Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel

Many consider Michelangelo’s frescoes on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel to be the greatest achievement in Western art, having inspired countless artists to use its styles and motifs in their own work. Since its unveiling 490 years ago, this complex masterpiece has transfixed countless viewers through its historical illustrations and predominant themes of the human experience. Michelangelo’s decoration of the ceiling is a monument to the extraordinarily creative and integrative capacities of the mind (Oremland,1). Many of the historical records which traced its progress, technique, cost, and time spent on it have been lost or destroyed. Thus, the questions of how, when, and why Michelangelo painting the ceiling have been the topic of much debate over the centuries. Recently, even more controversy arose when the ceiling was cleaned and restored to its original color and beauty. Nevertheless, as the work is better understood, the universality of themes which give it vitality and endurance is better appreciated.
The Sistine Chapel was begun by Pope Sixtus IV probably in 1475, the year Michelangelo was born. It was built to serve functional and symbolic purposes. Functionally, it was to be a fortress into which the pope and important members of the clergy could find a safe retreat. It was also to be the main ceremonial chapel of the Vatican Palace. Its most important function was to house the congregation during its selection of the papal successor (Oremland, 33). Pope Sixtus’s nephew, Julius II, was certainly the greatest of patrons to Michelangelo. Elected pope in 1503 at the age of 65, Julius decided to tear down St. Peter’s in order to build a larger one. He also wanted to place his own tomb in the new church, with some forty large marble sculptures by Michelangelo. Julius changed his mind about the sculptures when a barge carrying a shipment of marble blocks sank into the Tiber River. In 1508 he later commissioned Michelangelo t…


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