Saturday, August 9, 2014

Opening of the Sistine Chapel ~ August 9, 1483

The Sistine Chapel (Italian: Cappella Sistina) is the best-known chapel in the Apostolic Palace, the official residence of the Pope in Vatican City. Its fame rests on its architecture, evocative of Solomon's Temple of the Old Testament and on its decoration which has been frescoed throughout by the greatest Renaissance artists including Michelangelo, Raphael, Bernini and Sandro Botticelli. Under the patronage of Pope Julius II, Michelangelo painted 12,000 square feet (1,100 m2) of the chapel ceiling between 1508 and 1512. He resented the commission, and believed his work only served the Pope's need for grandeur. However, today the ceiling, and especially The Last Judgement, are widely believed to be Michelangelo's crowning achievements in painting.

The Sistine Chapel takes its name from Pope Sixtus IV, who restored the old Cappella Magna between 1477 and 1480. During this period a team of painters that included Pietro Perugino, Sandro Botticelli and Domenico Ghirlandaio created a series of frescoed panels depicting the life of Moses and the life of Christ, offset by papal portraits above and trompe l’oeil drapery below. These paintings were completed in 1482, and on August 15, 1483, Sixtus IV consecrated the first mass in honor of Our Lady of the Assumption.

Since the time of Sixtus IV, the chapel has served as a place of both religious and functionary papal activity. Today it is the site of the Papal conclave, the process by which a new Pope is selected.

Image &

I've been to the Sistine Chapel five times. The first was in 1979 before any of the cleaning of the frescoes had begun. The second time was in 1987 when the ceiling was halfway cleaned. Next was in 1997 when I think Michelangelo's Last Judgement was still covered. Then in 2000 and 2007, all the frescoes were cleaned and restored. I returned again to this extraordinary space two years ago last October with my sister Julie, her husband Tom Martin, and my dear friend Debbie Cornue.

Raphael designed a series of tapestries to be hung below the frescoes, but they're seldom if ever placed in the chapel today and are displayed elsewhere in the Vatican Museum. The cartoons for these tapestries are in a large room at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.

A cappella, of course, means singing without accompaniment, as in the style of the Sistine Chapel. I've sung a cappella with many different choral groups throughout my life.

Titian in the Frari (Venezia)