Exhumator Esoterics

Encyclopedia of Spiritual — Letter S - SISTINE CHAPEL

Exhumator Esoterics
Exhumator Esoterics

Michelangelo divided his work by measures of what could be accomplished in a day (giornata); The Last Judgment required 450 giornata. He executed the vault and altar wall largely by his saturnine, solitary, and superstitious self, although he also enlisted assistants in seeing these works completely through. Although Michelangelo sometimes quoted designs and poses from classical sources, by and large the vault and altar were autograph painting ("in his own hand") and of his own invention. Along the way, Michelangelo also invented new iconographies of God and the creation of Adam. Michelangelo made dramatic use of pigment and color in the service of form, composition, clarity, and legibility, at first relying on cartoon designs, either pounced or incised. Later in the program (under Julius's constant pressure to finish), Michelangelo worked, in an economy of effort, freehand. This somber colorist structured his pictures with little graphic design and succeeded to paint massive novel figures that could be read and appreciated from the chapel floor far below. Not yet finished, Michelangelo's vault already received notoriety in Albertini's 1509 Rome guidebook. Michelangelo completed the vault work between 1508 and 1512 in two campaigns separated in September 1510 and August 1511 by an enforced hiatus. He unveiled the vault on October 31, 1512, one spectator calling it "the language of the Gods." Nonetheless, Hadrian VI (reigned from 1522 to 1523) wanted to destroy the chapel because of Michelangelo's stew of nudes a mere 10 years after the ceiling was finished.

The entire history of humankind is represented in the decoration of the Sistine Chapel from the original act of creation, where God is shown separating light from darkness, through to the seven Angels trumpeting the end of time in The Last Judgment. Goethe, who visited the Chapel in 1787, observed: "The era of the Renaissance is encapsulated within its walls. Without having seen the Sistine Chapel one can form no appreciable idea of what one man is capable of achieving."

So many necks are craned for so long during a visit to the Sistina (as was Michelangelo's during his painting) that hardly anyone notices the pavement is an exquisite geometric polychrome marble mosaic of Cosmati work specifically designed to conduct processional currents during mass and precisely arrange the celebrants. A marble choir screen separates the presbytery reserved for unaccredited laity from the clergy's nave.


The Sistine Chapel is one of the most important places in Christian faith and in art history. Today, the chapel serves the College of Cardinals as a conclave (cum clavi or "behind locked doors") to elect a new pope. In the 500 years intervening since its decoration, the frescoes were obfuscated somewhat by varnish, animal glue, and the famously white or black smoke signals of conclave decision making. The chapel underwent an extensive 10-year-long restoration during the 1990s. Thousands of visitors enjoy the Sistine Chapel daily.