The Sistine Chapel: 10 Famous Paintings You Should Know

Sistine Chapel

The Sistine Chapel, what is so special about the chapel?

When I was 18, I visited the Sistine Chapel and it was an amazing experience. When I went outside there were two Australian girls, and they walked up to me and with a strong accent asked ‘what makes this painting so special?’.

Now, everything inside the Catholic church is painted by Michelangelo. As you walk into the Sistine Chapel, all the walls and ceilings are painted, so what makes this one so special? What makes the roof of the Sistine Chapel so special? That is very good question.


Did Michelangelo do only one painting?

Now first of all I’d like to say that the Sistine Chapel is not just one painting. A lot of people consider it to just be this one panel, the most famous panel, The Creation of Adam, and they break touch for the first time. Actually the whole Sistine Chapel is so much bigger: it is a collection of 9 panels that actually goes through the entire Book of Genesis.

In the middle we’ve got the beginning of God’s creation separating light and dark, forming Earth, making animals, eventually making Adam and Eve.

The Sistine Chapel
From darkness to light

Then we continue to The Fall of Man, we get sin and Satan in the form of a snake.

The Fall of Man

Next we move on to the story of Noah, which is followed by Noah and the ark and then lastly the shaming of Noah.

The Shaming of Noah

On the sides we’ve got a different books and stories also from Genesis but less well known. Then we also have in the corners all the prophets and prophetess.

The Prophet Daniel
The Profet Isaiah
Persian Sibyl

Now what is very interesting is that Catholic theology varies a lot from protestant theology, varies a lot from Pentecostal theology. What we see in Michelangelo’s painting there is a lot of female prophets, we actually see quite a few beautiful female prophets which were later actually removed from the Bible.

Michelangelo’s knowledge of human anatomy.

Another thing to note and the reason this painting is so famous is because of Michelangelo’s incredible understanding of anatomy. Yes all the other figures up until then was quite stifled, they were quite structured.

Michelangelo was a sculptor (he hated painting) he didn’t want to do this commission but he was kind of forced by the Catholic church to paint this ceiling. All Michelangelo wanted to do was his marble and cut-outs sculptures. The big thing that they were impressed by was Michelangelo’s absolute command and understanding of anatomy.

You don’t just see figures standing up straight but you see them moving, twisting, swerving, arching. There’s so much movement and this is why this panel of the ceiling painting stands out over all the others.

The roof of the Sistine Chapel is curved.

Another amazing thing to consider is that the Sistine Chapel’s roof is actually curved, so what Michelangelo did is he calculated the impact of the curve on the eye and he painted for that curve, this is absolutely incredible. When you are standing at the bottom everything looks absolutely in proportion and it is wonderfully straight and exactly how you want it.

But when you look up at the ceiling everything is actually painted on a bit of a dome and it’s curved so Michelangelo has really tricked the eye and he has corrected for the faults of the curve.

Interior of The Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo

This is incredible science and math. It took Michelangelo four-and-a-half years to paint the Sistine Chapel

As I said he absolutely hated it, didn’t want to go to Rome to go and paint this, he wanted to stay in Florence but his hand was forced and eventually he went.

When Michelangelo finished the Sistine Chapel he was asked to come back to finish the wall that is right in front of it. On the roof we have Genesis and then the room is ended by painting Revelations. which is the last book of the Bible, so we’ve got the first book and the last book of the Bible framing this room.

What happened when Michelangelo met Raphael?

When Michaelangelo was painting the last book of the Bible, when he did The Last Judgement, the painter Raphael was rising to fame already.

The Last Judgement

Raphael was actually working further down the corridor on another series of “The School of Athens”, probably one of his most famous paintings.

School of Athens, Raphael

He so badly wanted to meet the genius Michelangelo but Michelangelo was an extremely jealous, extremely selfish, egotistic, volatile human, so he actually chased Raphael out and threw some of his brushes and tools at Raphael so he couldn’t see how Michaelangelo was painting.

What interesting piece did Michelangelo add to The Last Judgement?

One of the things that Michelangelo did in The Last Judgement, is that he added a dead skin being held right at the top in the clouds. Michelangelo said that that is his self-portrait. That is what’s left of him after dealing with the Catholic Church. They have sucked his soul and life out of him.

Dead skin

What is also interesting is that Raphael added himself into The School of Athens, the painting that he just did down the passage, and he also added his heroes: Michelangelo and da Vinci, so even though Michelangelo really treated him like dirt and was quite jealous of his new fame, he still honoured his heroes by adding them into the painting.

Read about all 10 the paintings in this series: Mona LisaThe Last SupperStarry NightThe Scream, Guernica, The KissThe Girls with the Pearl EarringThe Birth of Venus and Las Meninas

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