2006-01-06 / Travel

Under the Tuscan Spell

Part 27: Sistine Chapel

Within the Vatican, an easy walking distance from St. Peter’s, are some of the world’s greatest museums:

• The Treasury contains church ornaments, statues, papal mitres, and gifts to the popes from kings and presidents.

• The Vatican Grottoes contain chapels dedicated to saints and tombs of kings, queens, and popes.

• The Roman Necropolis is the oldest Christian graveyard in the world, where Peter’s tomb was located.

• The Egyptian Museum contains treasures seized during the Roman Empire and other artifacts “bought” by the popes in the 18th century.

• The Chiarmonti Museum contains 1000 pieces of sculpture from the 19th century.

• The Braccio Nuovo contains Roman statures and Roman copies of Greek statures.

• The Pio–Clementino Museum contains precious statuary such as the Laocoon.

• The Gallery of Maps is lined with 40 maps of Catholic lands in the 16th century.

Michelangelo’s Last Judgement: (from top to bottom)  Crucifixion (l), destruction of the temple (r), Christ the judge with Mary, trumpet–playing angels summon the judgement (l), the saved rejoicing (r), rescue of the few (l), and ferrying the lost to Hell (r).
Michelangelo’s Last Judgement: (from top to bottom) Crucifixion (l), destruction of the temple (r), Christ the judge with Mary, trumpet–playing angels summon the judgement (l), the saved rejoicing (r), rescue of the few (l), and ferrying the lost to Hell (r). • The Stanze is a series of rooms frescoed by Raphael.

• And the wonder of them all, the Sistine Chapel.

It was built as a fortified meeting room for the cardinals during the late 1400s, a place the Medici family and the Turks could not penetrate. All the great painters of the day were called to paints sections of the room. Michelangelo spent four years painting the history of mankind before Christ on the walls and ceiling of the inner vault of the chapel. Later, he spent another five years painting The Last Judgement.

I perused Michelangelo’s frescoes for over an hour, moving from corner to corner, bench to bench, bending back in order to see the artwork that has molded religious thinking for over 500 years. What a wonderful way to end our trip.

Michelangelo’s famous painting of the Creation of Adam (top) and God’s Separation of Light from Darkness (bottom) 
Michelangelo’s famous painting of the Creation of Adam (top) and God’s Separation of Light from Darkness (bottom)

A Roman boy plays with a snake in the Pio–Clementino Museum.
A Roman boy plays with a snake in the Pio–Clementino Museum. A tapestry in The Stanze tells the Biblical story of King Herod’s killing of all babies in Bethlehem.
A tapestry in The Stanze tells the Biblical story of King Herod’s killing of all babies in Bethlehem. Michelangelo’s depiction of the Fall of Man and Expulsion from Paradise on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel’s Vault
Michelangelo’s depiction of the Fall of Man and Expulsion from Paradise on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel’s Vault

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