The Vatican- Sistine Chapel
The Sistine Chapel was named after Pope Sixtus IV who commissioned Baccio Pontelli in 1475 to build a palace chapel and Vatican fortress. The dimensions of the chapel are 40M X 13M. You enter the Sistine Chapel through a side door and walk down some very shallow steps into the main part of the chapel. Everywhere you look you see masterpieces. They start midway up the wall and overflow onto that most famous canvas, the Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The room is a microcosmic museum unto itself. Your eyes look, your brain records, but cannot begin to register and realize the magnificence of the sight. I have visited the Chapel twice and am still stunned by the works that I have seen.
Along the sides are two galleries of paintings. The lower gallery painted by Perugino, Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, Roselli, and Signorelli depict the following biblical scenes:
- The Baptism of Christ
- The Temptation of Christ
- The Call of St. Peter and St. Andrew
- The Sermon on the Mount
- Jesus Handing the Keys to St. Peter
- The Last Supper
- Moses Journey Into Egypt
- Moses Receives the Call
- The Crossing of the Red Sea
- Adoration of the Golden Calf
- The Punishment of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram
- The Last Days of Moses
The intermediate level depicts paintings of twenty-four Popes from St. Anacletus (76-88) to St. Dionysius (259 – 268). These paintings are in pairs and reside on either side of windows going around the walls. Ghirlandaio, Botticelli, Roselli, and Fra Diamante painted them. Each papal pair is capped by a Lunette (arched painting) depicting the ancestors of Christ; the Lunettes were painted by Michelangelo.
Above all of this is Michelangelo’s ceiling commissioned by Pope Julius II in March of 1508 and composed of thirty-three individual paintings. They begin with the center strip consisting of:
- God Dividing Light From Darkness
- Creation of the Sun and the Moon
- God Separating the Waters from the Land
- The Creation of Man
- The Creation of Woman
- The Original Sin
- The Sacrifice of Noah
- The Deluge
- Drunkenness of Noah
The center strip is bordered on all sides by an additional twenty-four paintings all depicting a variety of scenes from the Bible.
By far the most impressive are those depicting the creation of the world. We observe God in his omnipotence performing tasks we cannot even imagine, moving bits of Heaven and Earth about as if he were sweeping the floors or dusting shelves.
He reaches out to Adam and animates the supine figure with life and the ability to reason. Who has not seen details of this most famous of paintings, the hands reaching toward each other. One filled with power, the other limp but desirous of intimacy with such power.
Next we observe the creation of Eve and the couple being driven from Eden after falling prey to the evil advances of the Serpent. At the end of the center strip are three paintings portraying Noah, the Deluge, and sacrificial offerings of thanks. There are another twenty-four paintings around the perimeter.
Just as our eyes became accustomed to the overwhelming sight of Michelangelo’s genius, we turned back toward the door. There it was the most magnificent work of all, The Last Judgment.
This immense work was painted by Michelangelo twenty years after the completion of the ceiling, and fills the entire wall. In the Last Judgment, Christ appears in the center next to Mary. He appears to be the source of a powerful vortex that is calling the dead from their resting-places. The dead rise on the left side of the painting towards a cloud. On this cloud is a group of angels who are the keepers of the Books of Good and Evil Deeds. Each soul is called forth and answers for his deeds. The good are saved and welcomed into Heaven, the damned are sent back down to Charon and the beasts and demons of Hell.
We finally depart from the tranquility of the chapel and give a last look over our shoulder as we walk through the door. We are back in the hallways again passing displays of numerous gifts that have been presented to the church and its officials over the years. Each a treasure unto itself, silver, gold, ceramic, every media is represented in these gifts.
Farther down the hall we stopped at the Vatican Gift shop. The first thing that attracted my attention was a book of the paintings of Raphael and Michelangelo found in the Vatican Museum. I am so thankful that I purchased this book, you have no idea how much pleasure it gives me to be able to refer back to it to answer questions or just to look again at the beauties of these masterpieces. Incidentally, after coming home I found the same book at our Art Museum bookstore. Oh well, I didn’t carry it around too long, I mailed it home from Munich.
I also purchased a few Rosaries, medallions, postcards, and stamps. In case you didn’t know, the Vatican has its own post office. Who could resist sending mail home postmarked from the Vatican? We quickly wrote and addressed our postcards and headed out. Jackie was really excited when she received her postcard and saw the Vatican postmark.
We walked out the door and around the corner on our way to that wonder of wonders, St. Peters Basilica. We passed sidewalk vendors selling shirts, books, and various religious artifacts.
How many of you have been to see the wonders of the Vatican? Were you as impressed as I was?
Next stop St. Peters . I’ll be looking for you.
This is an excerpt from my book “Fulfillment is a Place”, a trip taken by my son and I to fulfill my desire to travel Europe. The book is .Available through Amazon Books