On our first full day in Rome, we’ll be leaving bright and early for the Vatican Museum to beat the crowds. It’s one of the greatest museums in the world with an infinite collection of high church art, as well as centuries of tapestries, many thousands of Roman sculptures and ancient historical artifacts, tapestries, manuscripts, weapons… even a modern art collection. It’s a beautifully strange and crazy place where you are completely overwhelmed with the shear amount of what there is to see. It’s really too much to absorb at one time. That’s they way it is though- with so many people you just keep moving and just when you’ve reached art overload you enter the Raphael rooms and the Sistine Chapel, the crown jewel of the Vatican (and then you exit the museum into St. Peter’s Basilica and get bombarded with amazement again! It never stops).
Soon after completing his “David” in Florence and his epic battle with Leonardo that never happened (more on this later), Michelangelo was summoned to the Vatican by Pope Julius II to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. He was not a painter, but a sculptor, and he refused. I guess you can’t say no to the Pope, because after much back and forth fighting, Michelangelo reluctantly agreed. The story goes that the great architect Bramante, who was working at St. Peters, recommended Michelangelo knowing he was not a painter in order to see him fail. We must remember that these great artists weren’t pals… they all wanted to be the best and have the acclaim. They all wanted the spotlight. Michelangelo responded by making the greatest painting ever, a feat that took him 4 years. 20 years after completing the ceiling, he returned to paint his epic “Last Judgement” on the front wall. His work in the room is so impressive, you don’t even notice the intricate marble floors or the multiple works by Botticelli and other masters around the perimeter.
The many figures in the chapel are sculptural in nature, huge figures with bulging muscles and dynamic poses. I can go on and on and on about all that’s contained within these monumental frescos, but it would be much too long to read and this video does a better job, even if it’s in Italian with occasional hilarious mis-translated subtitles and the recycled soundtrack from Jurassic Park. I think it may be an official Vatican produced video- it has the same guy from the History of St. Peters video, which you need to watch for sure.
The video does a good job in part 2 explaining the restoration. In the 80s, a long restoration of the frescos set about a big debate in the art community and shocked scholars. Basically, 450 years of grime and candle soot had left the paintings really dark, almost black. When the grime was painstakingly removed, the colors were shockingly vibrant. Many art historians objected, saying that Michelangelo must have covered the entire surface with a coat of glue to intentionally darken and finish the work and never would have wanted things so bright. Scientific analysis revealed however, that Michelangelo was long dead when the varnish and glue were added, so what you see today is more or less accurate. Enjoy these videos-