To greater appreciate the work we’ll see across Italy, you need to understand the technique of fresco, or painting on wet plaster. Today the technique isn’t exactly standard in the art world. Fresco is time-consuming and difficult. It requires a ton of prep time, specific materials, an in-depth knowledge of the process, and a very confident brush stroke. Today, we have astounding works by Raphael and Michelangelo in brilliant color because of fresco. That’s because with fresco, the paint is absorbed by the wet plaster and becomes part of the wall. Once the wall was prepped and wet plaster applied, the artist had a matter of hours to apply the paint before it dried. If mistakes were made or segments dried, they would have to be chipped off with a chisel and started completely over (Michelangelo did this more than a few times in the Sistine Chapel). Take into consideration that Michelangelo was also 70 feet off the ground on scaffolding working by candlelight with his neck craned back for 4 years- paint and plaster dripping onto his face and into his eyes, and it’s even more impressive. The main thing to understand about fresco is that a big work is made up of many parts and if you could see the surface up close you would see tiny seams, each section a day that the artist worked. By counting them we can figure out how long the process took.
Here’s a few videos on fresco- The first is a video on Michelangelo’s technique (with the audio really off- sorry)
This second video shows a current painter working in fresco-
The Sistine Chapel is jammed packed with figures and symbolism. In painting, everything you see is a deliberate act on the part of the artist, so for centuries people have wondered at Michelangelo’s intent and all that is up there. In recent years (especially since “the DaVinci Code” and “Angels and Demons” phenomenon) books and articles have popped up with all kinds of claims about coded images on the ceiling. There are things that Michelangelo hid, especially on “the Last Judgement” wall, but many of these claims seem a real stretch. One of the most popular and hard-to prove claims concerns the famous center panel of the ceiling, “The Creation of Adam”. It is widely speculated that Michelangelo, Leonardo, and other Renaissance artists performed human dissection on corpses to understand the inner workings of the body (this would have been totally taboo at the time). Some have taken notice at the strange shroud that surrounds God and the angels on the right, and theorized that Michelangelo has copied the exact shape of a human brain, complete with the brainstem. It may just be a crazy coincidence that the shape matches so closely, but what if Michelangelo in his own hidden way portrayed God and his infinite knowledge (and also the triumph of the human mind)? Is it true? We’ll never know, but it is fun. You be the judge…