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17469.  Tue Apr 12, 2005 7:16 am Reply with quote

In 1508, when Pope Julius II offered Michelangelo the job of decorating the Sistine Chapel ceiling, the artist refused, explaining that he thought of himself as a sculptor rather than a painter (he was already known for his Pieta in St Peter's and the statue of David in Florence). However, the pope would not take no for an answer, and said he wanted to see portraits of the 12 apostles.

Over a period of four years, working on a six story scaffold, craning his neck and stretching out his arms, using the unforgiving medium of wet plaster, Michelangelo covered the 5,400 square feet ceiling with more than 300 figures, all painted by himself (no assistants or subcontractors). The walls were already covered with scenes from the lives of Moses and Jesus. Michelangelo added stories from Genesis depicting the creation of Adam, the temptation of Eve and Noah's ark, plus portraits of prophets like Ezekiel and Isaiah, and pictures of pagans such as the Oracle at Delphi. There were also naked guys (the 'Ignudi') scattered around for no apparent reason except to look sultry and homoerotic. There were also smaller figures depicting 40 generations of Jesus's ancestors.

Everybody, in fact, but the 12 apostles Julius wanted.

Pictures here:

17490.  Tue Apr 12, 2005 4:41 pm Reply with quote

I always wonder about the practicalities of this project - painting at arm's-length, and not being able to stand back from the work and get an overall view of it until the scaffolding was dismantled.

I was lucky enough to see the ceiling when they were half way through restoring it, so that I could make a direct comparison between the restored and unrestored sections. I don't know anything about the arguments re the long-term consequences of the restoration techniques or about the artist's original intention, but the restored sections were definitely an improvement on the unrestored parts to my eye.


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