📍 Vatican City
🗓 1508 – 1512
We couldn’t start a series on Italian art without looking at arguably its greatest masterpiece. This ceiling is an essential work of High Renaissance Art. Commissioned by Pope Julius II, the painting includes nine scenes from the Book of Genesis, of which The Creation of Adam is the best known.
The Creation of Adam
“The Creation of Adam”, a fresco forming part of the ceiling, is one of the most popular and recognisable images in art history.
It illustrates the Biblical creation narrative from the Book of Genesis in which God gives life to Adam, the first man.
This image of the near-touching hands of God and Adam has become iconic of humanity. The painting has been reproduced in countless imitations and parodies.
However, there is a curiosity.
That infinite distance enclosed in a few centimetres is not Michelangelo’s. Years after Michelangelo had completed the work, a crack went through the vault, causing Adam’s finger to detach and fall to the ground (a 21 metre drop) smashing into little pieces!
A (now anonymous) worker had to restore the symbolic moment! Can you see the difference?
Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam is one of the most replicated religious paintings of all time.
The Last Judgement
This fresco decorates the wall behind the altar of the Sistine Chapel and saw the light of day between 1535 and 1541.
The dead rise and descend to their fates, as judged by Christ who is surrounded by prominent saints.
In the lower part of the fresco, Michelangelo followed tradition in showing the saved ascending at the left and the damned descending at the right. In the upper part, the inhabitants of Heaven are joined by the newly saved. The fresco is more monochromatic than the ceiling frescoes and is dominated by the tones of flesh and sky. The cleaning and restoration of the fresco, however, revealed a greater chromatic range than previously apparent. Orange, green, yellow, and blue are scattered throughout, animating and unifying the complex scene.
However, the fresco wasn’t always how we see it today. Many characters were completely naked and this, along with other elements judged obscene, sparked harsh criticism in the society of the time.
How was the problem solved? On January 21, 1564, after Michelangelo’s death, the Congregation of the Council of Trento ordered the censorship of the fresco. The painter Daniele da Volterra covered the nudity of the characters and for this reason he went down in history as ′′Braghettone” – Big Trousers!
The fame of Michelangelo’s paintings has drawn multitudes of visitors to the chapel ever since they were revealed five hundred years ago.
“Death and love are the two wings that bear the good man to heaven.” – Michelangelo