Sistine Chapel Michelangelo Ceiling Frescoes
Giorgio Vasari in his Lives of the Artists provided an account of the Florentine artist Michelangelo Buonarotti painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling in Rome:
"...The Pope often saw Michelangelo, and said, "Have the chapel enriched with colours and gold, in which it is poor." He would answer familiarly, 'Holy Father, in those days they did not wear gold; they never became very rich, but were holy men who despised wealth.' Altogether Michelangelo received 3000 crowns from the Pope for this work, and he must have spent twenty-five on the colours. The work was executed in great discomfort, as Michelangelo had to stand with his head thrown back, and he so injured his eyesight that for several months he could only read and look at designs in that posture. I suffered similarly when doing the vaulting of four large rooms in the palace of Duke Cosimo, and I should never have finished them had I not made a seat supporting the head, which enabled me to work lying down, but it so enfeebled my head and injured my sight that I feel the effects still, and I marvel that Michelangelo supported the discomfort. However, he became more eager every day to be doing and making progress, and so he felt no fatigue, and despised the discomfort.
"The work had six corbels on each side and one at each end, containing sibyls and prophets, six braccia high, with the Creation of the World in the middle, down to the Flood and Noah's drunkenness, and the generations of Jesus Christ in the lunettes. He used no perspective or foreshortening, or any fixed point of view, devoting his energies rather to adapting the figures to the disposition than the disposition to the figures, contenting himself with the perfection of his nude and draped figures, which are of unsurpassed design and excellence. This work has been a veritable beacon to our art, illuminating all painting and the world which had remained in darkness for so any centuries. Indeed, painters no longer care about novelties, inventions, attitudes and draperies, methods of new expression or striking subjects painted in different ways, because this work contains every perfection that can be given. Men are stupefied by the excellence of the figures, the perfection of the foreshortening, the stupendous rotundity of the contours, the grace and slenderness and the charming proportions of the fine nudes showing every perfection; every age, expression and form being represented in varied attitudes, such as sitting, turning, holding festoons of oak-leaves and laurel, the device of Pope Julius, showing that his was a golden age, for Italy had yet to experience her miseries. Some in the middle hold medals with, scenes, painted like bronze or gold, the subject being taken from the Book of Kings. To show the greatness of God and the perfection of art he represents the Dividing of Light from Darkness, showing with love and art the Almighty, self-supported, with extended arms. With fine discretion and ingenuity he then did God making the sun and moon, supported by numerous cherubs, with marvellous foreshortening of the arms and legs. The same scene contains the blessing of the earth and the Creation, God being foreshortened in the act of flying, the figure following you to whatever part of the chapel you turn. In another part he did God dividing the waters from the land, marvellous figures showing the highest intellect and worthy of being made by the divine hand of Michelangelo. He continued with the creation of Adam, God being borne by a group of little angels, who seem also to be supporting the whole weight of the world. The venerable majesty of God with the motion as He surrounds some of cherubs with one arm and stretches the other to an Adam of marvellous beauty of attitude and outline, seem a new creation of the Maker rather than one of the brush and design of such a man. He next did the creation of our mother Eve, showing two nudes, one in a heavy sleep like death, the other quickened by the blessing of God. The brush of this great artist has clearly marked the difference between sleeping and waking, and the firmness presented by the Divine Majesty, to speak humanly.
