Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Sistine Chapel Opened 499 Years Ago Today; 'The Divine One' Was The Original Renaissance Man; Contemplating the Cadavers

499 years ago on November 1st, 1512, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome, one of Italian artist Michelangelo's finest works, was exhibited to the public for the first time. The magnificent work cannot be justly described and is a 'must-see' by anyone interested in art or art or church history. Here's some trivia about one of the most celebrated artists and frescos of all time.....

The Early Years
Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni (right) was commonly known as Michelangelo Buonarroti.

Michelangelo was born on March 6, 1475 in Caprese near Arezzo, Tuscany but was raised in Florence.

Michelangelo lived during the Italian Renaissance.

In addition to being a painter and sculptor he was also an architect, poet and engineer.

Michelangelo's father sent him to study grammar with the humanist Francesco da Urbino in Florence as a young boy. He showed no interest in school, however, preferring instead to copy paintings from churches and spend time with painters.

Michelangelo was apprenticed in 1488 to the painter D. Ghirlandajo. Michelangelo's father managed to persuade Ghirlandaio to pay the 14-year-old artist, which was highly unusual at the time.

When he showed a genius for sculpture he attracted the attention of Lorenzo the Magnificent who arranged for him to study at the Academy of Ancient Art in the Medici Palace with Bertoldo di Giovanni. 

While studying at the Academy of Ancient Art,  Michelangelo was struck with a mallet by his rival, Torregiano, crushing his nose and disfiguring him for life.

In 1489, Florence's ruler Lorenzo de' Medici asked Ghirlandaio for his two best pupils to attend his school; Ghirlandaio sent Michelangelo and Francesco Granacci.

In the Chapel

Silver stars on a plain blue field was on the ceiling of the Vatican's Sistine Chapel before Michelangelo painted his famous fresco.

In 1508, Pope Julius II commissioned Michelangelo to undertake the fresco decoration of the Sistine Chapel. The ceiling is a vaulted 150 feet in length by 50 feet in breadth.

The Sistine Chapel took 4 or 5 years (between 1508 and 1512) to complete and is considered the most stupendous single achievement of modern art.

The ceiling is located in the large Papal Chapel built within the Vatican between 1477 and 1480 by Pope Sixtus IV after whom it is named and is the location for Papal Conclaves and many important services. 

The large fresco The Last Judgment (above), also by Michelangelo, is located on the sanctuary wall.

Other wall paintings by leading painters of the late 15th century include Sandro Botticelli, Domenico Ghirlandaio and Pietro Perugino.

A set of large tapestries by Raphael illustrate much of the doctrine of the Catholic Church. 

Within the ring of prophets and sybils are nine panels on biblical history. Three panels are devoted to the Creation, three to the story of Adam and Eve, and three to the story of Noah and the great flood.

Central to the ceiling decoration are nine scenes from the Book of Genesis of which the Creation of Adam is the best known, having an iconic standing equalled only by Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa, the hands of God and Adam being reproduced in countless imitations.

Although the serpent in the Fall of Man is presumed to be Satan, Michelangelo depicted it with a woman's head and breasts.

Other Works
In 1505 Michelangelo was asked to design the tomb of Pope Julius II. Originally it was to include almost 80 oversized figures but the final plans were reduced dramatically. Michelangelo made only one figure for the tomb, Moses, his last major sculpture from a block of marble that had been deemed unworkable by earlier sculptors.

Two other best-known works, the Pietà (left) and the David, were sculpted before he turned thirty. La Pietà means pity in Italian. This was not the first Pietà, but perhaps the most famous. The Pietà depicts the Virgin Mary cradling the dead body of Jesus after his Crucifixion, and has been produced numerous times in art. Michelangelo's interpretation is different from most earlier pietà statues, which were usually small and made of wood. The Virgin is also more youthful-looking than usual.

In Irving Stone's novel, 'The Agony and the Ecstasy', it is noted that Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel on a on a scaffold. Pope Julius II, Michelangelo's patron and hard-driving taskmaster, mounts the scaffold in absolute fascination to see the great artist's depiction of God Himself. Looking into the face of God, Pope Julius asks Michelangelo: 'Is that how you see Him, my son?'. How do you see Him? It is my prayer that you will see Him, this morning, as One who will not break the bruised reed, will not quench the smoking flax - and that your soul too will be quieted, soothed, comforted, encouraged and healed."

Michelangelo was also often called Il Divino ("the divine one").

Michelangelo studied human anatomy by examining corpses at the Church's hospital even though this was strictly forbidden, Michelangelo was permitted to do so when he created a Wooden crucifix and gave it as a gift to the prior of the church of Santa Maria del Santo Spirito.

Michelangelo had a special relationship with Vittoria Colonna (right), who lived in a convent but often went to Rome to visit Michelangelo and discuss with him poetry and religion. She inspired some of Michelangelo's finest poetry and several of his images of Mary are believed to be based on her appearance. It was a terrible blow to him when she died in 1547.

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