Monday, November 1

Saints and Ceilings

Sistine Chapel painted by Michelangelo, 1512
photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Today is All Saints Day, an observance that can be traced back to the reign of Pope Gregory III in the eight century. In 1512 Pope Julius II chose this day to display Michelangelo's paintings on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel for the first time. The chapel itself was built about twenty-five years earlier, and various Renaissance painters were commissioned to paint frescoes on the walls. It was Pope Julius II who commissioned Michelangelo to paint the ceiling.

Michelangelo was 33 years old at the time, and he tried to point out to the Pope that he was known for his sculpture, not his painting, but the Pope wouldn't listen. So Michelangelo used his skills as a sculptor to make the two-dimensional ceiling look like a series of three-dimensional scenes - a technique that was relatively new at the time. It took him four years to finish the job, between 1508 and 1512. He worked from a scaffold 60 feet above the floor, and he covered about 10,000 square feet of surface. Every day fresh plaster was laid over a part of the ceiling and Michelangelo had to finish painting before the plaster dried.

For several centuries, art historians had believed that Michelangelo was more interested in form than in color, because the frescoes he painted were so dark and dull. Then, over a ten-year period during the 1980's, a group of restoration experts removed hundreds of years of dirt, smoke, and varnish from the Sistine Chapel's ceiling, and it turned out that the frescoes were some of the most colorful paintings of the whole Renaissance.

The German writer Wolfgang Von Goethe wrote, "We cannot know what a human being can achieve until we have seen [the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel]."
Centuries of saints, known and unknown have pass through this world and touched our lives directly and indirectly. Some of these saints I have known as personal friends of mine, some I have known only slightly and some I never had the pleasure to meet. We cannot know what human beings can become of until we honor what those who came before.


The Bug said...

I've always been amazed by that ceiling - I can't even imagine being up there for four years, much less creating a masterpiece.

Single and Sane said...

Beautiful post. And I never cease to be amazed by the work that went into that ceiling - just incredible.

Jo said...

The Sistine Chapel is one of the places I have always wanted to see. Even in the picture on your blog, the three-dimension effect is very evident. And aren't the color beautiful since the restoration in the 80s? Just imagine the work involved in painting that ceiling!