Sistine Chapel 500th Anniversary

Today marks the 500th Anniversary of the first public viewing of Michelangelo Buonarotti's artistic masterpiece on the vaulted ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Palace of the Vatican in Rome. 

Michelangelo started his work on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in 1508 and the ceiling frescoes were completed in 1512. 

The Sistine project was commissioned to Michelangelo by Pope Julius II, but Michelangelo was initially reluctant to take on the Sistine project and when he did agree to work on the ceiling, Michelangelo went above and beyond what the Pope requested, painting over 300 figures on the ceiling instead of just the 12 apostles.

On October 31, 1512, the “Warrior Pope” Julius II, intent on restoring the glories of Rome, held a simple vespers prayer service for 17 Cardinals to mark its completion.

 “Without having seen the Sistine Chapel, 
it’s not possible to have an idea of what one man is capable of doing” – Goethe

The Last Judgement
The Last Judgement (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Pope Benedict will commemorate the half-millennium on October 31 by repeating Julius II’s vespers service beneath the magnificent 130ft frescoed ceiling.

But this article in the Guardian in September 2012 tells of a  fierce row that has broken out over the future of the Sistine Chapel, after one of Italy's most respected writers slammed it as an "unimaginable disaster" where tourists resemble "drunken herds".

Edited extract of the article is below:

The long central stretch of the ceiling portrays the conception of the world along with some people from the book of Genesis. “The Creation of Adam,” is almost certainly the most recognizable painting of the Sistine Chapel;

but interestingly, if the ceiling is examined geometrically, the fresco of “The Creation of Eve” is in the direct centre of the ceiling.  

There are also dramatic and moving scenes from the life of Noah.

                                                         The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo

 "Centred on the image of God reaching out to give life to Adam, the chapel ceiling is renowned as Michelangelo's masterpiece and offers a defining image of the Christian faith. But as the crush of visitors grows year by year, this home to Michelangelo's majestic 16th-century frescoes often feels more like a packed, sweaty, and very noisy railway station.

Five million tourists surge through the chapel every year, craning their necks to get a glimpse of the scenes painted on the 130ft-long ceiling, flouting the ban on flash photography and ignoring pleas from guards to lower their voices.

In an article in Corriere della Sera, Pietro Citati, a leading literary critic and biographer, has demanded that the Vatican limit access to the chapel, claiming it would save the frescoes from damage and restore some decorum to the consecrated site.

Describing a visit, Citati claimed that "in the universal confusion, no one saw anything" and "any form of contemplation was impossible". The answer, he said, was to reduce the number of visitors drastically.

"The church needs money for its various activities, but these monstrous conditions are not possible," said the writer, a close friend of the late novelist Italo Calvino.
The manager of the Vatican museums, which include the chapel, fought back on Friday in the pages of the Holy See's daily paper, L'Osservatore Romano.

"The days when only Russian grand dukes and English lords or [American art expert] Bernard Berenson could gain access to the great masterpieces are definitely over," wrote Antonio Paolucci. "We have entered the era of large-scale tourism, and millions want to enjoy our historical culture," he said. "Limiting numbers is unthinkable."

Michelangelo set to work on the chapel ceiling in 1508 after devising the perfect scaffolding for painting his biblical scenes 20 metres off the ground.

The chapel, which also features works by Botticelli, Perugino and Pinturicchio, boasts 300 figures painted across 2,500 square metres and is dominated at one end by The Last Judgment, which Michelangelo filled with nude males reportedly inspired by his visits to Rome's brothels.

Today, the chapel is used during conclaves, when cardinals huddle to select the next pope, and when the pontiff baptises babies there once a year. At all other times, it fills with the 20,000 tourists and pilgrims who form a daily queue that snakes around the Vatican walls."..........................


So, if a real visit puts you off, why not settle down in the comfort and privacy of your own home and Click here for a wonderful virtual 3D and soaring musical experience  of the ceiling in the Sistine Chapel.  

Once loaded use your mouse or touchpad to pan around.

Last week Pope Benedict XVI attended a screening of a new Polish documentary film on the Vatican Museums. After the showing, the Pope commented on the film and on the Church’s relationship with the arts. 

"We could say that the artistic heritage of Vatican City constitutes a kind of great 'parable' through which the Pope speaks to men and women from all over the world,” the Pope said. “The language of art is a language of parables,” he continued, which can “open people’s minds and hearts to the eternal, raising them to the heights of God.” 

Pope Benedict expressed special satisfaction that the film included “repeated reference to the efforts of Roman Pontiffs to conserve and cherish artistic heritage, and to their efforts in modern times to renew the Church’s dialogue with artists.” 

The documentary, is entitled Via Pulchritudinis.

 Last September, Commonweal magazine published this meditation from Pope Benedict also titled The Via Pulchritudinis, " The Way of Beauty," as a path, to God. 

Before speaking of art that is expressive of Christian faith, he has these two paragraphs on the experience of art as a signal of transcendence:
Perhaps it has happened to you at one time or another — before a sculpture, a painting, a few verses of poetry or a piece of music — to have experienced deep emotion, a sense of joy, to have perceived clearly, that is, that before you there stood not only matter — a piece of marble or bronze, a painted canvas, an ensemble of letters or a combination of sounds — but something far greater, something that “speaks,” something capable of touching the heart, of communicating a message, of elevating the soul.
A work of art is the fruit of the creative capacity of the human person who stands in wonder before the visible reality, who seeks to discover the depths of its meaning and to communicate it through the language of forms, colors and sounds. Art is capable of expressing, and of making visible, man’s need to go beyond what he sees; it reveals his thirst and his search for the infinite. Indeed, it is like a door opened to the infinite, opened to a beauty and a truth beyond the every day. And a work of art can open the eyes of the mind and heart, urging us upward."

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