Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel Ceiling

Written by Milan Jara

There are undoubtedly thousands of masterpiece artworks from legendary painters all over the world, but none has quite the power and prestige as the famous Sistine Chapel ceiling painted by artist Michelangelo. This beautiful piece of art can be found in the famous Vatican City in Rome, Italy, where the pope resides. It has long been renowned as one of the most intricate and detailed paintings of all time. The painting was started in 1508 and was completed in 1512. It was a painstaking endeavor that Michelangelo was originally hesitant to undertake but ultimately completed and did so with beauty.

History of the Painting

The artist Michelangelo was mostly known as a sculptor and not as much of a painter. At the time he was commissioned, he was already working on a sculpture to be located at the pope's tomb. Once he was commissioned to work on the chapel ceiling, he never completed the original tomb sculpture. Full artistic freedom was granted to Michelangelo, and he painted approximately 340 different figures on the ceiling. Each section was painted in full color with amazingly precise detail. The process with which Michelangelo painted each section was difficult, back-breaking work, but its merit, beauty, and intensity are unquestioned.


In order to complete the painting of the Sistine Chapel ceiling, the artist first had to design his own version of a scaffold in order to reach the ceiling's height. He began by inserting brackets up high near the windows rather than working the scaffolding from the ground up. The floor was covered with a protective material to protect it from plaster and paint splattering. Next, Michelangelo applied plaster to the ceiling, which is also called a fresco. The paint was applied while the plaster was damp so it would adhere to it as he painted. He had to lie down on his back and crane his neck, and it was extremely uncomfortable to work under those conditions. Each day, a new section of plaster fresco was laid so he could continue working. He used a wide variety of brushes and paints, creating a detailed and colorful mural.

Painting Content

Each section of the Sistine Chapel's ceiling depicts a different biblical situation. The main theme expresses humanity's need for Jesus and God for their salvation. The paintings show different stories and themes from the Bible, such as Adam and Eve being cast out by God from the Garden of Eden. One of the most famous sections is entitled "The Creation of Adam" and depicts God reaching out and touching Adam with his finger. This section is only rivaled by the famous "Mona Lisa" in terms of notoriety and precision. Most of the content comes from the book of Genesis, which tells the story of God's creation of the Earth. Other subject matter includes the story of Noah.

Additional Information

People flock from all over the world to take in the beauty and splendor of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Today, around 10,000 people pass through to view it each day. The frescoes were restored in a massive undertaking between 1980 and 1999. Restorers painstakingly worked to help clean the frescoes and help restore them to their original glory without compromising the works' integrity. The once vivid colors of greens, purples, reds, and blues were dimmed by years of candle smoke, and the restoration allowed these vivid colors to shine through again. There were even areas of the painting where Michelangelo used gold leaf accents. Few works of art contain so much detail on such a large scale, making the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel one of the most intricate and detailed works of art ever to be created.

- Milan Jara

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