The Sistine Chapel of Michelangelo in the Vatican

Museums and Galleries

The Sistine Chapel (Cappella Sistina) from the outside is an unremarkable church building of the 15th century on the territory of the modern Vatican. However, the walls, lined with sandy stone, contain the true pearls of the Renaissance - the work of Michelangelo Buonarroti, Sandro Botticelli, Perugino, Pinturicchio, Domenico Ghirlandaio.

Chapel history

The Sistine Chapel was built in 1475-1481 by order of the Pontiff Sixtus 4 (Sisto 4) to the glory of the Assumption of Mary in heaven.

The place for the construction of the church was not chosen by chance. Previously, this place in Rome was the Great Chapel (Cappella Maggiore), which hosted the highest conclaves of the Catholic clergy. The grand reconstruction of the outdated chapel was entrusted to the architect Baccio Pontelli and the engineer Giovannino de' Dolci.

The construction manager decided to keep the foundation and part of the lower tier of the previous building. During the construction period, the church received 3 floors, 2 of them were intended for the needs of the church, and the upper one was a gallery for soldiers carrying guard. The chapel itself is also an example of fortification architecture: a rectangular building 20,7 m high, 40,9 m long, 13,4 m wide. Strong walls and lack of sophistication were dictated by the turbulent environment in the fragmented Italy of the Middle Ages.

Murals in the Sistine Chapel

The Sistine Chapel is famous all over the world for the frescoes that adorned its vault and walls in the 15th and 16th centuries. The general plan for the painting of the church was developed during the construction work. The building was divided into three horizontal tiers and was to be decorated from bottom to top. The lower tier had simple decorative paintings, the second tier was dedicated to the events of the Old Testament and scenes from the life of Christ reflected in the New Testament. The uppermost tier was supposed to depict the pontiffs who were martyred.


The work on decorating the Sistine Chapel was started by Perugino, a master of the Umbrian school of painting. He painted two pictures from the life of Christ and one from the Old Testament. By 1480, the tense political relationship between Pope Sixtus 4 and the head of the Florentine Signoria, Lorenzo de' Medici, had warmed somewhat.

As a gesture of goodwill, the Medici sends the masters of the Florentine school: Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, Cosimo Rosselli, and the pontiff graciously allows them to settle in Rome and begin work in the Sistine Chapel.

The Florentines, with the support of Pinturicchio and Bartolomeo della Gatta, painted the walls of the new church. The plots of 10 frescoes were developed and approved down to the smallest detail by Sixtus 4 himself. Particular attention was paid to ensuring that the compositions from the Old and New Testaments harmoniously complement each other. The artist Piermatteo d'Amelia managed to enhance the impression of the iconographic paintings, who depicted the starry sky on the vault of the temple.


The successor of Sixtus 4, his nephew Julius 2 (Ulius 2), did not for a moment forget what the Sistine Chapel means to the Catholic Church.

Michelangelo Buonarroti's contribution

In 1508, the pontiff invited Michelangelo Buonarroti to restore the existing murals and apply new ones. As many as 4 years (from 1508 to 1512) it took the famous master to decorate the vault.

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It is noteworthy that Michelangelo at that time was considered an unsurpassed architect, while frescoes were new to him.

The sculptor's contemporaries see the machinations of Buonarroti's competitor, Donato Donato Bramante, in what happened. Bramante had his own fresco candidate in mind, Raffaello Santi.

Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564), Palazzi Apostolici Vaticani, Cappella Sistina, Volta, affresco, 1508-12

The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel was a real challenge for Michelangelo.

In addition to mastering a new artistic technique, the master had to solve organizational issues. How, for example, can you install scaffolding right up to the ceiling and still not interfere with church rituals? "Flying forests", designed by the artist, were attached to the walls of the church on special pins. At the same time, the artist and his apprentices were at the required height, and the clergy received freedom of movement.

There are various speculations regarding Buonarroti's work under the vault of the chapel. Some sources say that the master worked lying down, while paints and plaster fell abundantly on his face. In fact, Michelangelo worked while standing, with room to maneuver. However, the strenuous work under the ceiling of the chapel damaged the health of the 33-year-old artist.

