Tag Archives: Sistine Chapel

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time Mark 13:24-32

A detail showing Christ at the centre of Michelangelo’s painting of the Last Judgement on the end wall of the Sistine Chapel. From 1536 until 1541 Michelangelo painted the Last Judgement or Resurrection of the Dead on the wall above the high altar of the Sistine Chapel at the request of Pope Paul III, though the original request of the former Pope Clement VII had been for a Resurrection scene.

At this time, there was a desire for reform within the Church prompted by the crisis of the Reformation. The Consilio was drawn up at the request of the Pope by an inner circle of reformers. It was a radical set of measures for the renewal of faith. Michelangelo was close to the group which wrote the Consilio, which included Cardinal Pole and to its supporters, including Victoria Colonna and shared their desire for renewal. The Last Judgement is a painting full of religious intensity by the very nature of the subject, but Michelangelo’s rendering is especially so. The mouth of hell is centrally placed at the bottom, just behind the crucifix of the high altar. In one sense this might be a key to the painting. It is still the redeeming action of Christ on the cross that has the capacity to save all and this saving action represented in the Eucharist is celebrated on the altar beneath the painting. What happens above is an awful possibility.

What strikes one about the painting is the fact that it is one great blue field or space populated by many nudes. Michelangelo may have been influenced by the commentaries on St Paul’s Letters to the Corinthians by Cardinal Cajetan, another reformer in the Church. The painting draws on 1 Corinthians 15 and the account therein of the bodily resurrection, and shares Cajetan’s emphasis on the resurrection being bodily for all humanity at the judgement. In effect, Michelangelo makes the nude body the vehicle for expressing both the glory of the elect and the bodily suffering of the damned. It also makes a visible statement about the individual and their bodily life on earth having relevance to eternal life.

Michelangelo creates an epic space with the figure of Christ coming as judge at the centre, based on the Apollo Belvedere, the classical sculpture in Rome. Next to him is Mary his mother and around him are the saints, while below are the elect being raised and the damned emerging to go to hell. All are bodily, the damned are not deprived of their bodies, but suffering in them. Marcia Hall notes that the saints included are those who lost their bodily integrity in one way or another in martyrdom, such as St Catherine, St Sebastian and St Bartholomew and that in depicting them, Michelangelo emphasises the change that takes place in the glorified body. Michelangelo may have wished to use the Apollo Belvedere as a model for Christ because there was interest in the writings of Copernicus about the sun being at the centre of the solar system. The painting shows Christ as Apollo, the sun god, at the dawning of the final resurrection.


500th Anniversary of the Sistine chapel ceiling


The BBC has produced a series of four podcasts of about 15 minutes each on the chapel ceiling. The Rev Lucy Winkett reflects on the choices of themes and the overall theological vision of Michelangelo, making observations on different figures such as Jonah and Adam and the representation of God in bodily form, moving in a striking and engaging way in the paintings and the stillness of the central painting of the Creation of Adam. A.C. Grayling outlines Michelangelo’s intention to celebrate humanity and sets his achievement in the context of Renaissance humanism pointing out the naturalistic attitudes of the figures, and their very human states of mind. He sees Michelangelo as transcending Plato’s division between the world of being and becoming in a new synthesis. Rachel Campbell-Johnston describes the process of restoration and the different views about the success of the recent project and Martin Kemp speaks about the changing reputation of Michelangelo through the last 500 years and the iconic significance of the Creation of Adam in our own time.

500th Anniversary to the day of the unveiling of the ceiling frescoes of Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel

Today marks the 500th anniversary of the unveiling of the ceiling frescoes by Michelangelo, which on this very evening 31st October in 1512, Pope Julius II celebrated with Solemn Vespers. Pope Benedict XVI did the same to mark the occasion this evening. There have been podcasts about the event on BBC Radio 3 by A C Grayling, Rev Lucy Winkett and Rachel Campbell-Johnson.
The already existing scheme in the chapel links Christ with Moses , his precursor, and the Popes, the vicars of Christ, showing the continuity before, during and after redemption. Michelangelo was charged with repainting the ceiling in 1508 following damage. He painted nine scenes from Genesis, the first three of God’s act of creation of the universe, the middle three of the creation of Adam and Eve. In the last three humanity enslaved to sin is represented in The Flood scenes and Drunkenness of Noah. Alongside and looking onto these scenes of the hisory of humanity’s enslavement to sin are the ignudi, which represent man created in the image of God, and below, the sibyls and prophets, who predict the coming of the Messiah and the awaited redemption.
The most well known is the central scene of the creation of Adam ‘in the image and likeness of God’ (Gen 1:26) Michelangelo has the audacity to transfer to the Creator, the same visible and corporeal beauty as he has given to Adam, and yet still God is clad in infinite majesty. Michelangelo portrays the hope of a world transfigured.