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vatican: the sistene chapel
By Dennis Batchelder 22 June 1999

on saturday, jeff and i toured the vatican museum.

jeff said it best; this is art overload. everywhere you look there's treasures. but instead of like a museum that hangs pictures on the walls, the entire walls, ceilings, doors, and floors were painted or mosaiced or muraled or tapestried. not by normal people, either - this is the original stuff done by raphael and michelangelo and bonnicelli et al. (how's that for using my one year of high school latin :-)

anyway, the climax of the museum was the sistene chapel. wow. (jeff's comment) that about summarizes it - it's indescribable, but we're gonna attempt to do it, anyway:

33 year-old michelangelo was asked to repaint the ceiling of this chapel, which originally had a painted star-filled night scene on it. he was asked scenes for the apostles, to match already existing frescoes on the walls.

well, he didn't do what he was told (like some other people we know!) instead, michelangelo spent the next 4 years painting a series of 9 major panels (creation to the flood), with the center one being the famous creation of adam, with God's finger reaching out to touch him. he then surrounded these panels with 20 naked guys, a bunch of prophets, mixed with some greek mythology prophetesses. the results are stunning. it's 70 feet by 200 feet, all with vivid colors.

the ceiling was my favorite. but jeff liked michelangelo's later work, the last judgement, which is a painting filling the entire north wall of the chapel.

the last judgement was started by michelangelo when he was 66 years old. he spent the next six years on this one. again, he didn't follow directiions, and closed off two windows, removed one of the pope's portraits, and painted over the existing frescoes. here's jeff's description of it:

it depicts the coming of Christ. the picture is divided up into two sides: one where the dead are rising out of the graves, either towards Christs, or to be tormented by the devil. the other side shows the living either going to heaven, or being put in boats to cross the river styx (more classical - from Dante's Divine Comedy). those who are being tormented are heading towards an orange corner of everlasting torment (let's not get into a discussion of what "everlasting" means). jeff likes the fact that the heaven scene is filled with apostles - it's kind of neat because they're each carrying the tools used to martyr them. 

jeff could go on all day about this - but i'm tired of typing it - he's a bit upset at me right now because i've stopped taking dictation from him, but i'm tired. suffice it to say that he painted his own face on bartholemew's flayed skin, and he painted the current vatican art director as the rower of the boat across the river styx. if you want more details than this, talk to jeff, or come to rome and see it yourself!

dennis and jeff


vatican: the sistene chapel - italy