The Renaissance is an important event in European history that stretched from the 14th century to the 17th century. It was preceded by the Middle Ages in Europe and eventually led to the major events of the Age of Enlightenment. In historical terms the Renaissance is important because it led to a major shift in European thought and worldview. The most significant changes that emerged as a result of the Renaissance can be seen in European architecture, art, literature, mathematics, music, philosophy, politics, religion and science. In particular, the Renaissance is remembered for its many advances in art. For example, one of the most important artistic achievements from the timeframe of the Renaissance is related to the Sistine Chapel.
The Sistine Chapel is located in the Apostolic Palace, which is the official residence of the Pope in the Vatican City. In reality, the Sistine Chapel as its stands today was a restoration of the previous Cappella Magna. Pope Sixtus IV, who served as Pope from 1471 until 1484, ordered the restoration of the Cappella Magna which occurred between 1477 and 1480. Following its restoration it was renamed as the Sistine Chapel, in honor of Pope Sixtus IV. Despite its famous stature, the Sistine Chapel remains an important functional site still today for the Roman Catholic Church. For instance, it is the site of the Papal Conclave, which is the meeting that occurs to select a new Pope. It also serves in other important religious activities and traditions for the Vatican City.
In terms of its construction, the Sistine Chapel is a relatively simple style similar to other Italian chapels built during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. For instance, it contains very little design or ornaments on the outside walls. Again, this was not uncommon for architecture from the timeframe of the Renaissance in Italy. However, the Sistine Chapel is best known today for the many famous paintings on the inside.
The earliest frescos (mural painting on freshly plastered walls) from the Sistine Chapel were completed on the side interior walls. Several prominent Renaissance artists were hired to complete these frescos on the inside of the chapel, including: Sandro Botticelli, Pietro Perugino, Pinturicchio, Domenico Ghirlandaio and Cosimo Rosselli. These side walls contain 3 tiers and each depict different aspects of Christianity at the time, including: different Pope’s, the life of Moses and the Life of Christ. However, the Sistine Chapel is known widely today for the famous paintings on its ceiling.
Famous Renaissance artist Michelangelo was commissioned by Pope Julius II to complete the frescos on the ceiling of the chapel. He is remembered today as one of the most influential painters and artists of the European Renaissance and is credited with some of the most profound and influential art pieces in all of human history. As such, some historians consider him to be a ‘Renaissance Man’ along with other influential artists such as Leonardo da Vinci. One of the works that Michelangelo is most famous for is the painting of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel which he completed from 1508 to 1512. At the time he was still working on the tomb for Pope Julius II, but took on the painting in the chapel as a side task. The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel has gone on to be one of his greatest and most recognized artistic accomplishments.
As stated above, the painting of the Sistine Chapel took him four years. At the time, he convinced Pope Julius II to allow him the freedom to choose his subject matter for the painting. As a result, Michelangelo focused on the imagery and themes of the Book of Genesis from the Bible. In total, the paintings on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel comprised of 500 square meters (over 5000 square feet) and 300 figures. The paintings were separated into three main groups from the Book of Genesis, including: God's creation of the earth; God's creation of humankind and their fall from God's grace; and lastly, the state of humanity as represented by Noah and his family. Likely the most famous and recognized of all of the panels on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is the ‘Creation of Adam’. Another amazing feat of the painting of the ceiling, was the scaffolding that Michelangelo had to complete in order to complete the art. For instance, he supposedly painted the ceiling by laying on his back on top of the intricately created scaffolding that hoisted him near to the ceiling.
Another significant work in the Sistine Chapel was also completed by Michelangelo. He famously painted the altar wall of the chapel with the ‘Last Judgment’. The painting was completed over four years from 1536 to 1541, and depicts the second coming of Jesus Christ and final judgment of humanity by God. For instance, the fresco shows people ascending into heaven and other be sent into hell. In total, the Last Judgment includes over 300 human figures.
Today, the Sistine Chapel remains an important site for the Catholic Church but is also widely recognized and visited for its famous works of art.
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