of the most astonishing, heart-pounding, and jaw-dropping spots in the whole world. It is accepted to be a major artistic achievement of human civilization.
But who painted the Sistine Chapel? Of course, everyone knows that the ceiling frescoes were made by Michelangelo, but he was not the only artist who worked on the Sistine Chapel, the ancient Capella Magna. Before Michelangelo, many famous early Renaissance painters such as Sandro Botticelli, Pietro Perugino (Teacher of Raphael), Luca Signorelli, and Domenico Ghirlandaio (Teacher of Michelangelo) were commissioned by Pope Sixtus IV to paint the side walls in 1481-1483. The frescoes on the right side portray the stories of prophet Moses and the ones on the left depict stories about the life of Jesus.
In 1508, one of the most famous artists of the High Renaissance, (Alongside Leonardo Da Vinci and Raphael) Michelangelo was commissioned by Pope Julius II to paint the ceiling. He was only 33 years old when he started this project. Even though the artist wasn’t very keen on accepting the offer because he considered himself mainly a sculptor rather than a painter, he took on the project. (Thank god!) And what he created, as we all know became one of art history’s most important masterpieces. In fact, you can see how sculptural and three-dimensional the figures in the frescoes are.
The artist built a wooden platform in order to paint on the nearly 21-meter high ceiling and contrary to the general belief, he painted standing up instead of lying down on the scaffolding. And he did this for 4 years. Imagine the neck pain he must have had! Also, he mostly painted the whole ceiling by himself, even though it is known that most of the artists of his time had many pupils who helped them with their artworks.
Thanks to the cleaning and restoration process of the Sistine Chapel Ceiling that took place in the 1980s and ’90s, today we can see the amazing details and bright colors of the frescoes which were made more than 500 years ago.
Later in 1537, Michelangelo was commissioned again, this time by pope Paul III to paint the Last Judgement on the west wall.
Raphael was another famous artist who contributed to the magnificence of the Sistine Chapel. In 1515-19 he designed a series of tapestries to decorate the lower parts of the sidewalls during great ceremonial occasions.
In February 2020, the tapestries were brought back to the Sistine Chapel for a week to commemorate the fifth centenary of the death of the great artist. It was an extremely rare occasion and those who were in Rome at the time and were able to see it (including, of course, myself) were very lucky to witness this occasion. But don’t worry if you missed out on it! The tapestries are still exhibited in the famous Raphael Hall at the Vatican museum waiting to be seen by all visitors.
Find all our Vatican tour here.