Sistine Chapel Ceiling
“No one who has not seen the Sistine ceiling can
have a clear idea of what a human being can
achieve.” (Goethe)
The Sistine Chapel
La Capella Sistina
Chapel decoration
was started by Pope
Sixtus in 1473
Ceiling had been
frescoed earlier with
a star-spangled sky
In 1508
Michelangelo was
commissioned by
Pope Julius II della
Rovere to repaint
the ceiling of the
Sistine Chapel
The Sistine
The ceiling was
completed in 1512 when
M was 37.
From this time onwards,
Vasari writes he was
referred to as “Il
He returned and painted
the Last Judgement over
the altar, between 1535
and 1541on request of
Pope Paul III Farnese.
The ceiling is 40m long
and shaped like a barrel
Influences on Michelangelo
As a young man in Florence
studying painting, M sketched the
work of Masaccio and Giotto.
He spent a lot of time in the
Brancacci Chapel
He admired Giotto’s weighty 3D
forms, Masaccio’s use of drapery
and sculptural forms of his figures.
When sketching them he tended to
add to the massiveness of the
figures and define the drapery
more strongly.
Can you recognise which
character and which work
Michelangelo is copying here?
Right hand
Christ Giving
the Keys to St.
Facts and Figures
Can you match these stats to these numbers?
 Number of days it took to paint the Sistine
 Approximate number of figures on the
 Area of the ceiling in sq metres?
 Decade that the ceiling restoration was
It took 4 years and 5 months (1512 days) to paint the
ceiling. Although he had some assistants mixing paint
etc, Michelangelo was such a perfectionist he did most
of the work himself.
There are over 300 figures on the ceiling
The ceiling is 40m x 14 m long (520m 2) (~ 2 ½ tennis
courts) and the height of a 3 storey building.
Restoration of the ceiling started in the 80s and finished
in the 1990s. Restorers used pure water and chemicals
to clean away centuries of smoke and grime and reveal
the true colours used by Michelangelo.
The Pope v the artist
Michelangelo’s relationship with Pope Julius II was
stormy. He initially refused to paint the ceiling, saying
he was a sculptor.
 Julius II was very ambitious, a warrior pope who had
led armies in battle. He was impatient with those who
worked for him.
 He often visited the Sistine Chapel, climbing the
scaffolding to see how the work was going
 He constantly asked
Michelangelo how soon
it would be completed
A dangerous job
Michelangelo painted the ceiling using
traditional fresco technique
Extremely difficult and dangerous given
the size of the ceiling and its height.
Scaffolding was 16m above floor.
Michelangelo had to bend over backwards
and paint above his head
He invented a stool that he leaned
on/rested his head on.
Paint splattered his face all day long and
by evening his body was so cramped he
could only read letters from his family by
holding them above his head.
The Decorative Scheme
The CEILING is Divided into 3 zones.
The lowest zone: shows the ancestors
of Christ – 40 generations worth, as
described in Genesis.
The middle zone consists of Old
Testament prophets and pagan sibyls
[prophetesses]. Both “have
knowledge of the Divine and mediate
between man and God" (Fleming 192).
Biblical AND Classical.
The center of the ceiling depicts the
story of the creation of the world and
man’s relation to God. 9 scenes
taken from Genesis. Begins with
creation and ends with the Last
Diagram shows layout of the WALLS.
Layout of each band of the ceiling
Prophets / Sibyls on the outside
Ignudi, medallions
Scene from Genesis in the central
The restoration process revealed surprising bright
colours to Art Historians

Michelangelo`s Sistine Chapel Ceiling