To top it all off, the wet layers of plaster, on which the paint work was carried out, began to be intensively covered with fungus. The master and his assistants were able to develop a new formula for "intonaco" - a composition for impregnating plaster, which was resistant to the humid Roman air.

Despite all the vicissitudes of fate, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel was decorated with frescoes, united into a single iconographic cycle. Michelangelo painted pictures illustrating nine scenes from the Book of Genesis. In the miniatures of the vault, one can see "Separation of light from darkness", "Sacrifice of Noah", "Creation of Adam", "Fall", "Expulsion from Paradise".

The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel has three distinct semantic chains: the creation of the World, Adam and Eve, the hardships of humanity deprived of Paradise.

By examining each painting separately, one can trace the transformation of Buonarroti's painting. Due to the high ceiling height, the artist abandoned small details and pretentious curls in favor of more laconic and clear lines.

The plot of each fresco is laconic and capacious, the miniatures are enclosed in decorative frames made of travertine. The huge area of ​​the ceiling could have caused a depressing impression, "put pressure" on the parishioners, if not for the little tricks of the master, who artificially divided the huge plafond into 47 parts. Small paintings and geometric frames create unprecedented depth and detail in the frescoes.

Pope Julius II urged Michelangelo in every possible way, in a hurry to amaze the public with a masterpiece curiosity. The final frescoes were painted in a short time, but the skill of the artist made it possible to preserve the deep impression made by the ceiling of the church. The pontiff also complained that the ceiling looked poor, due to the lack of gilding and azure. The master replied that the saints themselves were not rich people.

The Last Judgment (Giudizio universale)

A quarter of a century later, the Sistine Chapel will again be at the disposal of Michelangelo. This time, an even more dramatic masterpiece will be created - a wall fresco depicting the Last Judgment.

Pope Clement 7 called Buonarroti to Rome in 1533 and discussed the details of the design of the altar wall in the main chapel of the Vatican. The death of the pontiff delayed the start of work for 4 years. In 1536 Paolo 3 approved his predecessor's plans for the Sistine Chapel and Michelangelo set to work.

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The big picture conceived by the pontiffs required difficult decisions. First, the earlier frescoes, painted on the wall behind the altar of the temple, were sacrificed to a new creation. Secondly, a 40-centimeter brick visor was laid over the upper border of the painting, which would prevent dust from settling on the surface of the wall.

Having prepared sketches and purchasing paints of the required quality, Michelangelo began work in the middle of 1536. It took the artist four years to create a complete picture, during which time Buonarroti allowed only one of his assistant to the brushes and paints, and then to create a heavenly background. All characters were painted exclusively by the hand of the master.

During the restoration of the Sistine Chapel, art critics discovered that the entire fresco was divided into fragments (squares made in one day), the number of which was 450 pieces!

The public saw the completed altar fresco "The Last Judgment" at the end of October 1541. There are records that Pope Paul 3 was so amazed by the picture depicted on the wall of the chapel that he fell on his knees and indulged in fervent prayer. And there were good reasons for that! Heavenly angels hovering in the clouds looked at the visitors from the wall of the chapel, in the center of the picture Jesus and the Virgin Mary were dramatically depicted, surrounded by the blessed. The lower tier is a picture of the End Times: the messengers of the Apocalypse trumpet the Last Judgment, the sinners descend into hell, and the righteous ascend to heaven.

This work of 60-year-old Michelangelo was so ingenious that it excited the minds and hearts of everyone and everything.

Along with boundless admiration, she also generated discontent. Thus, Cardinal Carafa and the master of ceremonies, Biagio da Cesena, expressed extreme indignation at the nakedness of biblical figures. Pavel 3 and Buonarroti ironically and steadfastly parried their opponents.

However, after 24 years, censorship still got to the "indecent" fresco and threw the covers over the saints and martyrs. Daniele da Volterra brought the fresco to a decent look, for which he received the nickname "Scribe Pants". Being a student and admirer of Michelangelo, the artist tried to minimize his interference.


benvegnù guaitoli - fotografo: benvegnù guaitoli

The plafond of the Sistine Chapel, as well as the wall frescoes, are the undoubted pride of the Vatican, as well as a masterpiece of Renaissance fine art. The pontificate takes care of the safety of his property. So, the last restoration of the chapel murals took no less than 14 years, from 1980 to 1994!

Modern life

-SS Francesco-Fumata bianca ed elezione 13-03-2013
- (Copyright L'OSSERVATORE ROMANO - Servizio Fotografico -

Today, the Sistine Chapel is still used for the conclaves at which the pontiffs of the Vatican are elected. The rest of the time, the chapel is the Vatican Museum, which pilgrims and tourists tend to visit.

Male choir

In addition, the Sistine Chapel has a male choir known as the Capella Papale.

The choir has a high status among Catholic singing groups. You can listen to the a cappella performance of the high choir on major church holidays. The first composition of the papal chapel was organized under Sixtus 4. Since then, getting into the Sistine choir was a matter of great honor, and brought great prosperity. Since the 19th century, the full name of the band has been Cappella musicale pontificia sistina.

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Interesting facts and secrets

Interesting facts and secrets concerning the Sistine Chapel and the personality of its author are woven into a fascinating plot. After 5 centuries, it remains only to guess which of the existing legends is true, and which is sheer fiction. In 2006, Konstantin Efetov published the book The Shocking Mystery of the Sistine Chapel, in which he tried to disassemble the most fascinating mysteries of the temple. The book went through several successful reprints and was continued.

The focus of the study is Buonarroti, who agreed to leave the ranks of architects in order to master the skills of working with frescoes from scratch. The author asks why the medieval master was so reluctant to attract assistants, preferring to work alone. The idea was also voiced that the young Michelangelo was secretly engaged in the study of the anatomy and internal structure of a person, in particular, he studied the structure of the brain well.

The artist did not fail to hint about this in the ceiling fresco "The Creation of Adam". The creator, surrounded by angels, is depicted in the edging of scarlet fabric, in its shape remarkably reminiscent of the human brain. The position of the hands of the creator, as well as the faces of the angels, repeat the main parts of the brain. Thus, Buonarroti declares that man was created not just by an abstract holy spirit, but is a product of a higher mind.

One of the fiercest critics of Michelangelo's work Biagio da Cesena has been immortalized in the Last Judgment fresco. The artist, who almost completely painted the altar wall of the chapel, in response to the addiction to excessive nudity of the characters, portrayed the champion of morality in the grotesque image of Minos, the king of the dungeons.

Unlike the shameless righteous, Minos is depicted with a serpent wrapped around his thighs, which consumes his manhood.

Another interesting fact - the master above all appreciated the beauty of the nude and gave preference to the male body. All the frescoes depict female characters with pronounced athletic figures.

Tourist information

Address: Viale Vaticano, Cappella Sistina.

How to get to B&B King`s Residence

  • by metro line A to Ottaviano station
  • tram number 19, station Piazza del Risorgimento;
  • bus number 49, entrance to the Vatican Museum next to the bus stop; No. 32, 81, 982, Piazza del Risorgimento station; No. 492, 990, station Via Leone 4 / Via degli Scipion;
  • a rented car can be stopped in a paid parking lot not far from museums;
  • take a taxi to Viale Vaticano, the entrance to the museum is opposite.

Opening hours: Monday to Saturday, from 9:00 to 18:00, you can buy a ticket from 9:00 to 16:00.

Tickets: The Sistine Chapel is available with a single ticket to the Vatican Museums. A full ticket costs 16 euros, a concession ticket - 8 euros. To bypass the kilometer-long line to the ticket office, you can purchase a ticket on the Vatican ticket office website following step-by-step instructions, paying an additional 4 euros for pre-order.

Features of the visit: photos and videos are prohibited!

Online Sistine Chapel Ticket Purchase

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