Sunday, November 04, 2012

Goin' to the Chapel

Five hundred years ago, on Oct. 31, 1512, Pope Julius II led an evening prayer service to inaugurate the Sistine Chapel and Michelangelo's newly-finished vault frescoes. Current Pope Benedict led the celebrations which took place this past Wednesday.

I first saw the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican more than 30 years ago, when it was still dirty. Centuries of  soot from braziers lit below had muddied Michelangelo's images to the point of obscurity in some spots. One of the great masterpieces of the Renaissance was being destroyed. Then an extensive and  controversial restoration took place over several years, which presumably renewed the vibrancy of the artist's colours.

Well, there are concerns about the 500-year-old frescoes once again. The problem this time? Still humans. It's nearly always us folks. We breathe alot and sweat alot and the humidity affects the surface of of the paintings and degrades them.

Greed may have a part in this. Each visitor pays about $20 for admission and there are five million visits a year. The crowds are such that there is no opportunity to stop and ponder the scriptural stories which unfold far above. The poet Robert Hughes described the experience as a "rugby scrum." How unholy can you get?

Have you strained your neck peering up at the chapel ceiling? Would you be disappointed to be denied access for the greater good of the frescoes? Just carve up the biblical scenes with a chainsaw and sell them to the highest bidder?

  • Commissioned by Pope Julius II, Michelangelo began work in July 1508, and the ceiling was unveiled on 1 November 1512

  • Michelangelo accepted the commission unwillingly at first as he considered himself to be a sculptor rather than a painter

  • The Sistine ceiling was the first, but not the last fresco Michelangelo undertook

  • The central ceiling vault depicts nine scenes from the Book of Genesis: three of the Creation, three the fall of Adam and Eve and three of the story of Noah

  • The Sistine Chapel was named for Pope Sixtus IV, the uncle of Pope Julius II

  • Michelangelo later said: "After four tortured years, more than 400 over life-size figures, I felt as old and as weary as Jeremiah. I was only 37, yet friends did not recognise the old man I had become."

  • New post on Groundling

    1 comment:

    IanD said...

    Thanks for the history lesson! How interesting.