SISTINE CHAPEL CEILING
The Sistine Chapel ceiling, painted by Michelangelo between 1508 and 1512, is a cornerstone work of High Renaissance art. The ceiling is that of the Sistine Chapel, the large papal chapel built within the Vatican between 1477 and 1480 by Pope Sixtus IV, for whom the chapel is named. It was painted at the commission of Pope Julius II. The chapel is the location for papal conclaves and many other important services.
The ceiling’s various painted elements form part of a larger scheme of decoration within the Chapel, which includes the large fresco The Last Judgment on the sanctuary wall, also by Michelangelo, wall paintings by several leading painters of the late 15th century including Sandro Botticelli, Domenico Ghirlandaio and Pietro Perugino, and a set of large tapestries by Raphael, the whole illustrating much of the doctrine of the Catholic Church.
Central to the ceiling decoration are nine scenes from the Book of Genesis of which The Creation of Adam is the best known, having an iconic standing equaled only by Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, the hands of God and Adam being reproduced in countless imitations. The complex design includes several sets of individual figures, both clothed and nude, which allowed Michelangelo to fully demonstrate his skill in creating a huge variety of poses for the human figure and which have provided an enormously influential pattern book of models for other artists ever since.
The Sistine Chapel is 40.9 metres long and 14 metres wide. The ceiling rises to 13.4 metres above the main floor of the chapel. The vault is of quite a complex design and it is unlikely that it was originally intended to have such elaborate decoration. Pier Matteo d’Amelia provided a plan for its decoration with the architectural elements picked out and the ceiling painted blue and dotted with gold stars, similar to that of the Arena Chapel decorated by Giotto at Padua.