“Without having seen the Sistine Chapel, it’s not possible to have an idea of what one man is capable of doing” – Goethe
It wasn’t my first instinct to visit the Vatican: I am not particularly religious. I was, however, convinced I must see the Sistine Chapel, and luckily I did: the next day the Pope was flying into town for a few days of festivities including All Saints Day and the 500th year anniversary of the unveiling of Michelangelo’s painting in the Sistine Chapel. Upon learning the history and 1 day shy of the 500th anniversary and my birthday, I was at the Vatican.
The Sistine Chapel was named after the Pope that commissioned it, Pope Sixtus IV of the Della Rovere family and was built between 1475 and 1483. Apparently, (I didn’t bring my measuring tape to verify), the Chapel measures 40.93 meters long by 13.41 meters wide. (The exact dimensions of the Temple of Solomon, as given in the Old Testament). After some damage was done to the original chapel after it was built, the new Pope Julius II, asked Michelangelo to re-paint the ceiling.
Michelangelo, apparently, (no time machine to verify) shut himself inside of the Chapel and began to work in solitude, not allowing anyone to see his work before he was finished. It took him 4 lonely years – painting the ceiling on a dangerous catwalk lit by candlelight. If that doesn’t earn you a Key to the City, God only knows what would. On Oct 31, 1512 Michelangelo unveiled his work and on Nov 1 – All Saints Day – the Sistine Chapel was inaugurated in full ceremony and celebrated by Pope Julius II himself. Amazingly, the ceiling has over 300 figures painted on it. Michelangelo was later commissioned to paint the Last Judgement over the altar, between 1535 and 1541. I imagine, initially at least, a few swear words muttering in his mouth.
The Vatican Museum is extended out into a multitude of floors of artefacts from ancient roman times, original famous artworks and statues, paintings and even a section dedicated to Egyptian artefacts. I made an idiot of myself, declaring what looked like massive bath to be exactly what I want my bath to look like when I buy a home. It turns out it was an enormous round Sarcophagus – I have no idea how I’ll explain that design to Ikea. After walking around forever and just as your camera battery dies, you will enter the Sistine Chapel itself. The moment is worth the wait. I can barely draw a stick figure so the enormity of what Michelangelo has done is truly remarkable, there is not one inch of the walls and ceilings not covered. It is a shame, the man who supposedly was chronically anxious and depressed in life is truly admired by millions of people around the world hundreds of years after his death.
I was also impressed with something else in the Sistine Chapel– the Statue of Christ does not have a six-pack, but an almost sunken stomach and protruding rib cage which I find far more accurate than the version you often see in America. What do they think God was supposedly doing? – Saving the world one person at a time, going home to do sit ups, repenting all of our sins, going home to do sit ups. I find the ab crunching Jesus an American fantasy more to do with our own culture now than anything historically related. Can I get an Amen!? (That’s right, now go home and do some sit ups).
So, how do you get to see Michelangelo masterpiece? From Roma Termini, catch the Orange A train, and get off at the station Ottavario. You will walk down the street for about 07 minutes before you reach the Vatican and be pushed around by 3000 tour operators wanting you to ‘skip the lines” for the Vatican for ‘only’ 40 Euro. I only went to the Sistine Chapel but I paid 8 Euros (student discount) and was in after waiting 20 minutes. The usual entrance price to the Chapel and Vatican Museum is 15 euro.
Have you had the privilege of viewing Michelangelo’s work anywhere in the world?