"He then did Adam eating the apple, persuaded by a figure half woman and half serpent, and he and Eve expelled from Paradise, the angel executing the order of the incensed Deity with grandeur and nobility, Adam showing at once grief for his sin and the fear of death, while the woman displays shame, timidity and a desire to obtain pardon as she clasps her arms and hands over her breast, showing, in turning her head towards the angel, that she has more fear of the justice than hope of the Divine mercy. No less beautiful is the sacrifice of Cain and Abel, one bringing wood, one bending over the fire, and some killing the victim, certainly not executed with less thought and care than the others. He employed a like art and judgement in the story of the Flood, containing various forms of death, the terrified men trying every possible means to save their lives. Their heads show that they recognise the danger with their terror and utter despair. Some are humanely assisting each other to climb to the top of a rock; one of them is trying to remove a half-dead man in a very natural manner. It is impossible to describe the excellent treatment of Noah's drunkenness, showing incomparable and unsurpassable art. Encouraged by these he attacked the five sibyls and seven prophets, showing himself even greater. They are of five braccia and more, in varied attitudes, beautiful draperies and displaying miraculous judgement and invention, their expressions seeming divine to a discerning eye. Jeremiah, with crossed legs, holds his beard with his elbow on his knee, the other hand resting in his lap, and his head being bent in a melancholy and thoughtful manner, expressive of his grief, regrets, reflection, and the bitterness he feels concerning his people. Two boys behind him show similar power; and in the first sibyl nearer the door, in representing old age, in addition to the involved folds of her draperies, he wishes to show that her blood is frozen by time, and in reading she holds the book close to her eyes, her sight having failed. Next comes Ezekiel, an old man with fine grace and movement, in copious draperies, one hand holding a scroll of his prophecies, the other raised and his head turned as if he wished to declare things high and great. Behind him are two boys holding his books. Next comes a sibyl, who, unlike the Erethrian sibyl just mentioned, holds her book at a distance, and is about to turn the page; her legs are crossed, and she is reflecting what she shall write, while a boy behind her is lighting her lamp. This figure has an expression of extraordinary beauty, the hair and draperies are equally fine, and her arms are bare, and as perfect as the other parts. He did next the Joel earnestly reading a scroll, with the most natural expression of satisfaction at what he finds written, exactly like one who has devoted close attention to some subject. Over the door of the chapel Michelangelo placed the aged Zachariah, who is searching for something in a book, with one leg raised and the other down, though in his eager search he does not feel the discomfort. He is a fine figure of old age somewhat stout in person, his fine drapery falling in few folds. There is another sibyl turned towards the altar showing writings, not less admirable than the others. But for Nature herself one must see the Isaiah, a figure wrapped in thought, with his legs crossed, one hand on his book to keep the place, and the elbow of the other arm also on the volume, and his chin in his hand. Being called by one of the boys behind, he rapidly turns his head without moving the rest of his body. This figure, when well studied, is a liberal education in all the principles of painting.
"Next to him is a beautiful aged sibyl who sits studying a book, with extraordinary grace, matched by the two boys beside her. It would not be possible to add to the excellence of the youthful Daniel, who is writing in a large book, copying with incredible eagerness from some writings, while a boy standing between his legs supports the weight as he writes. Equally beautiful is the Lybica, who, having written a large volume drawn from several books, remains in a feminine attitude ready to rise and shut the book, a difficult thing practically impossible for any other master. What can I say of the four scenes in the angles of the corbels of the vaulting? A David stands with his boyish strength triumphant over a giant, gripping him by the neck while soldiers about the camp marvel. Very wonderful are the attitudes in the story of Judith, in which we see the headless trunk of Holofernes, while Judith puts the head into a basket carried by her old attendant, who being tall bends down to permit Judith to do it, while she prepares to cover it, and turning towards the trunk shows her fear of the camp and of the body, a well-thought out painting. Finer than this and than all the rest is the story of the Brazen Serpent, over the left corner of the altar, showing the death of many, the biting of the serpents, and Moses raising the brazen serpent on a staff, with a variety in the manner of death and in those who being bitten have lost all hope. The keen poison causes the agony and death of many, who lie still with twisted legs and arms, while many fine heads are crying out in despair. Not less beautiful are those regarding the serpent, who feel their pains diminishing with returning life. Among them is a woman, supported by one whose aid is as finely shown as her need in her fear and distress. The scene of Ahasuerus in bed having the annals read to him is very fine. There are three figures eating at a table, showing the council held to liberate the Hebrews and impale Haaman, a wonderfully foreshortened figure, the stake supporting him and an arm stretched out seeming real, not painted, as do his projecting leg and the parts of the body turned inward. It would take too long to enumerate all the beauties and various circumstances in the genealogy of the patriarchs, beginning with the sons of Noah, forming the generation of Christ, containing a great variety of draperies, expressions, extraordinary and novel fancies; nothing in fact but displays genius, all the figures being finely foreshortened, and everything being admirable and divine. But who can see without wonder and amazement the tremendous Jonah, the last figure of the chapel, for the vaulting which curves forward from the wall is made by a triumph of art to appear straight, through the posture of the figure, which by the mastery of the drawing and the light and shade, appears really to be bending backwards. O, happy age O, blessed artists who have been able to refresh your darkened eyes at the fount of such clearness, and see difficulties made plain by this marvellous artist! His labours have removed the bandage from your eyes, and he has separated the true from the false which clouded the mind. Thank Heaven, then, and try to imitate Michelangelo in all things."
Creazione del mondo Frescoes
Sequence of primordial events:
- First day. La Separazione della luce dalle tenebre:
- Second day. La Divisione delle acque dalla terra.
- Third and fourth days (stars and earth/plants). La Creazione degli astri e delle piante: