Five Facts: Michelangelo and his Sistine Chapel

Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel is one of the most visited sites in Rome. Did you know around 25,000 people a day visit the esteemed landmark to marvel at the Renaissance masterpiece? Crazy, isn’t it. (But don't sweat it, with the OMNIA Vatican and Rome Card you can jump straight to the front of the queue, VIP style). Among these 5 million people a year are Italians and tourists alike, dedicated pilgrims and art buffs dying for a glimpse of the high rise frescoes. So before you visit, why not go armed with some facts just in case you miss the guided tour – or in case anyone tests your knowledge. Get down to the basics The Sistine Chapel, or Cappella Sistina, was named after Pope Sixtus IV, Sisto in Italian. It was he who commissioned the Chapel in 1473; probably never imagining it would be a world famous landmark. Intending the chapel to be for private use for the Papal palace, it’s ironic now to think that such a place was ever destined to stay a quiet religious sanctuary. Home to one of the most recognised frescoes in art history, the Sistine Chapel paintings cover an impressive 12,000 sq ft – that’s nearly two rugby pitches of Renaissance pièces de resistance under one roof. The fame game Although the Sistine Chapel is most famous for Michelangelo’s masterpiece, Pope Sisto had actually commissioned frescoes from Botticelli to decorate the two long walls of the chapel. As a Renaissance contemporary, Botticelli’s work is outstanding in itself – it’s just a shame that now most people overlook his efforts in favour of the impressive ceiling. So if you’re visiting, give Botticelli a look in and remember it’s not all just about Michelangelo. Story time It’s something of a feat in itself to paint such a masterpiece as The Last Judgement, let alone to tell a story within it. To understand more about what you (and 24,999 others) are looking at, the nine panels depict religious stories from the Book of Genesis. With characters from the Creation to the legend of Noah, Michelangelo flipped the order and decided to paint the panels in reverse – ending with God creating the sun, moon, Earth, darkness and light. Ever the perfectionist, Michelangelo left this chapter to the end as he believed his technique would be more refined than when he started. Quite rightly he believed he ought to get the image of the divine right, seeing as he was in God’s house... Indecent exposure We all know Renaissance art is renowned for its nudity and celebration of the human form, but in 1564 the Council of Trent put their foot down and demanded that the more ‘prominent’ nudes that decorated the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel be covered up and made slightly more decent. So much so, Daniele da Volterra was commissioned to paint underwear, or braghe, on the naughty naked ones. Unfortunately, this lent da Volterra the nickname Braghettone after his job. For those who don’t speak Italian, that means Big Pants. Prime position You might think that it would be logical to paint a ceiling whilst lying on your back, in a horizontal position. Well, Michelangelo didn’t. The artist invented a platform on scaffolding that would allow him and his assistants to stand upright to paint, reaching above their heads. Although standing might have allowed for a better, more natural style of painting, Michelangelo wasn’t shy about sharing the discomfort of the job and the physical strain of the awkward angle, lamenting in a poem he wrote about “this torture” and how his “spine’s all knotted.” Considering he was originally hired to sculpt a tomb, and sculpting was actually Michelangelo’s true profession, you could see how he might have been a little bitter... With the OMNIA Vatican & Rome Pass you can visit the Sistine Chapel for free! Saving yourself €27.50, visit this 15th century chapel, not to mention one of Rome’s most famous historical buildings, and admire Michelangelo’s (and Botticelli’s) Renaissance masterpieces and put your knowledge to the test. The OMNIA Vatican & Rome Pass also grants you skip-the-line privileges – a blessing during the summer months - so despite the 25,000 people a day, you'll be one of the lucky few who can wave goodbye to the long queues as you make your way to the front.

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