The World’s Most Famous Ceiling
The spellbinding frescoes that cover the ceiling and walls of the Sistine Chapel are among Western civilization’s greatest achievements. Historians always knew Michelangelo to be a master painter (although, following his success with David’s completion, he painted infrequently before being commissioned to create the ceiling by Pope Julius), but the biggest revelation of its fourteen-year restoration (the most controversial of all time) was his startling use of light and bright colors, which had been drastically muted over the centuries from accumulated dust, dirt, incense, and countless candles.
Although he started off with a team of assistants and apprentices, Michelangelo fired them all and worked alone for four years before unveiling his work to a speechless pope and public in 1512. After an international restoration team completed work on this brilliant extravaganza depicting biblical scenes from the Creation (the creation of Adam is the ceiling’s focus), they turned their attention to the wall behind the main altar and Michelangelo’s equally powerful Last Judgment.
Its completion in 1541 brought Pope Pius III to his knees. Although Michelangelo is often associated with his birth town of Florence (where he is represented by David and the Medici Chapels), his presence is strongly felt in the Eternal City.
The Sistine Chapel rightly caps any visitor’s short list, but the Pieta in St. Peter’s Basilica confirms Michelangelo’s genius as a sculptor, while Rome’s elegant Piazza del Campidoglio shows off his natural talent as architect and city planner: one of the world’s most beautiful and copied squares (reinterpreted in New York City’s Lincoln Center), it has been left essentially as he designed it.