By Sophia Yakumithis
Today I’m going to talk about the painting of the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling because a lot of fun stuff went down that you probably don’t know about. And you need to know. Trust me.
The Sistine Chapel is the chapel located in the Pope’s residence in Vatican City, Rome. Today, it attracts millions of tourists each year, flocking to see the interior’s ceiling, which is covered in magnificent murals depicting nine scenes from the Book of Genesis and other biblical narratives.
It all started when Pope Julius II — who had already commissioned High Renaissance MVP and everyone’s favorite Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, Michelangelo, to sculpt his tomb — was like, “Listen, buddy. You’re building my literal grave. But while you’re at it, can you paint my ceiling?”
The notoriously bratty Michelangelo fancied himself as a sculptor, not a painter. He was quite reluctant to take on the project, but since the leader of Catholicism was pretty adamant, the artist didn’t refuse. He just made things very difficult for Pope Julius in the process.
Michelangelo was also coming off of a career high and demanded that the Pope allow him to work free hand. Additionally, he asked that the commission, which originally meant painting the central part of the panels and supporting pendentives, cover the entire ceiling’s surface area.
Painting a ceiling sounds like some Tom Sawyer gig, but let me tell you, this is no ordinary ceiling. This is a 2,000 square foot, barrel vaulted cluster of curved panels which the Pope wanted to be decorated with fresco paintings, a time consuming method of mural painting that involves water-based pigments painted onto wet lime plaster. Frescos would’ve been on every Catholic’s “home inspo” Pinterest board in 1506.
Since it’s what all the cool popes were doing in Renaissance Italy, Pope Julius II allowed Michelangelo to employ the messiest and most permanent method to execute what would arguably become his most famous, prolific work. On a very, very diluted scale, that’s like having someone hand write their graduate thesis in one go using a permanent marker.
So, like a turkey in the rain, Michelangelo stood with his head tilted completely back on scaffolding that clocked in at 66 feet and it took him 54 months total to finish. That’s a little more than one presidential term of a strained neck, which apparently Michelangelo vocally complained about the entire time.
Michelangelo brought in four assistants to finish the project. Periodically, though, he would kick them out and lock himself in the Vatican to “do it correctly.” Michelangelo also began pissing off the Pope, who grew impatient with the artist’s lack of time conception.
Word on the street is that the Pope literally poked Michelangelo with his staff in an attempt to knock him off the scaffolding after Michelangelo told him he wasn’t finished after almost two years straight of painting. Julius II also disguised himself and tried sneaking up the scaffolding to see the work in detail, but Michelangelo caught on and started whipping timber planks at the leader of Catholicism himself.
Leaving the image of God in his “Creation of Adam” fresco for last (Mike wanted to refine his techniques in totality before portraying creation), the artist completed his commission for the unveiling of the Chapel in 1512, an invite-only event for the papacy’s girl gang.
Pope Julius II threw his banger on the Feast of All Saints that year. He and his 17 cardinals had a full-day itinerary, which included a feast, comedy screenings and a mid-day slumber party. I can not make this up. They had a nap orgy.
The culmination of the event was the unveiling of the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling, which allegedly left the Pope and his cardinals completely speechless. And although I haven’t seen it in person, its grandeur and awe certainly leaves me in the same state at my laptop screen.