Sistine Chapel Ceiling
The Sistine Chapel ceiling is a work of art like no other. The image of Adam's hand reaching out to God has become representative of Renaissance art, along with the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci. "The Creation of Adam" is just one of the Michelangelo frescoes in the Sistine Chapel, a soaring space that seems to span both heaven and earth.
Cappella Sistina, as it's called in Italian, is a part of the Apostolic Palace in Vatican City. The expansive space was first built in the Middle Ages and redesigned beginning in the fifteenth century. Michelangelo began work on the Sistine Chapel ceiling in 1508. After successful sculpting commissions in Florence, the artist was summoned to Rome in 1505 by Pope Julius II to begin work on the Pope's tomb. This project, located at Rome's Church of Saint Pietro in Vincoli, took 40 years to finish because of the interruptions, including the frescoes on the Sistine Chapel ceiling.
Restoration on the hall began some decades earlier, featuring the frescoes and tapestries of such luminaries as Botticelli and Raphael. But the Sistine Chapel ceiling was far from the masterpiece it would become—it was painted blue and adorned with gold stars. When the Renaissance master began to work on the Sistine Chapel, the ceiling was transformed into the visual masterpiece that has been admired by so many over the centuries.
Blending tales from the Bible with Roman mythology, the frescoes on the Sistine Chapel ceiling feature bright colors, ornate details, iconography, and symbolism. The vaulted ceiling is impressive in scale, rising 65 feet from the floor, measuring 132 feet by nearly 46 feet. It was no simple task to apply the frescoes with long days spent standing on wooden scaffolding. The labor of love transformed the chapel's ceiling from the night sky into a visual story of God, creation, sin, and redemption.
Many of the Michelangelo frescoes in the Sistine Chapel were inspired by the book of Genesis, including the iconic "Creation of Adam." Biblical figures Eve, Noah, Abraham, Cain, and Abel are represented through the master strokes painted on the soaring ceiling. Other paintings represent prophets such as Jonah, Ezekiel, and several Sibyls (oracles of ancient Greece and Rome), while even more panels touch on the genealogy of Jesus, New Testament stories, and the Last Judgment.
The frescoes on the Sistine Chapel Ceiling have been restored to their original splendor. The careful and fragile work began in 1980, continuing for the next two decades. The centuries and burning candles had stacked on layers of grime and faded the frescoes, but now the brilliant reds, sky blues, and spring greens once again tell the story in living color.
When you want to see the Michelangelo frescoes in the Sistine Chapel in person, a visit to Vatican City is in order. The sovereign city-state surrounded by Rome oversees many museums and historic sites, including the Sistine Chapel and Saint Peter's Basilica. Trained guides lead tours through the chapel, talking about the history and highlights or taking a deeper look at the art of the Sistine Chapel. Audio tours and self-directed strolls are other fine ways to experience the lasting legacy of Michelangelo.